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Dancing on graves Print
Sunday, 11 May 2008

Dancing on graves – Israel celebrates 60 years

By Leslie Bravery – April 14, 2008

Political ideology

The signatories to Israel's May 14, 1948 Declaration of Independence, identified themselves thus:

. . . We members of the People's Council, representatives of the Jewish Community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement . . .”

    The key to understanding the Israeli state and its relations with both the Palestinian people and its neighbours lies in the reference to the Zionist movement. Founded by Theodor Herzl in the late nineteenth century, Zionism holds that hostility to Jews is natural and inevitable and that Jews can only be secure through the creation of a Jewish state. The movement shared the outlook of European colonialism and most people would be astonished to learn of revisionist (as it became) Zionism's affinity with the fascist movements of the early twentieth century, its eventual co-operation with Nazism and its betrayal of non-Zionist Jews.

Jewish voices

    The popular understanding of Israel is challenged in the following comment made in an interview with International Clearing House journalist, Silvia Cattori, on January 11 this year by Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, whose parents perished at Auschwitz in 1942:

Israel would not be able to carry out its crimes against humanity without the United States, the world, permitting it to do so and the mass media, which, with few exceptions, dehumanises Palestinians and instils fear, ignorance and loathing of them and their culture.”

    Generally, there is a consensus between the news media and Western governments when commenting on Israel and it is through the filter of global corporate news outlets that most people gain information on world affairs. The interview shows that the World Zionist Organisation does not speak exclusively for all Jews, even though its strident voice is given such prominence on their behalf. The views of anti-Zionist Jews, both religious and secular, are seldom heard while Zionism vilifies its critics, including those who are Jewish, as 'anti-semitic'.

    In his book Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, Lenni Brenner comments that:

Zionism, . . . is an ideology, and its chronicles are to be examined with the same critical eye that readers should bring to the history of any political tendency. Zionism is not now, nor was it ever, co-extensive with either Judaism or the Jewish people. The vast majority of Hitler's Jewish victims were not Zionists. It is equally true, as readers are invited to see for themselves, that the majority of the Jews of Poland, in particular, had repudiated Zionism on the eve of the Holocaust, that they abhorred the politics of Menachem Begin, in September 1939, one of the leaders of the self-styled 'Zionist Revisionist' movement in the Polish capital. As an anti-Zionist Jew, the author is inured to the charge that anti-Zionism is equivalent to anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred.”

    In a statement on March 27, 2008, the International Jewish Solidarity Network (IJSN) said that the Zionist project:

. . . dishonours the persecution, displacement and genocide of European Jews by using their memory to justify and perpetuate European authoritarianism and colonialism. It is responsible for the extensive displacement and alienation of Mizrahi Jews (Jews of Sephardi, Asian and African descent) from indigenous identities, languages, histories, cultures and homelands and attempts to reduce all of our diverse cultural, religious, ethnic and racial identities to one of national identity.”

Zionism and Judaism

    As we have seen, many Jews, both religious and secular, object to political Zionism's claim that it speaks for them. The first Zionist Congress was convened in Basle in 1897. Herzl had planned to hold the Congress in Munich but opposition from Orthodox Jews forced him to change the venue. Since those days, Zionism has converted many rabbis into support for its ideology. Yet many Orthodox Jews still oppose the very idea of a Jewish state. The International Orthodox Jewish organisation, Neturei Karta, in an article titled Judaism versus Zionism says:

“There is a vile lie . . . so heinous, so far from the truth, that it can only gain popularity due to the complicity of powerful forces in the "mainstream" media . . . It is a lie which has brought many innocent people untold suffering and if unchecked has the potential to create extraordinary tragedy in the future. It is the lie that declares that Judaism and Zionism are identical. . .

