Bil’in Conference

The Bil’in struggle against the wall and against the confiscation of land from Palestinians to build Israeli settlements is a good model for future struggle against Israeli apartheid.  It is a struggle that includes Israeli and Palestinian people side by side and it has on its banner the clear message of a non violent struggle.

The Bil’in conferences, of which I was able to attend one, the 2007 conference, is a good concept that is clearly catching on and getting attention.  It will hopefully be more of an anti apartheid/pro democracy event in the future. As more people realize that that has to be the objective of the struggle: A secular democracy in our shared homeland, equal rights for all Palestinians and Israelis,a constitution drafted by both sides.

Bil'in Conference
Bil'in Conference 2007


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Torture, Israelis know and accept it.

 

An Israeli soldier takes pictures of a soldier as he aims his rifle towards Palestinian teenagers during clashes at Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, 9 February 2007. (Khaled Jarrar/MaanImages)

Thanks to the Israeli press, people in Israel are informed regularly about their government’s mistreatment of the 4.5 million Palestinians under their rule. Most of the information regarding the occupation of Palestine and the oppression of its people is well documented and accurately reported in the Israeli press. But even the most serious offenses are given a “kosher” stamp, so to speak, once the word “security” is attached to them.

There are ample examples of this, but few are as striking as the one provided in the March 23rd issue of the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. In this issue, there is an interview with the retired Chief Interrogator of the Shabak, Israel’s internal secret security service, 79-year-old Arieh Hadar. Mr. Hadar admits to acts taken by the Israeli internal secret security service that have never before been revealed publicly.

Were Israel to be the democracy it claims to be, this man would be put on trial, or at least beg for amnesty in exchange for the damning testimony he provided. If Israel had the least amount of respect for human and civil rights, this interview would lead to an investigation and perhaps even arrests. But in the Jewish democracy men and women of this kind are above the law, and beyond incrimination. In Israel, the security apparatus is a sanctified system that no one dares to question, it is a world of shadowy heroes to whom Israelis are made to believe they owe their lives. Mr. Hadar is interviewed as a hero who served his country instead of a villain that brought it shame.

Most of the interview deals with violations of civil rights of Israelis, violations that took place in the early years of the state due mostly to the paranoia and McCarthyist tendencies of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. Examples of blacklisting civil servants and military personnel who did not tow the line with Ben Gurion’s party Mapai; opening voting ballots to ensure that retribution followed dissent; and breaking and entering to dig up information on people deemed by Ben Gurion and others in the party as “enemies of the state.”

But as the interview continues, Mr. Hadar also touches on the issue of torture as part of the interrogation process. He mentions cases of interrogations where his agents lied in court about getting confessions through torture. “Since the suspects were Arabs the judges would always take our word over theirs” he says and continues to say that he found “Arabs were often glad to be slapped a few times” because it gave them an excuse to turn against their people and collaborate with the interrogators. He typically refrains from using the “P” word and refers to Palestinians only as Arabs or as terrorists.

This hero of the state who obviously takes pride in his work continues: As the work load increased around 1967 due to the increase of security threats involving “Arabs”, there was an increase in the use of physical force, which he says he regrets but claims that they had no other choice then, nor does any other choice exist today.

Mr. Hadar was not confessing his crimes in the interview, but rather priding himself in his good work. He describes an instance where a suspected terrorist was in the hospital after being shot. “He had one tube in his vein and a one going from his nose to his abdomen … the doctor on duty understood what we wanted, turned his back and said: ‘you do your work and I will do mine.’ At that moment I began tugging at the tubes. The suspect understood we meant business and immediately began to talk.”

According to this report, it is not only permissible to use torture even though it is illegal, it is also acceptable for a doctor, who has taken the Hippocratic oath (or is it an oath of hypocrisy) to turn a blind eye while these illegal acts are taking place. Clearly such a confession given by a high-ranking security official in Israel demonstrates one thing: that he knows he will never be brought to justice for his crimes.

