As Gazan death, injury and destruction rises with little prospect of cease-fire, the UK’s loudest activists for Palestine continue to betray their cause.
When Palestinians and Israelis fight fire with fire it’s easy to get drawn in.
Resist contributing to the hatred. For those of us who are lucky enough not to be directly at risk, it’s far more constructive to hunt out and surface smart alternatives to war from people who want to understand the region and hope for peace in the region. What ideas are coming from the political opposition in Israel? What are Palestinian secularist progressives saying? What are the views of international relations and conflict resolution specialists? We may need to wait a while for the most insightful commentary – it’s the extra thinking and research time that makes it insightful. Meanwhile there are some commentators who want to get to the bottom of things including Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian sets out alternative readings of the recent escalation, Janine Zacharia in Slate makes the case for diplomacy in Israel’s interests.
Remembering the aftermath of Cast Lead, British Jews are braced for the spike in Jew-baiting and antisemitic behaviour which attends Israel’s conflicts. Here’s Steve Bell depicting a Jewish puppet master of other countries’ leaders as if – writes Dave Rich from the CST – he “…reached for the ‘puppeteer’ trope to explain that fact that William Hague’s statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague’s view.”
Steve Bell’s response isn’t really doing it for me. I think it might be something to do with his affronted tone. And what he says. As if being accused of antisemitism is worse than antisemitism. Anyway, if Netanyahu is so powerful why are Israel’s citizens scurrying for their bomb shelters tonight?
Behind a Ha’aretz paywall, Abeer Ayyoub writes from Gaza and Israel Green Movement’s Gershon Baskin’s twitter feed is very well worth following for its links out to Palestinian and Israeli commentary. Unlike the Alqassam Brigade’s which coldly counts off the missiles it has launched at Israeli civilians, and signals its intent towards the Israeli state by referring to Tel Aviv in inverted commas.
Update: don’t forget to look at the sources on our blogroll.
The religious right is active in the Middle East, and Israel is no different. Here is Israeli President Shimon Peres on the shame the most recent mosque attack brings on Israel. It is far from only Muslims on the receiving end of the rage of the most extreme sections of Israeli society. Here is a piece from BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on 7th October on Ultra-Orthodox attacks on a Modern Orthodox girl’s school, also covered by the JTA. Israeli army posts have also been targeted by militant settlers.
On the mosque attacks, the New Israel Fund emails supporters:
Something awful happened in Israel on Monday. Unknown assailants torched a mosque in the Galilee village of Tuba-Zangariya. Police report that the mosque was seriously damaged. Korans were burned.
Hebrew graffiti scrawled on the mosque suggests that Jewish extremists perpetrated the arson as part of an orchestrated campaign to deter the Israeli government from cracking down on radical settlers. Mosques in the West Bank, and even Israeli military compounds, have suffered similar attacks in recent months.
We’re not going to let extremists tear Israeli society apart.
Here’s a taste of how NIF is reacting:
Tomorrow, Banish the Darkness — an NIF-funded coalition — is organizing a visit to Tuba-Zangariya to meet with the residents and with the imam of the mosque. Rabbis from across Israel, representatives of Jewish communities in the Galilee, and other dignitaries will take part. 19 organizations will be represented.
The message is simple: Burning a mosque is wrong. It’s not Jewish. It’s especially horrible that it happened during the Ten Days of Repentance. We should be using this time to reflect and to improve the world, not to sow division or to desecrate our neighbors’ holy places.
Thankfully, we’re not alone. Some of these messages have already been echoed by some of Israel’s most prominent figures, including President Peres who made the effort to go to Tuba-Zangariya.
NIF is also mobilizing globally to stand with those in Israel who are building a more peaceful future. Earlier today, we put out a call for rabbis everywhere to sign this statement condemning the violence and praising those Israelis who are standing up to racism.
I need your help with this campaign. Take a moment, right now, to ask your rabbi — or a rabbi who works in your community — to sign this statement. You can just forward them this note.
