Friday, January 23, 2009

Israel's Neo-colonial wars...

Israel's Neo-colonial wars...

In seeking to topple Yasser Arafat, disorganize the Palestinian Authority and force as many Palestinians as possible to leave Palestinian territory, Israel is trying to consolidate a racist settler-colonial state modeled on the classical colonialisms of the 19th century...

ARIEL SHARON, the Israeli Prime Minister, has been widely reported as having said that he was "sorry we did not liquidate" Yasser Arafat in 1982, at the time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Sabra and Shatila massacres which he had orchestrated as Defense Minister and in which over 700 civilians are said to have been murdered ( ). The same day, Haaretz, the most prestigious Israeli newspaper, called him a "serial Killer", "screw-up-specialist", "champion trouble-maker", and a "one-trick phony" who was bent upon "some murky and inert agenda of negativism and destruction". The newspaper then went on to say that "even the Lebanon War will turn out to be an aperitif to the dish that Sharon is now boiling up in the territories in a huge pressure-cooker".

All these years on from Sabra and Chatila, has anything changed ? NO, not one Iota...

I was watching the concocted and animated brazen propaganda film Waltz with Bashir about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It culminates in the massacre of some 700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps, which IDF orchestrated the butchery from close range in south Beirut, by IDF Sayaret Metkal and SLA militiamen of Saad Haddad from South Lebanon, introduced there by the Israeli army and flown into Beirut International Airport by C130 Hercules Aircraft of IAF, in full view of dozens of Lebanese Army witnesses...IDF had planned these operations "Spark" and "Iron Brain" within the invasion plans of Lebanon and Beirut all along with deadly and traditional IDF professional killers form....

In the last few minutes the film switches from animation to graphic news footage showing Palestinian women screaming with grief and horror as they discover the bullet-riddled bodies of their families. Then, just behind the women, I saw Ryan Crocker walking with a small group of journalists who had arrived in the camp soon after the killings had stopped.... Ryan CROCKER would immediately file a scathing report back to the State Department about IDF and the massacres there, only to be shelved for years and demoted for a decade or more....he was a young talented foreign service officer with courage....and Maurice DRAPER knows quite well the full story behind "Spark" and "Iron Brain".

The film is about how the director, Ari Folman, another propagandist for IDF, just like Hollywood is, who knew he was at Sabra and Chatila as an Israeli soldier, tried to discover both why he had repressed all memory of what happened to him and the direct Israeli IDF orchestration of the massacre with Sayaret Metkal, AMAN and MOSSAD.

Earlier, on January 14, Haaretz had published an analytical piece by Gedeon Levy titled "A Crime against the Innocents", which opened with the following sentence: "The punitive action executed by Israel at the weekend in the Gaza Strip, and in particular the mass demolition of homes in Rafah on Thursday morning, constitutes a war crime." In February 2001, Le Monde Diplomatique wrote:

Where Lebanese Minister Elias Hobeika, three others were killed January 24.

For 50 years the policies of successive Israeli governments have been punctuated with crimes: massive violations of human rights, massacres in the refugee camps, torture that is not just practiced, but authorized, against Palestinian detainees, confiscation of land, systematic destruction of homes, deprivation of water and other basic needs, constraints on the freedom of movement, and so on. In international law, such acts by a state against a militarily occupied population are called war crimes and fall under the Geneva Conventions of 1949... The alliance between Israel and the United States is, however, an obstacle to such a development. Nonetheless, the internal legislation of third-party states leaves some room for action. Torture and all infractions of the Geneva Conventions are a matter for all courts under the terms of the relevant international conventions.

It was perhaps in keeping with this European perception that a Belgian Appeals Court admitted a petition to try Sharon as a war criminal and the Attorney-General's office there affirmed that Belgian law authorizes a Belgian court to hold such a trial and seek extradition under international law. For its part, Amnesty International issued a statement as early as in October 2001 welcoming "action taken in accordance with international law to combat impunity", and saying that "we support the judicial investigation into Ariel Sharon's direct and full responsibility and IDF's occupying power in west Beirut in September 1982, under his command, with regard to the Sabra and Shatila massacre."

