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Removing the Accidental Protection
What is behind the Gaza â€˜disengagement planâ€™? It has been spelled out clearly enough by Ariel Sharonâ€™s own advisor, Dov Weisglass, in an often-quoted Haâ€™aretz interview about â€˜freezingâ€™ the peace process in â€˜formaldehydeâ€™. Palestinian activist and commentator Azmi Bishara stated it like this:
The plan is one package containing the dismantling of settlements in Gaza and four in the northern part of the West Bank, but in exchange for this, the plan: (1) is intended to freeze the peace process and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; (2) stipulates the fortification of settlements in the West Bank; (3) includes a plan for annexing settlement blocs and large swaths of land from the West Bank into Israel; (4) secures the siege of the Gaza Strip by land, sea, and air, and preserves Israelâ€™s right to continue invasions and attacks in Gaza; (5) includes the Bush-Sharon correspondence which negates the right of return, certifies that Israel will remain a Jewish state, and acknowledges that settlement blocs will be annexed to Israel.
There are several reasons Israeli planners feel able to do this at this moment. First, the â€˜War on Terrorâ€™ and the occupation of Iraq by the United States have created a favorable political climate for aggressive moves against the Palestinians under the rhetorical cover of â€˜terrorismâ€™, and have done so for nearly four years. Criticism of Israel from the US, to say nothing about actual pressure, has always been feeble. But even feeble criticism is much less forthcoming under the circumstances. There has been some criticism from outside the US, but no international action has had much effect as Israel enjoys total US protection. Second, Israelâ€™s brutal military campaigns against the Palestinian people, their organizations, and their infrastructure, have had a devastating effect on Palestiniansâ€™ ability to continue to resist. Palestinians, who would be happy to see the settlers leave, know the withdrawal plan holds no hope for them. But even if their will to resist is unbroken (as attested by the frequent demonstrations and nonviolent resistance to the Wall, in places like Bilâ€™in, that go largely unreported except on Palestine activist listservs), their capacity for resistance has been devastated, as their society has been, by Israelâ€™s killings, checkpoints, and siege. Third, the Israeli political spectrum has shifted strongly to the right, with the left and the peace movement more marginal than ever. All three of the possible sources of resistance: international, Palestinian, and Israeli, have been beaten down, making the debate one between different factions in the extreme right.
Uri Avnery is 81 or 82 years old, an Israeli activist with a group called Gush Shalom. He was in the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset). Before that, he was in the Israeli militias, some of the elite units that did ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948 to prepare for the state of Israel. He's a very complex person with a very long political and writing career. His cause is peace and a two-state solution. He was a friend and supporter of Arafat until his death and had a very moving interview in Ha'aretzafter his death. A Jewish Israeli, an avowed Zionist, a supporter of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, does not make parallels between Israel and WWI Germany easily. For some, such comparisons do come easily. But for someone like Avnery, I don't think they do. So Avnery's piece, 'The March of the Orange Shirts', which explicitly compares the settler movement in Israel to fascism, is even more alarming. He writes:
In the past I have often hesitated to use this analogy. We have a taboo concerning Nazi Germany. Since nothing in the world can compare with the Holocaust, no comparisons should be made with Germany of that time.
Only rarely has this taboo been broken. David Ben-Gurion once called Menachem Begin "a disciple of Hitler". Begin for his part called Yasser Arafat "the Arab Hitler", and before that, Gamal Abd-el-Nasser was referred to in Israel as "Hitler on the Nile". Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, in his usual provocative way, spoke about "Judeo-Nazis" and compared the special units of the Israeli army to the SS. But these were exceptions. Generally, the taboo was observed.
Not any more. In their fight against the "rotten" Israeli democracy, the settlers have adopted the Holocaust symbols. They are ostentatiously wearing the Yellow Star that was imposed by the Nazis on the Jews before their extermination, only substituting orange for yellow. They inscribe their forearm with their identity number, like the numbers the Nazis tattooed on the Auschwitz prisoners. They call the government the "Judenrat", after the Jewish councils appointed by the Nazis in the ghettoes, and liken the evacuation of the settlers from Gush Katif to the deportation of the Jews to the death camps. All this live on television.
So, there is no reason anymore for not calling the spade a spade: a large fascist camp is now threatening Israeli democracy.
Avnery is concerned about the threat this settler movement, which he calls 'a large fascist camp' that is attempting 'to overturn by force the democratic system itself', poses to Israel's polity. He notes that 'this is a revolutionary movement with a revolutionary ideology using revolutionary means'.
His definition of fascism is a useful one:
There is no agreed scientific definition of "fascism". I define it as having the following attributes: the belief in a superior people (master Volk, chosen people, superior race), a complete absence of moral obligations toward others, a totalitarian ideology, the negation of the individual except as a part of the nation, contempt for democracy and a cult of violence. According to this definition, a large proportion of the settlers are fascists.
Avnery believes that if Israeli citizens do not stand up for it, Israel's democratic system will be overthrown. I think he is right. I also think things are worse than he writes. If, as he says, there is a fascist movement in the process of overthrowing Israel's democracy, there is also a genocide underway in Gaza.
Since Avnery gave a useful definition of fascism, it is worth providing a definition of genocide. Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling described the project of Israel, and especially current Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, as one of â€˜politicideâ€™. Politicide, to Kimmerling, means the destruction of a people as an independent political and social entity. Kimmerling specifies that this could, though it need not, involve the actual physical destruction of people. The more expansive definitions of â€˜genocideâ€™ are similar: they have to do with the destruction of a cultural or political group as a group, and may or may not involve murder on a massive scale. I believe, however, that the label â€˜genocideâ€™ is popularly understood to involve mass murder as well as the destruction of a group, and should only be used when physical destruction is at stake. Genocide is often viewed as requiring gas chambers or throat slitting on a massive scale, but genocide can also be more slow acting, while no less deadly. Such was the case in Iraq during the sanctions regime, and now in Gaza, with the siege. And while it is slow-acting now, it is accelerating.