Especially now — in the midst of the High Holidays — we need hundreds of rabbis to sign on. We must make clear that friends of Israel worldwide are determined to hold onto the vision of Israel enshrined in its Declaration of Independence: “Israel will… safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions.”
NIF is not just responding to the current crisis. We’re working day-in and day-out to combat racism and to build a strong Israeli society. After the media has packed up and gone home — after everybody has forgotten about the small Galilee village of Tuba-Zangariya — NIF will be there, just as we have been for years.
You and I know that for Jews and Arabs to live in partnership, all Israelis need to feel a sense of ownership for their society.
That’s why Shatil — NIF’s action arm — is pioneering an initiative called “Shared Society.” We’re bringing together Israelis of different stripes — Arab, Jewish, Ethiopian, Russian, Mizrachi (to name a few) — to engage in meaningful dialogue and to plan joint activities. Israel shouldn’t just be a place where these communities get by living side-by-side. Israel should be a place where these communities thrive, where they work in concert as part of a truly shared nation.
It’s about relationships. It’s about trust. It’s about forging partnerships.
That’s the type of work that NIF does. Every. Single. Day.
It’s vital work. I’m proud to be a part of it. And I’m proud to have you as our partner.
CEO, New Israel Fund
Israeli secularists are in urgent need of support.
But the Green Party has tied its own hands, excluding Israeli extremists and progressives alike by participating in the draconian Israel boycott campaign, and sustaining its own harmful internal and external discourse in which Israel is spoken and written of as if its struggling progressives didn’t exist.
B’Tselem is a well-respected (current Israeli government aside, perhaps) human rights group in Israel. Here it reports on rocket and mortar fire on Israelis by Palestinians from Gaza. Those firing on Israel often do so from heavily populated areas, demonstrating a disregard for Palestinian lives as well as a murderous intent towards Israelis. Rockets and mortars are always illegal, because imprecise.
For southern Israelis there is more danger from missiles since Israel evacuated the Gaza strip. Greens are good at imagining and sympathising with the effects attacks on civilians have on Palestinian politics. It doesn’t take much imagination to work out the political climate which easily arises from indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians. While I have nothing but admiration for those who insist on a Israeli narrative other than fear, there’s no ignoring or excusing these Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Their small scale makes them no less a war crime.
Hamas is a religious nationalist organisation – Muslim Palestinians always come first. Its leadership in exile is based in Damascus. So when the forces of Syrian head of state Bashar al-Assad rampaged through the Syrian Palestinian ghetto of Latakia, Hamas’ subsequent poor display of support for al-Assad alienated the ayatollahs who fund it. Intelligence suggests that Iranian military support for Hamas has dried up. There are reports that it has not paid its employees.
All this is troubling in itself, and also because, as Israeli Green Gershon Baskin observes, Hamas is emerging as a relatively moderate force in Gaza. This is the same Hamas which is ideologically committed to Israel’s destruction and is the opposite of a moderate force by measures we in Britain would like to carry on taking for granted – for example, criminal justice, treatment of minority groups, or separation of religious and legal institutions. However, according to Baskin, Hamas is not ordering the missiles fired on Israel at the current time. They’re not calling the shots.
Surprised to find that this post has been received – at least by a few readers – as an apology for Hamas. Perhaps I put something in the wrong terms. Hamas, being religious nationalist, can never be a force for good. But to flesh out the claim above that it is rivalled by even more violent and fundamentalist groups in the strip, let me refer readers to this 2010 Economist piece on Salafist movements in Gaza. Read it and worry.
Cross-posted on Engage.
In two weeks Sudan will become two states. Its last ever president, Omar Al-Bashir will continue to dodge an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court. Tonight China (not an ICC signatory) is his host.
Meanwhile the disputed oil-rich border territory of Abyei represents an economic reason for north-south conflict. Yesterday the South Kordufan village of Kurchi was reported to have been strafed with rockets from Khartoum in the north, killing 16 including a three-year-old and a baby, and seriously injuring 32. This is one of many ongoing attacks, and the number of internally displaced people is currently estimated at around 80,000. Today the UNSC voted to deploy 4000 Ethiopian peace-keeping troops.