“Zionism . . . believes that Jewish exile can be ended by military aggression. Zionism has spent the past century strategically dispossessing the Palestinian people . . . and subjected them to persecution, torture and death. Torah Jews the world over are shocked and pained at this short-lived dogma of irreligiosity and cruelty. Thousands of Torah scholars and saints have condemned this movement from its inception. They knew that the pre-existing good relationship between Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land was bound to suffer as Zionism advanced. . . . Its monstrous insensitivity to the laws of basic decency and fairness appal all men be they Jewish or not.”

    The California-based Jewish Voice For Peace says that:

Jews have a special role to play in bringing about a change in American and Israeli policy. Israel claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people, and it is up to us to make sure the world knows that many of us are opposed to their actions. More importantly, as long as even legitimate criticism of Israel is blocked by accusations of anti-Semitism, it is the responsibility of Jews to stand up for universal justice. Because we are Jews, we have a particular legitimacy in voicing an alternative view of American and Israeli actions and policies. As Jews, we can make the distinction between real anti-Semitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue to shield Israel from legitimate criticism.”

Zionism and Nazism

    Zionism's past helps to explain Israel's present abuses of human rights. On June 21, 1933 the Zionist Federation of Germany sent a memorandum to the Nazi Party and the following extract reveals something of Zionist psychology:

On the foundation of the new [Nazi German] state, which has established the principle of race, we wish so to fit our community into the total structure so that for us too, in the sphere assigned to us, fruitful activity for the Fatherland is possible... Our acknowledgment of Jewish nationality provides for a clear and sincere relationship to the German people and its national and racial realities. Precisely because we do not wish to falsify these fundamentals, because we, too, are against mixed marriage and are for maintaining the purity of the Jewish group...”. (Lucy Dawidowicz (ed.), A Holocaust Reader, pp. 150-5.)

    For its part, Nazism recognised in Zionism something of a kindred spirit. By 1934 the SS had become the most pro-Zionist element in the Nazi Party. As an ardent Zionist sympathiser, Baron Leopold Itz Edler von Mildenstein, head of the Jewish Department of the SS, made regular six-monthly visits to Palestine and wrote a favourable report about what he saw in the Zionist colonies in Palestine. He persuaded Nazi propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, to serialise the report in the Nazi propaganda organ Der Angriff [The Assault] (September 26 to 9, 1934). To commemorate the Baron's visit, Goebbels had a medal struck: on one side the swastika, on the other the Zionist star. (Jacob Boas, 'A Nazi Travels to Palestine', History Today (London, January 1980), p. 38.)

    When the former Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, one of the founders of modern methods of terrorism, became chief of Betar, the black-shirted members of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement set up by Mussolini, he preferred to use the brown shirts worn by Hitler's thugs. Begin and Betar members wore the shirts to all meetings and rallies, greeting each other with the fascist salute. The State of Israel was founded in acts of terrorism and Begin later became head of the terrorist organisation, the Irgun. Probably the most outstanding example of Zionist terrorism is the massacre of 250 men, women and children in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. Begin justified the group's murderous assault on the villagers, saying:

The massacre was not only justified but there would not have been a State of Israel without the victory of Deir Yassin.” (Jewish News Letter, October 3, 1960).

    This act and other actions by terrorist groups and by the State of Israel itself have led to the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whose land, homes and businesses have been forfeited to Israel's arbitrary and illegitimate absentee property laws.

Sacrificial lambs

    In 1938, Zionism's willingness to sacrifice Jews for its greater purpose in Palestine was made clear at a time of terrible danger for the Jews of Central Europe following Kristallnacht. When the British proposed that thousands of Jewish children be admitted directly into Britain, David Ben-Gurion, later Israel's first prime minister, adamantly opposed the plan, telling a meeting of Labour Zionist leaders on December 7, 1938:

If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel. (Yoav Gelber, 'Zionist Policy and the Fate of European Jewry (193942)', Yad Vashem Studies, vol. XII, p. 199.)