The Israelis have, characteristically, responded on two different tracks. Enormous diplomatic pressure is being exerted by Israel, with backing from the United States, to get the Belgian government to change its law and grant immunity to a head of state. On the other hand, Israel's immensely powerful propaganda machinery has taken to stigmatizing the Belgian government as anti-Semitic. Ehud Elimert, the Israeli Mayor of occupied Jerusalem, has described that government as a "government of bastards" that can "go to hell."

Noam Chomsky, among many others, has long argued that Sharon is a war criminal whose record of crimes goes back to 1953. This emphasis on Sharon's personal role in such matters over some 40 years is wholly justified. However, he also represents a much wider consensus which ranges from the Labor Party on the "Left" to the religious parties on the "extreme right". This deep-seated agreement between the Labor Party and Likud, which alternate as Israel's ruling parties, was indicated by Sharon himself in an interview in the Israeli publication Davar when he said that the settlements and road plans that Yitzhak Rabin, the then Labor Prime Minister, was implementing after the Oslo Accords were in fact what he himself had suggested in 1974. He then went on to say: "Some think that Rabin gave the Palestinians who-knows-what. Nonsense! These things are done cunningly." Labor's "cunning" (the Oslo Accords) and Arafat's compliance with that "cunning" put an end to the first Palestinian Intifada which had raged for some six years and helped Israel achieve a substantial part of its overall objectives. The intensified colonial war that Sharon has been waging for over a year now is designed to achieve the rest.

That consensus among the Israeli political elite has never been a secret. In a detailed analysis on the eve of Sharon's election ("Israel's Killing Fields", Frontline, November 24, 2000) this writer documented how Ehud Barak, the then Labor Prime Minister, had been secretly negotiating the formation of a government of national unity with Sharon, the then Likud Opposition leader, and how the two had colluded in provoking the ongoing Al-Aqsa Intifada which Israel is now using to wage a war that is designed to emasculate the Palestinian Authority further, topple Arafat and expel as much of the Palestinian population from the occupied territories as possible. It might be useful now to quote what Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli peace activist, wrote on February 17, 2001, immediately after Sharon's rise to prime ministerial eminence in an election marked by the lowest voter turnout in Israeli history:

Two weeks ago he branded Barak and Peres as traitors selling the country to the enemy. Now he buys the routed Barak and the pathetic Peres on the cheap... This will be military government. It will be dominated by three generals: Sharon, Barak and Shaul Mofaz, the most political chief-of-staff in Israeli history. The government will also include generals like Vilnai and Ben-Eliezer... Shimon Peres (who) desperately holds on to office and is ready to lend his Nobel Prize certificate to Sharon as a fig-leaf.

Policemen with the body of the most popular Christian Leader, Mr. Elie Hobeika, who was the founder of a Lebanese political party .

INDEED, it is sobering to register that both the main Israeli parties are headed by famous Generals and to recall that in this bipartisan government - which Avinery calls a "military government" and Sharon himself calls a "government of all the Jewish people" - the Defense Ministry is held by Ben-Eliezer, the Labor Party chairman, and the Foreign Ministry by Shimon Peres, perhaps the most illustrious of the current Labor leaders who was recently - and cynically - awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

And what has this "government of all the Jewish people" wrought? The basic contours of the new Israeli policy had become evident in the last days of the Barak government itself and methodical assassinations of Palestinian leaders had begun in November 2000. Over the next few months, the brutality of Israeli colonial war had escalated sufficiently for Edward S. Herman, the noted American writer, to remark in a ZNet commentary on March 20, 2001 that "Israel in the occupied territories represents a true case of ethnic cleansing, with Palestinians driven from their lands and with houses demolished in a long-term process of 'redemption of the land' for 'the chosen people'."

By April 1, 2001, The Sunday Times was reporting that "The Israeli government has drawn up plans to assassinate several of Yasser Arafat's closest aides and arrest or deport hundreds of other leading Palestinians." On April 13, 2001, Sharon himself spelled out his objectives in an interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz's weekend supplement, with three significant elements.

First, "We cannot leave the Golan Heights" under any circumstances, he said, which effectively means that confrontation with Syria was going to be permanent.