There is more to the Abyei conflict than oil. Khartoum is targeting people on ethnic and political grounds, but there are some who defy these categories. A Sudan analyst interviewed on BBC Radio 4′s The World Tonight views the conflict as between those who want to impose Khartoum’s sharia law and those – Nuba SPLA, a northern opposition group of Muslims and Christians together – who are fighting for basic economic and social rights in a pluralistic, religiously tolerant society, resisting the fundamentalist policies of Khartoum.
The analyst also expressed deep regret at the “depressingly little” international attention paid to this conflict:
“This struggle is particularly important because it is offering one of the few alternatives to division between north and south, between Christian and Muslim, or black and Arab, so the lack of international support is really shocking at this stage, even if we put aside the immediate suffering of innocent people.”
Sudan will split on 9th July.
Here’s a 2004 New Internationalist piece by Asma Agbarieh, a political organiser based in Jaffa. She writes against antisemitism and against antisemitism as moral justification for acts of oppression by the Israeli government. The piece is full of historically-grounded insight and never blames the victims, Palestinian or Israeli:
“Because Israel purports to represent Jews in general, the hatred it arouses is readily extended to Jews in general. Yet not so long ago, we should remember, the attitude on the Palestinian street was different. Through the period of the first Intifada, most Palestinians were careful to distinguish between Zionists and Jews, because they related to the conflict as a political one as opposed to a religious or racist one.”
Following up on Asma Agbarieh (now Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka) brought me to Challenge magazine, a 17 year-old Tel Aviv-based periodical of socialist perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where I found this from the Israeli workers’ party, Da’am – The 1967 lines or apartheid – yes to the democratic Arab revolution! alongside Asma’s own class analysis:
“We believe that apart from the fence that separates Jews and Arabs, there is a very different kind of fence. This new fence positions on one side all workers of the world, the victims of neoliberal economics: Arabs, Jews, Americans, Greeks, Spaniards, Egyptians, Iranians, Indians, Chinese and more. On the other side stand the wealthy of all nations, backed by their governments, who exploit, oppress, and make profits. Here is a large space for action, because the forces that unify are stronger than those that divide.
The task is not easy. The hatred is abysmal, and each side clings to its narrative. Such division is influenced by the atmosphere of religious and nationalist extremism in both camps. But the common denominator is bigger. The Jewish worker is beginning to grasp the fact that he or she is being transformed into an “Arab”—that is, one who has no privileges in the Jewish State, which itself has become a State for the Rich. This new reality confronts Jewish workers with a major challenge: Will they go on risking their lives in Israel’s wars—for the sake of sixteen families?
But there is also a challenge for Arab workers. Will they realize at last that the national-religious agenda leads to ruin, and that the only way out is to find their class partners on the other side?”
And this from Michal Schwartz on racism against Israel’s African asylum seekers, again with analysis relevant to any wealthy country which seizes upon cheap labour (though the final sentence about legitimacy is a shame).
There is plenty of analysis on why Oslo failed.
Based on the pieces I have read, Challenge doesn’t essentialise, demonise, or single out. Its arguments penetrate and are based in principles which extend. Jews, Israelis, Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs and others reading Challenge may respond strongly, but that response will be on political grounds rather than because their identity has been attacked. For this reason Challenge’s trenchant criticisms stand out from the dross about Israel and Palestine we wade through on a daily basis, and deserve to be widely read by those interested in a better Middle East.
Human Rights Watch posts a letter to Hamas from Amnesty, B’Tselem, Gisha, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Gaza and others as the imprisonment of snatched 24 year old French-Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, without trial or access to his family approaches its 5th anniversary.
We hear much less about 26 year old Mohamed Abu Muailek, member of a Fatah unit who refused to fire rockets into Israel from the Gaza strip. This unfortunate and courageous man is a dissident on the terms of both Fatah and Hamas, and is unlikely to become a bargaining chip in any negotiations for prisoners’ release:
“They will say that I am a collaborator, and I don’t care much…because these are the basics of a real Muslim: to tell the truth and be a peaceful man—whether it kills him or gives him more life.”