On December 17, 1938 Ben-Gurion told the Zionist Executive:

If Jews will have to choose between the refugees, saving Jews from concentration camps, and assisting a national museum in Palestine, mercy will have the upper hand and the whole energy of the people will be channelled into saving Jews from various countries. Zionism will be struck off the agenda not only in world public opinion, in Britain and the United States, but elsewhere in Jewish public opinion. If we allow a separation between the refugee problem and the Palestinian problem, we are risking the existence of Zionism.” Ari Bober (ed.), The Other Israel, p. 171.

Refugees and Right of Return

    There are some 7.2 million Palestinian refugees representing one third of the world's total refugee population. More than 4.3 million of these are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations. Another 1.7 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, also displaced in 1948, are not registered with the UN. About 355,000 Palestinians are 'internally displaced' in present-day Israel. When Israel militarily occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 the UN reported that approximately 200,000 Palestinians fled their homes. These 1967 refugees and their descendants today number about 834,000. Israel's programme of house demolitions, revocation of residency rights and construction of illegal settlements on annexed West Bank Palestinian land has already internally displaced at least another 57,000 Palestinians. Israel's Annexation Wall has been responsible for displacing 15,000 of these. Generations of refugees have now known no other life and the Israeli Occupation makes their lives still more wretched.

  In 1948 the Israelis drove the Palestinian inhabitants out of 675 towns and villages on land that represents some 93% of Israel's present area. Half the refugees were expelled in the last six weeks of the British Mandate, even before the State of Israel was declared and before any fighting with Arab armies. In the same year the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194 on the Question of Palestine, Article 11 of which stated that:

"Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible."

    The right of return for Palestinians has since been affirmed by more than 130 UN resolutions. Under its own Law of Return, Israel grants the 'Right of Return” (citizenship) and generous assistance to anyone in the world who can prove that they have a Jewish mother.

    Alex Stein, a freelance writer and educator based in Tel Aviv, writing in the Guardian's Comment is Free on March 23, 2007 asked:

Why should I, a Jew from north London, be permitted to take up Israeli citizenship, when that right is denied to a Palestinian who languishes in a refugee camp in Lebanon? Especially when I acknowledge that a large majority of those that left in 1948 were ethnically cleansed by Israeli forces.”

    Alex Stein is no anti-Zionist. In the same article he goes on to say:

But we only hear calls for the Palestinian right of return. This is because the demand is motivated neither by justice or concern for the refugees, as advocates claim, but by the desire to destroy the Jewish state.”

    For Stein the idea of Israel as a state for all its people is unthinkable and therefore, presumably, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians must be accepted because the Zionist cause transcends all human rights.

Crushing the spirit

    An Amnesty International eyewitness report describing Israeli house demolitions in the Occupied Jordan Valley on March 11, 2008, revealed a petty and merciless dimension to Israel's actions. Following one demolition, for example, the report stated:

"The family of Mahmud Mat'ab Da'ish, his wife and seven children were given a tent by the Red Cross and they started planting vegetables again. Today, the army has been bulldozing the green plants.”

    Israel's crimes against Palestinians are not confined to house demolitions and economic sabotage – Israel takes more than 80 per cent of Palestinian ground water and denies Palestinians their rights to the Jordan River. The bulldozing of crops and olive groves and the destruction of infrastructure are accompanied by violence against children and adults alike. For example, the International Solidarity Movement on January 9, 2008 published an account of an Israeli raid when twelve jeep-loads of troops shot their way into the West Bank village of Qusin. In addition to live ammunition, the Israelis fired stun and teargas grenades and rubber-coated bullets in a search for youngsters who, the Occupation forces claimed, had thrown stones at Israeli armoured jeeps. One Israeli soldier held a knife to the throat of a twelve-year-old boy and threatened to kill him. Two sixteen-year-olds, Hassan Fakhri and Ali Nayef, were abducted (blindfolded and handcuffed) and tortured by Israeli soldiers for seven hours. The boys were held in a small, filthy cell, kept blindfolded and denied food and water. Hassan was even denied access to the lavatory. Both boys were beaten and kicked and were prevented from sleeping by soldiers yelling death threats. Fakhri had been subjected to Israeli Army savagery before when was abducted and held in Israel's Kedumim gaol for three days, during which time he was fed only twice. His arms were tied behind his back and the beating he received left him with head injuries and a dislocated elbow.

