Monday, September 28, 2009

Israeli concessions vs. Palestinian concessions

Finally, but unsurprisingly to anyone endowed with rational thinking, Obama has backpedaled on his demand that Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank. The Israelis are, naturally, exultant:

Israeli officials, for their part, expressed satisfaction that Mr. Obama was letting up the pressure on settlements. “The administration recognizes that Israel has made major concessions in the absence of any substantive concessions on the part of the Arabs,” said Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

I take exception to Mr. Oren's explanation. I think the Israel lobby has been a little more instrumental in the decision than any analysis by Obama's administration on the relative merits of both parties' cases.

But his contention does merit some inspection. Are Israel's concessions major? Do Palestinian ones lack any substance? While Hasbara peddlers have made of such claims a cornerstone of their apologizing, the reality is exactly the opposite: the Palestinian concessions have been extensive, while Israel has hardly conceded anything.

But what about the Lebanon withdrawal? What about the Gaza disengagement? What about authority in area A of the West Bank?

See, those were not concessions. Concessions are when you do things that are not in your interest to please the party you're negotiating with. But:

  • Israel withdrew from Lebanon because it was losing too many soldiers;
  • Israel evacuated Gaza (not disengaged from it; more on this momentarily) because it imposed a heavy burden on its budget, while not being a piece of land it wanted to retain;
  • Israel gave the Palestinians full control over less than 18% of the West Bank (the large cities and towns) so that it wouldn't have to pay for the education, health and other services provided to the Arab population concentrated there.

Note that any true concession would have required a relinquishing of the power Israel exerts over those territories, as well as of the advantages of its domination. In the notable case of Gaza, Israel did not "disengage" from its role as collector of customs duties, a major source of revenue for the Strip's government. In fact, Israel has used such role as a major punishing weapon, by withholding for months on end the transfer of customs duties in the order of the hundreds of millions of dollars. Israel's apologists have the chutzpah to claim that Gazans didn't take the opportunity to build their nation, when they were denied the most basic power a government needs to function: the power to collect its taxes. (In a telling example of how reality can be twisted by propaganda, Zionists sometimes even claim, in some cases actually believing it, that those transfers are money Israel is donating to Gaza; a recent Ynet story was titled "Israel's financial aid to Gaza unnecessary?").

But what have the Palestinian concessions been?

Our previous example also applies here. By accepting that its customs duties be collected by Israel, the Palestinians surrendered a major freedom and even gave Israel the power to meddle in Palestinian internal affairs through the inequitable distribution of the funds. See:

Israel transferred millions of dollars worth of tax funds to the new Palestinian government, allowing it to pay its workers in full for the first time in a year _ while skipping the ones who work for the Islamic Hamas in Gaza.

Also, the Palestinians acknowledged, under interim agreements, Israel's sovereignty over the West Bank while it is not transferred back to the Palestinian Authority. Thus, Israel enjoys not only the practical but also the juridical right to do as it pleases in the West Bank, with the sole restrictions imposed by the Road Map and other documents that are not as definitive and binding as a bilateral agreement.

With regard to violence, while Gaza continues to cause trouble, the Palestinian authority in the West Bank has cracked down on militants, largely through its American-trained police body. Next to no terror attacks have been inflicted on Israel from the West Bank lately. This, at a time when fundamentalist Jews have been stealing land like crazy to build outposts, when building in existing settlements has been stepped up dramatically, and when a new settlement is even being constructed from scratch in Maskiot, far removed from the Green Line.

But the Palestinians' most important concession is in, potentially, the most critical point of dispute between both sides: water rights. Water is the single most valuable natural resource Israel extracts from the West Bank. And the Palestinians signed with Israel what is probably the most generous agreement between water-thirsty parties in the world -- so much so that the World Bank has called for a renegotiation that will be less unfair to the Palestinians:

The water-supply regime used by Israel and the Palestinians must be changed, according to a World Bank report that is to be published today.

The report notes that an average Israeli gets four times as much water as the average Palestinian, and warns that the Palestinian Authority water system is "nearing catastrophe."

It concludes by recommending that the current water-distribution arrangement, mandated as part of the Oslo II accords, be changed to improve the Palestinian system.