Indeed Hadar was summoned in 1984 to appear before a commission that investigated the Shabak following summary executions of Palestinians who kidnapped a bus in Israel. He says he told the commission that: “applying physical pressure is clearly illegal, but regrettably there is no other option. I explained that these means, including hitting, sleep deprivation, mock executions, and exposure to extreme weather conditions for many hours were the only means at our disposal for getting to the truth … I told the commission that I do not feel good about it but someone had to do it.” In other words, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Sadly, it seems that Israeli society has accepted the role of partner in crime with people like Mr. Hadar. What separates Israel from its neighbors is not democracy or respect for human and civil rights: it is the discriminatory fashion by which these rights are denied. The insistence that acts of torture are illegal but inevitable and excusable in the context of Israeli security, point to Palestinians as the only possible victims.

Jimmy Carter and Ilan Pappe

It is said of Albert Einstein that he gave a particular exam to a class that had already been given that exam. Alarmed at what he saw and thinking it to be the result of the professor’s absent-mindedness, an assistant warned Einstein of what he was about to do. The Professor just smiled and said: It’s alright the answers have changed. The same thing goes for the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the questions remain the same but now sixty years after the establishment of the Jewish State, the answers have changed.

Until about ten years ago the answer to the question of how to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East was clear: Allowing the Palestinians to establish a free, independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel. But this answer known as the “Two State Solution” belongs to a reality that no longer exists. Today, after 40 years of occupation the West Bank is riddled with settlements and highways designated for Jews only; Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza are imprisoned within a wall, impoverished and starved and there is no political will within Israel to partition the land of Israel and allow Palestinian independence — all of which indicate that clearly the answers have changed.

So what is the answer to this very difficult question? Ten million people reside between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Approximately 5.5 million Jewish Israelis and 4.5 million Palestinians, all ruled by the state of Israel, the Jewish State. The conditions under which Palestinians live range between being third class citizens within Israel, and living under a military occupation with no representation, no human rights and no civil rights. Clearly this cannot go on forever and at some point Israel will be forced to grant the Palestinians equal rights. What remains to be seen is whether this will come as a result of intense violence and bloodshed or a negotiated agreement.

Two books that have come out in recent months are relevant to this conflict and both of them demonstrate that there is a tremendous amount of change in the air. The first book that has received a great deal of attention is Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid by former US President and staunch Israel supporter, Jimmy Carter. This book has opened the door for the first time for a serious debate in the US regarding the Palestinian tragedy. In a development that is almost unparalleled, a former US President characterizes Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza as apartheid. Since the book came out the debate has indeed been intense and there are no signs that this will change any time soon.

The second book is The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Israeli historian Illan Pappe. Categorizing the destruction of Palestine in the years 1947-1949 as ethnic cleansing is not new perhaps but it is worthy of mention because it is becoming more widely accepted. Pappe’s book, difficult though it is due to its detailed accounts, provides an opportunity for an in-depth study of the destruction of the Palestinian people and their homeland at the hands of the Jewish forces during the Israeli War of Independence. What might come as news to many Jewish people around the world and to many non Jewish Israel supporters is that it was in the aftermath of this campaign of ethnic cleansing that the State of Israel was established upon the ruins of Palestine.

What becomes apparent from reading the two books is that what Carter describes is congruent with what is described in Pappe’s book. In other words, current Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is an extension of the ethnic cleansing policies of the early years of the conflict.

One may argue over details in both Carter’s book and Pappe’s book, but one cannot argue with the facts that the books describe: Between the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1949, a time that Israel calls the War of Independence, close to 800,000 Palestinians were forced into exile and Palestinian identity in Palestine was almost entirely wiped out. Today, Israel continues to deny Palestinian identity, not to mention Palestinian independence both within the boundaries of the State of Israel and within the occupied territories.