    In no way can these acts be considered those of a rational, professional military engaged in the defence of its country. This is sadism, born of feelings of contempt engendered by the supremacist presumptions of Zionist ideology.

    Actions such as these are designed to demoralise those whom Israel wishes to drive out – and land thus vacated is often used to build illegal Israeli settlements. International law forbids occupying powers from settling their citizens in occupied territory but the world community does nothing to require Israel to respect either international law or the human rights of its victims. So long as world leaders describe Israel's continuing annexation of its neighbour's land and the illegal building and expansion of settlements merely as 'unhelpful', Israel takes comfort knowing that the West has granted it diplomatic immunity. Driving people out of their homes and villages is ethnic cleansing and, except when Israel is the perpetrator, that is universally condemned.

Checkpoints

    Israel's checkpoints are another way of attempting to break an occupied people's spirit. In his book Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation, the director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmith's College, University of London, Eyal Weizman, conducted interviews with members of Israel's Occupation forces manning checkpoints. At one checkpoint, the turnstile entrances had been narrowed:

People who are wider than the opening get stuck. A bottle-neck results. It is very hot in the entrance tunnel of the checkpoints. If you are an Israeli soldier on duty at a checkpoint, you may simply decide to shut up shop for an hour, several hours, even a day. It's completely random, like the cases reported by the women's organisation Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch of soldiers detaining every ninth man, or everyone called Mohammad. Little games to ease boredom. It gets stifling in the queue. The drinks and fast-food stalls which have gathered round the checkpoints do a roaring trade, one of the few flourishing sectors of the stricken Palestinian economy.”

    All over Occupied Palestine the checkpoints choke movement and the economy. Journeys that would take less than half an hour in a free society can take several hours. This is the daily, grinding reality for all Palestinians – and then there are the frequent checkpoint beatings.

    It is interesting to note that while Israel's security and 'right to exist' are foremost in the one-sided undiplomatic language of the Zionist state's supporters, security for Palestinians is never mentioned. Likewise, the right of Palestinians to defend themselves against Israeli violence is never recognised. In the language of great-power politics, Israeli air raids, house demolitions, home invasions, vandalism and economic sabotage are never described as violent. The recognition in international law of a population's right to resist 'belligerent occupation' is thus swept out of sight as Israel's friends tell Palestinians that they must 'end the violence'.

'Israel does not target civilians'

    On March 1, 2008, seven children and 22 adults were killed by Israeli Occupation forces and 110 unarmed civilians, including women and children were injured and a paramedic sustained critical injuries. Occupation troops, supported by helicopter gunships, opened intensive machinegun fire from armoured vehicles while Occupation tanks shelled Palestinian homes. The soldiers occupied the roofs of houses and detained residents while continuing to destroy farmland and create yet more barriers to Palestinian movement. A 12-year-old girl's life was brought to an end inside her home by an Israeli sniper's bullet. The girl's name is Safa and, according to her father, Ra'd, "The Israeli sniper on a nearby building shot her in her chest." Safa's 17-year-old brother described the event: "I heard a gunshot and soon her scream filled the house. I went upstairs, her knees gave in and slowly she fell down while calling for her mother." Safa's father, carrying his wounded daughter, tried to evacuate her to hospital but his brothers prevented him because Israeli snipers were shooting anything that moved. An emergency centre eventually told the family an ambulance was on its way. On its arrival, with Safa in her arms the girl's mother, Samar, tried to get to the waiting vehicle but Israeli soldiers opened fire again. When the ambulance moved closer the Israeli soldiers opened fire on it, wounding a paramedic and shredding the tyres. As a result, Safa bled to death three hours after she had been shot. Before withdrawing, Israeli forces cut the electricity supply to Safa's home and shot out the water tanks on the roof.