Or BBC journalist Paul Martin, who went to testify on Abu Muailek’s behalf when he was eventually arrested as he feared. Martin himself was arrested on the spot and imprisoned for 26 days threatened with a death sentence. Abu Muailek’s trial is set to conclude in July. Collaboration is one of the most shameful crimes you could be charged with in Gaza. He is held incommunicado, is reported to have been tortured, faces possible execution, and Amnesty are following his case with concern.
Paul Martin’s film, Rocket Man Under Fire, is below. I recommend watching it in full. It is claustrophobic and its perspective of the containment of Gaza as something which, as well as effectively imprisoning all Gazans, also enables Hamas’ net to close around dissidents, is rare and valuable.
As Paul Martin observes, the Arab Spring has not reached Gaza. The only visitors who need not be afraid there are those who do not challenge Hamas.
Richard Goldstone has withdrawn the ‘deliberately targeted civilians’ part of his report on the fact-finding mission he led into Operation Cast Lead. He writes that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are conducting investigations, while Hamas has investigated nothing at all. He writes:
“That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.
The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”
“Simply put, the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies. Ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict. Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war.”
An unsurprising outcry ensued, either with ideological objections to this revision, or to amplify the news that Israel had been vindicated of another unfounded charge, or to urge the world not to be diverted from the plight of 1.4 million Gazans, the violent deaths of over 700 people and the wider destruction of the conflict.
It’s worth mentioning that when the Israeli government of the time refused to cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation, several prominent Israelis (including for example Ami Ayalon) criticised this decision, arguing that Israel would be even more exposed to bias if it kept itself outside the process than if it went along with it. It’s also worth understanding the grounds on which the Israeli government refused to cooperate – that, as a UN Human Rights Council initiative, the investigation was biased from the start and would inevitably function to rubber-stamp a foregone conclusion against Israel (Goldstone denies this unequivocally).
Bias should never be a plausible excuse for cooperating with a United Nations body, but sadly it is all too plausible. Reflecting on the UNHCR, Jonathan Freedland writes in The Guardian:
“Many respectable folks have spent decades insisting that the “core issue” in the Middle East, if not the world, is the Israel-Palestine conflict – that it is the “running sore” whose eventual healing will heal the wider region and beyond.
That was always gold-plated nonsense, but now the Arab spring has come along to prove it. Now the world can see that the peoples of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain have troubles aplenty that have nothing to do with Israel. There could be peace between Israelis and Palestinians tomorrow, but it wouldn’t relieve those in Damascus or Manama or Sana’a from the yoke of tyranny. For them, Israel is not “the heart of the matter”, as the cliche always insisted it was. The heart of the matter are the regimes who have oppressed them day in, day out, for 40 years or more.
Yet it is not the suffering of these hundreds of millions of Arabs which has attracted the sympathy of the UN Human Rights Council. Nor has it stirred the compassion of left-leaning liberal types who pride themselves on their care for the oppressed. Few places get them excited the way Israel does.
So in 2009 Sri Lanka could kill between 7,000 and 20,000 civilians, displacing 300,000 more in its bombardment of the Tamils at about the same time as the Gaza conflict – but you will search in vain for the Goldstone report into Sri Lankan war crimes. Nor will you find Caryl Churchill writing a play called Seven Sri Lankan Children – asking what exactly is it in the Sri Lankan mentality that allows them to be so brutal.
There is no Goldstone or Churchill to probe the 4 million deaths in the Congo, the slaughtered in Darfur or the murdered in the Ivory Coast, let alone the civilian deaths inflicted by the US and Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one is proposing an academic boycott of those nations or any of the other serial violators of human rights. Tellingly, two members of the four-person board of the LSE’s Middle East Centre are firm advocates of cutting all scholarly ties to Israel – but were only too happy for the college to receive £1.5m from the Gaddafi family.”