One possible answer to the difficult question of the Israeli Palestinian conflict could be drawn from the fact that Israel, by ruling over two nations is already a bi-national state. The solution could be to replace the current system whereby only Israeli Jews enjoy the freedoms and rights of full citizenry, with one that will allow Palestinians to enjoy those rights as well. This will create a fully democratic state in which both Israelis and Palestinians live as equals, protected by a constitution that allows both people to express their national, religious and cultural identities.

This option of a constitutional democracy that includes both Israeli Jews and Palestinians under one state is without a doubt one of the more difficult answers. After 2,000 years in exile and having survived the Nazi holocaust, the Jewish people rose from the ashes like the phoenix to create a state they can call their own. Now it seems that securing the future of the people of Israel in the land of Israel will require not only vision but also genuine political compromise.

Bringing an end to the Israeli Palestinian conflict demands a serious look into the events that took place between the years 1947 and 2007: The State of Israel was created at the expense of another nation. The choice today is to fight until the last drop of blood has been shed, or to recognize the need to establish a political framework that will allow both people to live together in peace.

The Next Intifada

With his latest statements and unrestrained violence, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has once again confirmed that the occupation, the oppression and the slow genocide of Palestinians by the Israeli war machine he heads will not stop. Any talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are meaningless he says, and as far as he is concerned there will be no relief for the Palestinians, not even symbolic relief for people trying to cross the checkpoints. After all, even a short delay at the checkpoint can put an end to the life on an innocent Palestinian. Barak who has earned the dubious distinction of Israel’s most decorated soldier, by killing mostly unarmed Palestinian civilians, will do nothing that might hinder the liquidation of Palestinians, young or old. With Barak in control of Israel’s security apparatus Israelis and Palestinians can expect more violence and more losses of innocent lives.

Barak and his generals all have innocent blood on their hands and should be tried at The Hague for violations of international law and crimes against humanity. But instead they direct Israeli soldiers, government-trained assassins, secret police, and so-called border patrolmen to shoot and kill innocent Palestinians. Because in Israel all “security” personnel are all above the law and none of the perpetrators of these crimes, their commanding officers or the government ministers in charge are brought to justice.

At the same time thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are continually thrown into Israeli prisons for daring to resist the unlawful crimes of the Israeli occupation and since they are categorized as “security” prisoners they have no real protection under the law. Many of these prisoners are political activists and leaders who would otherwise be hailed for daring to resist Israeli apartheid. One can say with certainty that “defense” Minister Barak will block any attempt to change this situation, thus guaranteeing that the conflict will go on with no end in sight.

Rather than brace for the next Palestinian uprising of which there is already talk, it is time to consider a joint, non-violent struggle to end the occupation for good. As an example, we should note the courage, persistence and the determination of the unarmed, joint resistance that has been taking place in the small Palestinian town of Bil’in in the West Bank. For several years now Bil’in residents, together with Israeli peace activists and others have conducted a non-violent, joint struggle against the confiscation of Bil’in lands and the erection of the separation barrier.

Besides the regular weekly resistance, Bil’in has already hosted two international conferences on the non-violent struggle against the occupation and both were well attended. One would hope that the next conference would seriously discuss the means of expanding the struggle against the occupation to all parts of Palestine/Israel.

The term “occupation” gives the false impression that the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, and indeed in all of Palestine/Israel is somehow temporary. It is common to speak of 40 years of occupation but in reality the occupation of Palestine has been going on for 60 years and there will be no end to it without well-planned, joint, non-violent resistance. From its very creation Israel has been an apartheid state in which the Palestinian population that survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948 have been living under occupation, as prisoners in their own land.

At its very inception Israel had developed a brutal system to enforce the occupation and the state of apartheid. This system, conveniently but disingenuously referred to as the “defense” or “security” apparatus has for 60 years been in charge of policing the Palestinians as they fight for their rights as a nation. Using collaborators, the internal secret police or Shabak, the so-called Border Patrol (which is made up of mostly disenfranchised segments of Israeli society) and the Israeli Army, this massive Godzilla has been sucking the marrow out of Israeli society and destroying Palestinian life.

