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Thursday, July 27, 2006


'All Israel Wants'


Rima Merriman

There is a question that Dr. Phil habitually asks of the troubled guests on his popular US talk show as they start to justify the actions that got them in trouble: How is it working for you?

It could be argued that things are working fine for Israel. It has the power and the US backing to achieve whatever it wants to achieve and to sustain such gains. When these gains prove too costly (as in Gaza), it abandons them, but it makes sure to shift them to other “authorised” colonial posts in East Jerusalem or elsewhere on the West Bank. Another tactic is to instigate civil conflicts among the populations it is manipulating and then step back.

More than peace, more than justice, what Israel wants, what it has systematically worked towards constructing in the Middle East throughout the decades, is a Jewish state on as wide a swathe of land in historic Palestine as possible, with all Jerusalem as its capital and with as few Palestinians inside its borders as possible. It has rounded up the Palestinians outside its chosen borders (but under its occupation) in shrivelled and disjointed walled sections.

Israel’s aim has always been to “change the map” - the geographic and demographic map. This aim is couched in misleading language such as a desire on Israel’s part to have “defensible borders”, meaning that the troublesome Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (404,000 by UNRWA’s latest count) who have never renounced their right of return to their homes and lands in Israel, must be forcibly pushed even farther into Lebanon.

The Palestinian refugees Israel has created and continues to create are deemed to be the responsibility of the UN and international NGOs, of the Arab countries (like Lebanon) that must unwillingly host them and recently of Islamist movements. In 1992 Israel “deported” 415 undesirable Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza into Southern Lebanon, one of its dumping grounds. (More often, of course, it assassinates such Palestinians or imprisons them).

Israel’s “defensible borders” must also do double duty by keeping Palestinian expatriate nationals from residing in the occupied Palestinian territories even if they are married to Palestinian ID holders, and they must allow only Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs to reside in East Jerusalem (whatever is left of them) and to be hemmed in by transplanted Jewish communities.

When it comes to Palestinians inside Israel, the language is couched as a desire on Israel’s part for “residential separation”. In Israel, the state owns 93 per cent of the land and the manner in which it has allocated the land since its establishment has kept the Israeli Palestinian communities in a state of severe overcrowding and total neglect and largely separated from the Jewish population — in some cases by the actual erection of walls four metres high and several kilometres long that prevent both visual and physical contact between the two sides. The implausible excuse here is not “security”, as is the case on the West Bank, but... noise.

By promoting itself as a Western liberal nation-state (“the standard bearer of law and justice”) in spite of the rampant religious zealotry of its “settlers” and the violent racism of both its left and right-wing governments, by brilliantly manipulating US politics to its own advantage and by building itself into a powerful military machine, Israel pretty much has been getting away with murder in the Middle East for decades. Shamefully, the West has failed to exert enough “frown power” (to use a term coined by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to describe its campaign against bigotry in the US in the 1950s) on Israel’s many violations of international law, let alone its most recent savageries in Lebanon (widespread and indiscriminate bombings) and Gaza, to sway it even slightly from its course.

On the other hand, Israel’s brutal attempts to stamp out Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to its machinations have not been without a physical as well as moral cost. Though the balance of force is still entirely in its favour, Israel now faces Hizbollah in Lebanon, where before it faced the PLO, and it faces Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, where before it faced Fateh. Sure, it has the power to annihilate them all and the civilians around them, children included. That is the ultimate logic of all that Israel stands for, of all that Israel wants.

Obviously, the same question, “How is it working for you?”, when posed to the PLO or Hamas, will yield a negative answer, for their losses over the years have been devastating. But I am not asking that question of them, because it is Israel, the party holding all the cards, not the PLO or Hamas or Hizbollah, which has always held the key to a just peace. But having the bombs and US backing, Israel sees no reason to use that key.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

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