The Wall

    Perhaps the most stark monument to Israel's military occupation of the West Bank is the eight metre high Wall being built, not along the Green Line but on Palestinian land. Where the Wall carves up Palestinian population centres no light filters through the solid concrete and menacing sniper towers appear at intervals along its length. The tortuous route of the Wall deliberately isolates communities from their farmland. Israel calls its Wall a 'separation barrier'. Palestinians agree – it separates Palestinians from each other. Access to health services, employment and even the choice of a spouse are now determined by this ugly Israeli intrusion into their lives. Some people have already been forced to abandon their land to Israel and many more are agonisingly awaiting an uncertain future. Palestinians often don't even know on which side of the Wall they will live or whether they are to be expelled. In the documentary section of his DVD, The Ramallah Concert, Israeli conductor, Daniel Barenboim, accompanied by a guide, watches the building of Israel's Wall. “Which side is Palestine?” asks Barenboim – the guide answers – “both sides.” In its July 2004 ruling, the International Court of Justice (World Court) at The Hague, held that construction of Israel's Wall is "contrary to international law," in part because it "destroyed and confiscated" property, it greatly restricts Palestinian movement and it "severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of [the] right to self-determination". Israel continues to ignore the World Court and the world community does nothing to require Israel to stop this abuse of human rights.

The 'peace process' and facts on the ground

    Israel's sincerity regarding the 'peace process' between itself and the Palestinians should be considered in the light of Menachem Begin's historic justification for the Deir Yassin massacre and the following more recent statement by the present Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who, noting in an address to a joint session of the US Congress on May 24, 2006 that he had been raised with the deep conviction that the Jewish people would never have to relinquish any part of the 'land of our forefathers', added: "I believed, and to this day still believe, in our people's eternal and historic right to this entire land."

    In 1967 the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 required Israel to withdraw from Occupied Palestinian territory but in over forty years the UN has done nothing to enforce compliance. So long as Israel refuses to repudiate the ideology of Zionism there is no reason to suppose that it has abandoned its Zionist goal. In his book, Righteous Victims, Israeli historian, Benny Morris, quotes from a letter written in 1937 by Ben-Gurion to his son, in which he wrote:

"No Zionist can forgo the smallest portion of the Land Of Israel. [A] Jewish state in part [of Palestine] is not an end, but a beginning ..... Our possession is important not only for itself ... through this we increase our power, and every increase in power facilitates getting hold of the country in its entirety. Establishing a [small] state .... will serve as a very potent lever in our historical effort to redeem the whole country." (Righteous Victims, p. 138).

Also in 1937 David Ben-Gurion assured a Zurich session of the World Council of the Poale Zion (Workers of Zion) that they need have no fears regarding the partition of Palestine – they would definitely expand:

This Jewish state which is now proposed to us, even with all the possible reparations and improvements in our favour, is not the Zionist aim – in this territory one cannot solve the Jewish problem... what will happen, in another fifteen (or any other number of) years, when the proposed territorially limited state reaches the point of saturation of population?... Anyone who wants to be frank to himself should not prophesy about what there will be in another fifteen years... the adversaries of Partition were right when they claimed that this country was not given for us to partition it – for it constitutes a single unit, not only historically, but also from the natural and economic standpoint.” (The Voices of Zionism (Shahak reprint), p. 18.)

    Israel pays lip service to the 'peace process' but never formally defines its borders and, while the 'negotiations' grind fruitlessly onwards, slowly and inexorably creates what are intended to be irreversible 'facts on the ground' by taking more and more Palestinian land.

Ending the violence

    Earlier this year Israel subjected the Gaza Strip to a ferocious onslaught that led to much loss of life, injury and destruction, and there can be no doubt that Israel wants to bring about regime change in Gaza. The fact that Hamas was elected by the Palestinian people in an exemplary electoral process has not deterred Israel from attempting to reverse the result by force. The Hamas election victory came in part because the Palestinian people had become disillusioned with the Abbas administration's collaboration with the occupying power.