It is interesting to see how this Behemoth of a “defense” force reacts to the rather small non-violent protest in Bil’in; disproportionate number of forces being used; rubber coated bullets and tear gas canisters are shot into the crowd even though children are present; all this disproportionate violence is an indication that even though they are large and armed to the teeth the Israeli “defense” forces view the non-violent struggle as a threat. Violence is the life-blood of the Israeli “defense” forces and the notion of a non-violent, joint struggle is threatening its very existence.

There are two characteristics of Israeli life that the Israeli “defense” system, or security system, whichever cynical name it chooses to go by, needs to preserve at all cost. The first is the racist character of the state of Israel, and the second is the occupation that allows it to suck the life out of both nations. By keeping these two alive, the “defense” department receives its pound of flesh in the shape of an estimated $30 billion per year.

It is therefore of the highest national priority for both Israelis and Palestinians to defy this massive monster and to defy the occupation that it is protecting. Any future organized resistance must follow the lead of Bil’in and be joint and non-violent and it must have clearly defined objectives. Among these objectives should be the complete elimination of the racist segregation and discrimination against Palestinians within Israel/Palestine.

It would be a serious mistake to think that cosmetic changes like the Oslo Accords could bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The era of cosmetic changes together with the two-state solution is gone forever. Only full equal rights for both people in their historic homeland will bring an end to this conflict. And while there are those who will claim that this it is a naive dream and will never become a reality, we would do well to remember that the success of any struggle depends on the determination of its leaders and the clarity of its purpose, not the doubts of naysayers.

According to the Zionist narrative a Palestinian State may exist only if it neighbors a state that has a Jewish majority and which occupies most of the land of Israel/Palestine. When Israeli governments speak of a Palestinian state they mean a walled off Bantustan like Gaza. But as we see in Gaza, enclosing and starving people and depriving them of hope solves nothing. In Gaza, besides the violent power struggles, which one might expect under the circumstances, there are close to 1.4 million people, more than half of who are under 18 years of age. In other words over 700,000 children live in Gaza completely exposed to the unrestrained violence of the Israeli military.

If the violence would cease there could be a chance to protect these children and give them a better life and perhaps even a future. But as it stands, with Barak at the helm only resistance similar to the Bil’in example, which is non-violent and includes Israeli-Palestinian cooperation can provide hope for children in Gaza.

In a recent article that was published in the United States, Dr. Mona El Farra from Gaza wrote that, “This may seem an unlikely time to discuss the prospect of one state with equal rights for all, but the fighting in Gaza makes clear that a cordoned-off Gaza Bantustan is no solution.” The question that Dr. El Farra raises is monumental: Why is it right to speak of equal rights everywhere except for Israel and Palestine? Indeed, it may be an unlikely time but it is never the less the right time to discuss the establishment of a secular, democratic state in Israel/Palestine in which human and civil rights are guaranteed to all its citizens.

Clearly it is time for Israelis and Palestinians to rise and defy the highly decorated General Barak and the violent system he heads. It is a system that through the use and manipulation of violence has kept the two nations captive within the conflict for 60 years. It is time for a joint, non-violent struggle that will finally free the two peoples from the violence imposed on them, and bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Is there a crack in the wall?

“Getting inside the official Israeli mind is a worthwhile, if lurid, experience,” the late Edward Said wrote in his article “Dignity, Solidarity and the Penal Colony.” This is what it feels like when one is trying to understand the Middle East peace process that never seems to lead to anything. Observing this never ending saga, one can hardly help reaching the realization that peace is not a priority for Israel, and indeed Israeli governments have made no secret of the fact that a peace that precludes Israel’s complete control over historic Palestine is of no interest to them.