So that contrary to Ambassador Oren's unsupported assertions, the Palestinians have made really big concessions in exchange for, in essence, nothing. They are already delivering peace in the West Bank before the "land" part of the "land for peace" equation is even begun to be negotiated. Israel enjoys the right to disproportionately use the West Bank aquifers without a single illegal settler having been removed from an outpost.

If and when an Israeli government truly committed to peace arises (admittedly, an unlikely development for the time being) it will acknowledge these Palestinian goodwill gestures and try and build on them, instead of denying them.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A price for not making peace

By now you have heard quite a few times a Zionist argument along the lines that "if the Palestinians don't want to make peace, they are the ones to lose out. Israel will continue to get along as it has done in the last 60 years." By making peace they mean accepting a Bantustan landlocked by Israel with no contiguity, no control over its borders and airspace and no army -- a.k.a. "the generous offer."

There is a lot of bad faith in this argument as these are the same Zionists who justified the Gaza carnage on the grounds that the residents of Sderot and, indeed, all the Southwest of Israel had suffered irreversible psychological damage due to the Qassam rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza. Well, a country whose southwestern citizens are mentally scarred for life can hardly be said not to be losing out, right?

But I have always thought that Israel is paying an additional price for not having peace. Its society is open to forms of violence that are not usual in other countries, and which stem from the impunity with which its soldiers abuse the Palestinians.

Roi Ben-Yehuda, writing in Haaretz, concurs. After listing a few striking examples of violence that took place in Israel this summer, he reflects:

Israelis get conditioned for violence through a highly militarized and patriarchal social order; an exclusive form of nationalism that privileges the interests of a particular group of citizens; a media obsessed with narratives of war; and a religious establishment that often lends spiritual credence to the institutional violence of the state.
In Internet forum language, +1. Israel is a brutalized society with a high rate of domestic violence, an underworld that engages in gang warfare complete with drive-by shootings and innocent people killed, attacks on ethnic and sexual minorities, and the state within a state of religious extremists, who perpetrate violence unhindered by the police.

Yes, Palestinians may be paying a price for not accepting a Bantustan, but Israelis are also paying theirs for sticking to the theory that everything can be solved through violence.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Denying the Jews the right to a racist state

Israel is a developed country, and in developed countries virtually 100 percent of the population enjoy access to basic services such as running water and electricity. Israel is no exception.

That is, if you're a Jew. If you're an Arab, however, the State may not be very interested in making sure that you live under first-world standards. Take, for instance, the Arab village of Darijat, in the Negev. This used to be one of the infamous "unrecognized villages," i.e. small population centers, mostly Bedouin, whose existence the state of Israel refuses to acknowledge. Since the villages are not on the map, they're not provided with services.

In 2004, Darijat was finally recognized by the State -- but it was not connected to either the water system or the electricity grid. The big news this week has been that after 5 years as a recognized village, Darijat is being hooked to the national water pipelines. Reports Haaretz:

Most of us do not rejoice at finding bills in our mailbox. But for the 900residents of the Bedouin village of Darijat in the Negev, the arrival of their first-ever water bills were indeed grounds for rejoicing: After 60 years without running water, the village was finally connected to the national water system two months ago.

Though residents say the village has existed for 100 years, it was recognized by the state only in 2004. And it took another five years before the village finally received running water.

Until two months ago, residents had to pump all their water from wells.

"Sometimes, the water would run out in the middle of a shower, or the children would have to brush their teeth in the morning and there would be no water," said Nasser, a Darijat resident. "It was very unpleasant. I paid NIS 35,000 to get a well dug and for the pumps, so that I'd have water in the house. Now I get that for free."

The next paragraph in the report makes clear the extent of the suffering caused by lack of running water:

Running water has also eased another serious problem: the huge quantities of dust produced by the nearby quarry.

While technology exists to greatly reduce the amount of dust generated, it requires a regular water supply.

Hence only now that running water is available has the quarry been able to control the dust and let residents breathe easier.

Why would the State let some of its citizens' health be harmed so grievously? A partial explanation was given in 2003 by Shai Hermesh, then treasurer of the Jewish Agency and head of its effort to create a "Zionist majority" in the desert.

The trouble with the bedouin is they're still on the edge between tradition and civilisation. A big part of the bedouin don't want to live in cities. They say their mothers and grandmothers want to live with the sheep around them. It is not in Israel's interest to have more Palestinians in the Negev.