In Phyllis Bennisâ€™s recent piece on the Gaza 'Disengagement' plan to move the few thousand Jewish settlers out of the fenced-in open-air prison for 1.3 million Palestinians that is the Gaza Strip, Bennis is very clear on what 'disengagement' means:
Sharon's planned "disengagement" from Gaza is not a step towards ending occupation; it is designed to change the character of Gazaâ€™s occupation from direct troops-in-the-streets and settlers-on-the-land occupation to a kind of occupation-by-siege, in which Gaza will be completely encircled by an Israeli fence, as well as Israeli troops and military force. All entry and exit to and from Gaza will be controlled by Israel. The Israeli military will control all crossing points, Israel will control Gaza's skies and seas, the building and operation of any future port or airport will be under Israeli permission (or denied permission), and the people of Gaza will have no ability to move in and out of their land, to ship agricultural products out or bring crucial medicines in, except under intrusive Israeli control.
On this question of 'agricultural products' (otherwise known as 'food') and medicine, it's worth repeating yet again that the UN Special Rapporteur for Food found two years ago that 22% of Gaza's children were malnourished because of the siege of Gaza (USAID reports said the same thing), a siege that has not been lifted at all since - so we can be sure that the situation has deteriorated steadily for two more years. No employment, no economy, only such food aid as Israel allows.
When I was in Gaza City in 2002, I was told by my Palestinian host that problems with mosquitoes were not as bad as they could be because the Israelis had to protect themselves from diseases, too. That won't be the case once the settlers are gone. The settlers, who are just a few thousand, occupy something like 40% of the land. Because of the settlement strategy, their presence, despite their small numbers, is ubiquitous. But once they are gone and all of their buildings and infrastructure thoroughly destroyed, there won't be any protection for the Palestinians of Gaza, not even the accidental protection of colonists protecting themselves.
That is what made people like Uri Davis, Ilan Pappe, and Tamar Yaron - also very reasonable people - panic. These Israeli activists are very worried about the consequences of the 'disengagement':
We believe that one primary, unstated motive for the determination of the government of the State of Israel to get the Jewish settlers of the Qatif (Katif) settlement block out of the Gaza Strip may be to keep them out of harm's way when the Israeli government and military possibly trigger an intensified mass attack on the approximately one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of whom about half are 1948 Palestine refugees.
Still another very good Israeli activist, Michael Warschawski, disagrees with the above. He replied to it suggesting that instead "the reason for the evacuation of a few thousands settlers from the Gaza Strip is to help in creating a "Gazastan," part of the old Sharon plan of "cantonization of the occupied territories."
Warschawski, like Bennis, thinks that the point of the Gaza evacuation is to create a 'trauma' that will help Sharon argue that no more settlements can be dismantled. This can be true and Davis/Pappe/Yaron can also be completely right that a mass slaughter is being planned (and in fact Warschawski admits as much in his piece).
But, because the stakes are so very high, it is important to be absolutely clear.
Israel's policy towards Gaza is already genocidal. There is already a siege that has already starved tens of thousands of children and is killing and permanently damaging many more. There is already a vicious military with total control featuring snipers murdering little girls as they sit in their classrooms. The place is already fenced in from all sides. Indiscriminate missile attacks already kill dozens of people at the whim of some occupation officer and with no one, in Israel or outside, noticing or caring. There is really no question about whether they can get away with it because they are already getting away with it. There is also no question as to whether they care about Gaza because they have always been very clear about it. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself expressed his wish in 1992 that Gaza 'would just sink into the sea' (I collected this and some other telling quotes here).
Warschawski is right that Gaza and its 1.3 million people are utterly irrelevant to Sharon, Israel and the US (other than the settler movement, which cares about Gaza, though not its inhabitants). That does not mean those people in Gaza are not facing genocide. They will be fenced in, besieged, left to starve and to drink dirty water and die, like the Iraqi children of the sanctions, because the settlers' water infrastructure will most certainly be destroyed and defiled and probably poisoned before the settlers finally leave. And when some of them think of revenge, trying hopelessly to launch a metal tube over the electric fence at their occupiers, Israel will be able to launch the heavy weaponry with an unheard of lack of discrimination, for there won't be an Israeli life at risk in the killing.
And yes, the West Bank settlement project will be consolidated in the meantime, and yes, the settler movement will be overthrowing Israel's democracy in the meantime, and who knows what new horrors will be happening in the 'War on Terror' elsewhere at the same time.
There seem to be few cards left to play. Phyllis Bennis, in her article quoted above, calls for sanctions against Israel, at the popular level:
Since governments, especially the U.S. government, have so far been unwilling to take seriously their obligations to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law, it is up to our global civil society to do it. Both Palestinian civil society organizations and the UN-based International Coordinating Network on Palestine have called for non-violent campaigns of "BDS" - boycotts, divestment and sanctions â€“ against Israelâ€™s occupation and the institutions and corporations that benefit from it.
The boycott call by a group of Palestinian civil society organizations can be found here. Presented with a choice between fascist colonizers and genocidal militarists, Palestinians and their allies can be forgiven for opting out, and looking instead for ways to derail and reverse the politicide, which, even if it succeeds beyond the wildest dreams of Israeli planners, will have horrendous consequences beyond their narrow and self-destructive calculations.
In the meantime I would rather see the settlers stay until there is a just solution than see the genocide advance and accelerate with a tightened siege and fewer restraints on Israeli bombing campaigns.