Jonathan Freedland’s point is that in order to demand justice for the oppressed, it’s necessary to address this double standard against Israel which diverts attention and resources from swathes of the world which require it.
A comparative search of different countries on the Green Party web site reveals the extent of the problem. Putting some energy into Green Party international policy for places other than Israel and the OPTs would be a good place to start.
Contested Terrain has a short article by Murray Bookchin from 1986 when, as now, there was an explicit or implicit will to attribute the problems of the Middle East to just one Middle Eastern state and its people.
The piece is photocopied – if you’re struggling to read it, use your browser’s zoom function.
This post is for Richard at Mabinogogiblog and his enduring vision of a Middle East peace which floats.
On 24 March 2011, the New Israel Fund UK hosted three venerable speakers from Friends of the Earth Middle East – Palestinian Director Nader Al-Khateeb, Israeli Director Gidon Bromberg, and Jordanian Director and Chair, Munqeth Mehyar, mainly talking about the region’s shared water crisis.
Munqeth Mehyar gave a summary of FoEME’s work to date. Together, the three offices have been taking a dual approach in their response – top-down research and lobbying and bottom-up work within 29 communities. This includes initiatives like Good Water Neighbours which began in 2000 and survived as one of the few cooperation projects which withstood the Second Intifada. Good Water Neighbours is such a recognisably beneficial social enterprise that communities exist even between Israeli settlements and neighbouring Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem and Abu Dis.
Work like this has brought FoEME international recognition, including TIME magazine’s Environmental Heroes award in 2008, the Aristotle Onassis Award for the Protection of the Environment and a EuroMed award for dialogue work.
Munqeth Mehyar talked about the eco parks at Ein Gedi in Israel, Auja in Palestine and Sharhabil bin Hassan in Jordan’s Ziglab basin where a dam gives a vantage point from which it is possible to fully grasp the water source and the vast tracts of land it is required to irrigate.
Nader Al-Khateeb began with some statistics on Israeli and Palestinian water use. Israeli use averages 250 litres per person per day, excluding agriculture and as a population, 2 billion cubic metres per year in total. Palestinians use 50-70 litres per person to day, less that the 120 litres the World Health Organisation holds to be the minimum amount for adequate hygiene. The total Palestinian consumption including agriculture and industry is around 170 million cubic metres per year.
Israel controls the water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Nader Al-Khateeb emphasised the constraints this has imposed – no legislature, no jurisdiction over the water courses, and limited funding – that is, no real control on the part of Palestinians. FoEME’s Model Water Accord, to which we have drawn attention in a previous post, records the demise of the previous approach to cooperation established in Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo II accords. Cooperation didn’t flourish, as evidenced by the great discrepancy in availability, the under-provision to Palestinians and the contamination of ground water. There is no access for Palestinian to the waters of the Jordan and so it is drawn from the other main source, the mountain aquifer. Because extraction is slow, much of the Palestinian water supply is intermittent and stored in rooftop tanks where any breaches leave it vulnerable to contamination.
Nader Al-Khateeb showed a freshwater map of the region which made a very strong point without any commentary being required that the problem of water is a shared problem which cannot be solved without cooperation. Water doesn’t recognise borders. A final picture showed a large and happy group of mayors from cities and towns in the three countries wallowing in, I think, the Jordan. You couldn’t tell who was from where and – again – where water is concerned it doesn’t make any difference at all.
Gidon Blomberg spoke next about the circumstances required for cooperation. He pointed out that Israelis could not unequivocally welcome the unfolding revolution in Egypt because the decades-old peace treaty was very little to do with ordinary Egyptian people – there had been very little action either between Israelis and Egyptians or between Israelis and Jordanians, with whom there is also a peace treaty. The peace is a peace of strong leaders and cannot be taken for granted as a peace of peoples. On all sides of the conflict there are spoilers who exert pressure to end cooperation between Israelis and their neighbours.