Where in the world, please tell me, can a high-ranking and respected official get away with crude stereotyping followed by a downright racist corollary? Only in Israel.

Back on topic, water is just one of the basic services. What about power? Darijat will have to wait a little longer, maybe five more years:

Now, they are hoping for the next big step: a hook-up to the electricity grid.

"Currently, we spend thousands of shekels a month on the generators in the village," said Abu Hamad. "We hope that soon we will have electricity in every house."

This is in sharp contrast to what happens with illegal Jewish outposts in the West Bank, which are systematically connected to the electricity grid, as was documented by the Sasson report in 2006.

And if and when Darijat gets hooked to the power system, there will still be anywhere from 45 to 60 Bedouin villages waiting not only to be provided these basic services, but also to be recognized in the first place.

When we say that Israel can't be a Jewish state, we mean things like these. We assert that only in a binational state will all citizens be treated as equally human. We are not denying the Jews the right to a state. We are denying them the right to a state where some have plenty of water to tend to their lush gardens, while others have to breathe dust from a quarry.

Israel will be binational or it will be racist. We're fighting for it not to be racist.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thought-policing Human Rights Watch

To be sincere, I don't care much for disputed reports about IDF behavior. I think the portion of their behavior that is undisputed (like, say, their assisting Jewish settlers in their takeover of private Palestinian land) is already damning enough.

That said, disputed reports do exist, and Human Rights Watch is a major contributor to producing them, thereby arousing Zionist ire.

Against that backdrop, several wingnut and Zionist blogs, as well as Israeli newspapers, are busy trashing HRW's military analyst Marc Garlasco over what they consider to be a revolutionary revelation: that Garlasco collects weapons, medals and other objects from the Third Reich.

Do you need to be a Nazi to collect Nazi memorabilia? I don't think so. I myself have a collection of over 200 books and 70 CD's about Judaism and Israel and I can hardly be described as a Jew or an admirer of Israel.

Items from Ibrahim's collection of books and CD's on Judaism and Israel

Zionists and wingnuts agree that Garlasco's collection doesn't turn him into a Nazi, but insist this hobby represents a problem, although they don't explain exactly why. HRW, for its part, has issued a statement (unnecessary, in my opinion) explaining that because Garlasco's grandfather fought for the Nazis he developed an interest in subjects pertaining to the Third Reich.

The very idea that what someone chooses to collect can be used against him infringes on the most basic freedom -- freedom of thought. The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv wrote:

It is not clear yet whether Garlasco himself is a Nazi. Those claims deserve close scrutiny, but it seems possible to make do with what we already know. We're talking about a Nazi memorabilia collector. This is not an innocent collection.

Maybe a scientific paper should be written, with a title along the lines of "Evaluating a collection's guilt." Until then, however, all collections should be given the benefit of the doubt and considered innocent -- as should their owners.

All other indictments of Garlasco are similarly vague and undefined. After being falsely warned in an e-mail that Garlasco posts at the Nazi site, wingnut Omri Ceren at Mere Rethoric writes:

For all his faults real or imagined, the HRW Marc Garlasco is neither crude nor stupid. I would guess that he clings very, very tightly to the belief that he's a history buff who happens, for purely familial reasons, to be utterly fascinated by the Nazis.

I think that's one convenient bridge too far, and that his obsession colors the rest of what he does. I think he has very strong but tangled beliefs about Jews and the Jewish state that spring from a place that has nothing to do with level-headed analysis. But nothing I've read and no one I've spoken to leads me to believe he's an unsophisticated racist like Stormfront Flak88.

"I would guess...," "I think...," and pseudo-shrink-talk don't substitute for an explanation of what's the big deal with someone collecting Third Reich medals. Notice that Garlasco is neither crude nor stupid. Nor is he unsophisticated like other racists. In fact, Ceren tells us, he's unfortunately so sophisticated we can't make a case against him based on anything other than our guesses and hunches.

Elder of Ziyon, for his part, muses:

Writing a monograph on German medals does not make one a "historian" in any real sense; it makes him a rabid collector. I am fairly sure that his purchase of many of these items would be illegal in many European countries. To deflect those disturbing facts by saying that he also owns a few American air force memorabilia is to dodge the real issue.

It is extraordinarily bad taste and truly offensive that the same person who habitually castigates the Jewish state to a worldwide audience has a creepy obsession with the symbols of those who tried to destroy all Jews.