There is not a shred of evidence that can support Israeli claims of wanting to achieve peace based on the division of historic Israel/Palestine into two independent states. Israel has skillfully used the last 40 years to strengthen its hold on the areas occupied in 1967 and create a de facto apartheid state in all of Israel/Palestine. Consecutive Israeli governments bluntly use the so-called peace process to cover up expansion into the West Bank and execution of what has been called the slow genocide of the Palestinian people.

The decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to move the separation barrier and return land back to the people of Bil’in brought a sense that justice was carried out. Indeed this decision may constitute the first crack in the separation wall, and even to an extent a crack in the armor of the almighty Israeli “defense” forces. The leaders of the struggle held fast and did not compromise their objectives or their integrity and they have much of which they can proud. However, it is unlikely that the barrier will be moved or the land returned. 

For the last 60 years Israel has been intent on “The obliteration of an entire people by slow systematic methods of suffocation, outright murder and the stifling of everyday life” to use the words Edward Said. No branch of the Israeli government will admit to the illegitimacy of the occupation of Palestine; they will never admit to crimes they committed like the theft of land or the murder of innocent civilians and consequently, the “Defense” Department will not be bound by a Supreme Court’s decision that goes against its intent. 

At the same time it is important to note that this behemoth of a system called the Israeli “Defense” Forces is showing signs of crumbling. The Israeli military of today is not unlike the Red Army during the final years of the Soviet Union, where all that was left was the appearance of a superpower. The Israeli military is plagued by a severe lack of motivation among young recruits and increased numbers of young people avoiding the otherwise mandatory draft; according to recent stories in the Israeli press drug abuse is rampant everywhere in the army and particularly among Israel’s combat “elite” units. While the drug problem is not new (drugs were rampant in the IDF even 20 years ago) its use among combat units involved in daily operations is reported to have dramatically increased. This is hardly surprising if we consider the fact that “combat” is another word for abuse, murder and displacement of unarmed civilians. 

To compound this, the IDF was severely defeated last summer during its assault on Lebanon. It was a military as well as a moral defeat, and Israel’s commanders were totally humiliated by Hizballah. In Gaza the military has also proven to be inept. Even with massive use of force the IDF cannot stop the rockets launched from Gaza into Israel. Only recently several dozen new army recruits were injured by a rocket that fell in a large army base near Zikkim, just north of Gaza. And finally, with all of their intelligence the IDF is incapable of finding the soldier Gilad Shalit who is being held captive in Gaza. In light of all this, can there be any wonder that Israeli officers find diversion in drugs?

Edward Said refers to the Israeli military as “brigades of willing executioners,” and frankly, one cannot blame him. In a recent story in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot a young tank commander describes a “battle” against three suspected “gunmen” near the wall that imprisons Gaza: “the first one was caught in the chains of my tank (and crushed to death), the second we nailed and the others escaped.” The young lieutenant is congratulated by his commanding officer for courage and resourcefulness but warned that a tank should shoot from 1.5 km and not at close range. “This was practically hand-to-hand combat,” says the commander. 

One has to wonder, if these “gunmen” were only suspects why they were executed. If indeed they were armed, how was it that the tank managed to get so close? But the larger question answered in this particular report is this: Why are Israeli tanks still in Gaza? According this report, Israel claims 300 meters inside Gaza as a security zone (on the Gaza side of the wall) and will not permit anyone to come near.

As we engage in this lurid experience of trying to understand Israel, we cannot escape the conclusion that Israel has no intention to end the occupation. There is no plan to release Palestinians from their bondage or allow the emergence of a democracy that includes Palestinian freedom. The joint, nonviolent struggle must therefore continue until full equal rights for both people are achieved in all of Israel/Palestine. It will be an uphill battle. Just they did in Bil’in, the savage beast that is the Israeli military will react to nonviolence with as much violence as it possibly can.