Gidon Bromberg believes that water can contribute to peace because it is so tangible and undeniably shared. Water shows its shared nature when it flows from place to place irrespective of borders. However, FoEME have observed that the politicisation of water by which it is treated as a bargaining chip in the final status settlement, badly undermines cooperation. Consequently FoEME are lobbying to have it removed from the list of issues to be resolved. In a region in its 7th year of drought, Cooperating over water can then be treated as what it is – not an issue of privilege or charity, but of self-interest.
Self-interest is very important. Gidon Blomberg observes that water creates unlikely peacemakers, and holds up self-interest as means for Israelis and Palestinians who, in cooperating over water, are forced to defend themselves against their respective spoilers – those who perceive any cooperation as an unwarranted concession. When Israeli and Palestinian school-age students meet together to discuss water, their parents must sign a release form indicating their consent for the exchange. When school teachers are attacked for fraternising with the enemy, as they frequently are, they are able to make a convincing argument of self-interest in response. So instead of focussing on the sometimes-other-worldly vision of a peace deal, Israelis and Palestinians can focus instead on improving their freshwater reality, with tangible results which are sometimes beyond the immediate remit of the projects. For example, the cooperation between the Israeli village Tsur Haddassah and its lower-lying Palestinian neighbour Wadi Fukin has not only improved water quality, but is also one of the few examples of successful opposition to Israel’s security barrier.
Somebody asked about veganism, and sadly everybody changed the subject to tropical fruit cultivation; in effect these countries are exporting their water in the form of bananas and citrus, whereas dates are far more appropriate, forgiving of a dry climate as they are. Munqeth Mehyar talked about sheep, the main animal eaten in the Middle East, pointing out that over-grazing and water consumption was not currently calculated in the cost of this meat.
I was going to ask whether the prospect of desalination was perceived by some as a silver bullet which removed the necessity be careful with water. Gidon Blomberg brought this up in a response to another question. Currently Israel is content to expend fossil fuel desalinating water, and membrane industry breakthroughs have enabled desalination at costs which compete increasingly favourably with extraction methods. The hope is that the crisis will stimulate further innovation in solar technology.
Somebody asked how the water situation had changed since the occupation. Gidon Blomberg responded that it was better to compare Palestine now to Jordan now rather than Palestine now to Palestine then, since infrastructure has undeniably improved since the occupation. However, whereas before the occupation, both Jordanians and Palestinians outside the main cities tended to rely on springs for water, the water realities in Jordan today are far better than in the OPTs. At the same time there is mismanagement across the Middle East, and even in Damascus where water is relatively plentiful there are times of intermittent supply. And while Israel may be very efficient, it is a mistake to confuse efficient use with sustainable use. Nader Al-Khateeb pointed out that whereas Israeli quality of life is on a par with that in Europe, Palestinians fare much worse, and Israel should expect to invest significantly in Palestinian water conservation and quality, again for reasons of self-interest.
Somebody asked why there was such low uptake of solar power given good elevation, around 3000 sun hours, and recent innovations in efficient CPV sun-tracking solar panels yielding shorter investment times. The reason is the Saudi oil lobby, and the Israeli and Egyptian natural gas lobbies. Munqeth Mehyar spoke eloquently about the ‘cash now’ mentality the Saudi rulers have adopted with respect to their oil. When we emerged from the stone age, he said, stones didn’t stop being useful to us. FoEME are lobbying for oil to be regarded as something precious to future generations which our children should have the chance to benefit from.
Postscript – for a party which appears, on the face of things at least, to take such a very keen interest in the Middle East and particularly Israel, I found it sad that the audience didn’t contain any members of the Green Party International Committee, nor any other Greens who have indicated their interest in various fora. My hunch, backed up by some references to “spoilers” from the panel, is that this kind of cooperation is absolutely incompatible with their hopes that Israel will fail and disappear. Fortunately for the residents of the region, the cooperation is strengthening because it is in everyone’s best interest that it does.
And because contaminated water does not recognise security walls, there may yet be an eco peace in the Middle East. Seven years of drought and 20 million mouths to feed along the banks of the Jordan says there must.