Again, no explanation of why collecting those objects is offensive. But truly revealing is the bit about the illegality of his purchases in European countries. Anyone not having an issue with such an alleged law can't be described in any other way than as a wholehearted Stalinist.

And that's what we're talking about. The ever growing control of people based on what they think or, worse still, on what we think they think. The laws against Holocaust denial; the working definitions that would make an antisemite of king Solomon himself; the Enquiry commissions that find antisemitism in switching off a lightbulb or turning on a faucet; and now the delving into strictly private affairs of an HRW analyst, are all instruments toward the muzzling of all and any criticism of Israel.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ground-breaking news


Bulldozers have begun work on Maskiot, a new Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley, far removed from Israel's 1967 borders.

Actually, this is not so bad news for us anti-zionists. Next time you're told that:
  • Israel wants peace and the only obstacle is Palestinian rejectionism;
  • Israel only wants to keep the large settlement blocs around Jerusalem;
  • Israel acts aggressively when the Palestinians attack, but generously when they behave well (as is now the case in the West Bank),
just bring up Maskiot and you'll rebut all three claims with a single sweep of the hand.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What Hasbara can do to you: Zios taken in by anti-Iran blood libel

You see: years after years after years of repeating anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Iranian clichés do make you lose some of your critical faculties and you begin to talk nonsense, or, even more frequently, to parrot the nonsense talked by others.

A few days ago Israel's Arutz Sheva (Channel 7), which runs an English Language site called Israel National News, published a report according to which a top Iranian cleric not only sanctioned the rape of prisoners, but also gave guidelines as to how to carry out the atrocity:

"Can an interrogator rape the prisoner in order to obtain a confession?" was [one] question posed to the Islamic cleric.

Mesbah-Yazdi answered: "The necessary precaution is for the interrogator to perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner. If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus. It is better not to have a witness present. If it is a male prisoner, then it's acceptable for someone else to watch while the rape is committed."

This reply, and reports of the rape of teen male prisoners in Iranian jails, may have prompted the following question: "Is the rape of men and young boys considered sodomy?"

Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi: "No, because it is not consensual. Of course, if the prisoner is aroused and enjoys the rape, then caution must be taken not to repeat the rape."

A related issue, in the eyes of the questioners, was the rape of virgin female prisoners. In this instance, Mesbah-Yazdi went beyond the permissibility issue and described the Allah-sanctioned rewards accorded the rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam:

"If the judgment for the [female] prisoner is execution, then rape before execution brings the interrogator a spiritual reward equivalent to making the mandated Haj pilgrimage [to Mecca], but if there is no execution decreed, then the reward would be equivalent to making a pilgrimage to [the Shi'ite holy city of] Karbala."

One aspect of these permitted rapes troubled certain questioners: "What if the female prisoner gets pregnant? Is the child considered illegitimate?"

Mesbah-Yazdi answered: "The child borne to any weakling [a denigrating term for women - ed.] who is against the Supreme Leader is considered illegitimate, be it a result of rape by her interrogator or through intercourse with her husband, according to the written word in the Koran. However, if the child is raised by the jailer, then the child is considered a legitimate Shi'a Muslim."

The story went immediately viral over the web. Zionist bloggers, like Elder of Ziyon, transcribed it verbatim, some of them giving sanctimonious warnings that its contents might affect sensitive people. So did the widely read conservative site The Free Republic, which has exactly the same respectability as, say, Aftonbladet (see our previous post); and many other rightwing sites like this one.

The general comment was, this is how Islam is radically different from the West, what kind of animals could approve of this (expected answer: the 1.3 bn Muslims), it's a sick society, the Ayatollahs have sunk to new depths. Ultimately, it was agreed by most commenters that Israel should nuke Iran.

But the story is false. It was first published as a satirical piece in the Farsi-language site Balatarin, then picked up by Arutz Sheva as true fact, then disseminated by Hasbara peddlers (just in the first day there were over 300 blog posts reporting the, to them, excellent news).

Since Israel National News is a media conglomerate that publishes Israel's fourth most widely read newspaper, it would be logical for the Israeli government to slam it, in agreement with its stated policy that governments should condemn blood libels published by their countries' press. Also, Barack Obama should condemn The Free Republic, and, if possible, apologize to Iran.

Should I be holding my breath?