    Israel's excuse for its blockade and blitz of Gaza is the firing of primitive missiles from the territory into Israel. In a speech on March 27, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, again refused both a Hamas-offered ceasefire and an alternative offer of an agreement by both sides not to harm civilians. Instead he demanded, in effect, a unilateral ceasefire from Hamas. The assymetry between Israel's military might and the scant deterrent power of Palestinian home-made missiles lies behind Olmert's ominous additional comment: "We will deal with Hamas in other ways and these ways will be very painful." Palestinian cross-border missile attacks have resulted in two civilian deaths in the last two years. Hamas has always honoured its ceasefires, even in the face of provocative violations by Israeli forces, but Olmert would, it seems, rather continue Israel's daily incursions into Gaza (which, in the same period, resulted in over 500 deaths) than save lives on both sides.

The next 60 years

    With the defeat of Nazism in the Second World War and the more recent overthrow of Apartheid, there remains one state-sponsored, twentieth century supremacist ideology still practising its inhumanities. In the past ten years, US military aid to the Zionist state of Israel has amounted to $17 billion and over the next decade is scheduled to be $30 billion. As Jewish Voice For Peace says:

As long as the United States continues to support Israel's decades-long practice of illegally appropriating land, destroying homes and using disproportionate force – a policy which has proven to be both morally bankrupt and self-destructive for Israel – neither Palestinians nor Israelis will ever know peace."

    How can it be that the world has so lost its vision that Israel is able to command not only respect but also virtual immunity for its war crimes? The world community has turned its back on the Geneva Conventions, allowed Israel to thumb its nose at the World Court and failed to uphold international law. As a result, and to its great cost, the West has left itself exposed to a critical world gaze that sees it for what it is, dishonest and incompetent. It seems that Israel has been allowed to go so far down the road of territorial expansion as to make a two state-solution impossible. With goodwill and international co-operation, hope for peace could be founded on a single state with equal status for every ethnic and religious community in Israel/Palestine. A beginning could be made by honouring the present international status of Jerusalem already recognised in international law.

    In March this year the Palestinian Authority (PA) launched an initiative to coincide with Israel's sixtieth anniversary celebrations called 'The Initiative of Return and Coexistence'. The plan's author is the PA's Deputy Minister for Prisoners' Affairs, Ziad Abu Ein, and the initiative states that:

"Fulfilling the [Palestinian] right of return is a human, moral and legal will that can't be denied by the Jews or the international community. On the [sixtieth] anniversary of the great suffering, the Palestinian people are determined to end this injustice."

    The plan invites Palestinian refugees to return to Israel on May 14, 2008 with their possessions, prepared to settle in their former towns and villages. The refugees will carry UN flags and plan to have UNRWA-issued ID cards. Refugees living in the US, the EU, Canada and Latin America will fly to Ben-Gurion Airport from May 14 to 16. Dozens of ships flying UN flags will converge simultaneously on Israeli ports. The PA is seeking international support for its initiative declaring that, "We must take matters into our own hands." because "Negotiations, slogans and UN resolutions are not going to bring us our rights."

    The world community is faced with the urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East. Daniel Barenboim says he will not take part in festivities to mark the state of Israel's 60th anniversary out of respect for Palestinian suffering and he plans to lead an orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian youngsters in Jerusalem in a concert 'against ignorance'.

    The Palestinian cause is humanity's and the principles that the Palestinian people struggle to have recognised were set out in the post-war Geneva Accords and United Nations Resolutions. We abandon these at our peril. It is time that our self-important world leaders stopped fawning over Israel and heeded the cries of their victims and the voices of ordinary people, Jewish and non-Jewish, who are demanding an end to the cruelty, the lies and the cynicism. Failure to recognise this and to act appropriately is likely to bring the nightmare home to us all.