Second, he clarified that even if the Palestinians were to meet all his demands he would grant them no more than 42 per cent of the occupied territories; "I did not say 50 per cent," he reiterated, "I said 42 per cent." Considering that Israel's pre-1967 borders already contain 78 per cent of Palestinian territory, this would effectively mean that three and a half million Palestinians still residing in the occupied territories now had the choice of either huddling up in roughly 10 per cent of historic Palestine or to leave.

Third, he emphasized that there would be no liquidation of Jewish settlements in those territories, no restriction on further housing projects in those settlements, no relinquishing of the water resources of the occupied territories, no consolidation of even that 42 per cent, and no full sovereignty for a Palestinian state. As for whatever opposition exists within Israel to his vision of permanent war and occupation, he was emphatic: "A normal people does not ask questions like 'will we always live by the sword'... the sword is part of life."

The overall effects of this 'life by the sword' were succinctly summarized by Ian Gilmour in a story titled "An affront to Civilization" in The Observer of May 13, 2001:

A ruthless colonial war is being waged throughout the Gaza Strip and the West Bank... The Israeli army of occupation has the overwhelming superiority of a nineteenth century imperial power... The modern equivalent of the Maxim gun for mowing down 'the natives' is the American-made Apache helicopter and a plethora of high-tech weaponry... I very much doubt if there is, even in the murkiest annals of nineteenth century colonialism, a remotely comparable instance of imperial arrogance and contemptuous disregard for the rights of subject people.

The colonial nature of this occupation is most vivid in the Gaza Strip where the Israeli Army and one thousand settlers occupy and use 40 per cent of the land and water resources, leaving the other 60 per cent to well over a million Palestinians. All in all, 400,000 Israeli colonial settlers live in some 200 settlements that dot the occupied territories and are linked to one another by means of 450 km of highways and "bypass" roads which also serve to isolate Palestinian population centers from one another, turning them into Bantustan-like little islands, all of which can be administered and occupied separately. "The settlements were born in political sin," Haaretz commented on April 10, 2001. Nor did the Oslo agreements lead to any curtailment of the expansion of these colonial settlements. When the agreements were signed in 1993, there were 32,750 housing units in the settlements. Since then 20,371 new ones have been constructed, representing a 62 per cent increase in eight years from what had been built over roughly a quarter century.

The Palestinians have neither an army, nor a navy nor an air force to defend themselves against one of the world's most sophisticated, and possibly the most brutal, military powers which routinely uses F-16 aircraft to bomb their towns and villages and Apache helicopter gunships to assassinate their leaders. The human cost has been devastating. The weekly Al-Ahram (of February 22-28) reported that close to a thousand Palestinians have been killed and 11,000 injured, 1,500 of whom have been permanently crippled. This rate of injury over the past 18 months is higher than during the first Intifada of 1987-93 which ended with the Oslo agreements. Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories (UNSCO), recently issued a report (The Financial Times, December 21, 2001) which outlines the economic impact of the current fighting, in the first year ending September 2001. According to the report, unemployment in the West Bank has risen from 11 to 25 per cent and the figure now stands at above 50 per cent in the Gaza Strip. The revenues of the Palestinian Authority have declined by 57 per cent and overall losses to the Palestinian economy are said to be between $2.4 billion and $3.4 billion. There has been a 37 per cent decline in real incomes and 46 per cent of the Palestinian population is therefore currently living below the poverty line figure of $2 a day, while Israel refuses to pay $350 million in taxes that it owes to the Palestinian Authority, which is now surviving on donations from abroad, mainly from the European Union and the Arab states. (Palestinian sources put the overall unemployment rate at 60 per cent.)

Israel has cancelled work permits for 45,000 Palestinians who worked inside Israel, cut off the Gaza Strip from any external contact, vastly restricted imports of consumer goods, uprooted crops from thousands of hectares of orchards and imposed a curfew that is so severe that people find it difficult to get even to hospitals, let alone places of work. Sewage plants, irrigation systems, power facilities, radio towers, roads and airport runways have been the favorite bombing targets. All exit and entry points are controlled by Israelis, air links have been cut off, and a maze of networks control the movement of Palestinians within their neighborhoods. In the Gaza Strip, all of which is surrounded by barbed wire, there are two main roads for the Palestinians, both of which have been bombed or bulldozed. Even the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics had its computers ransacked and its files destroyed. And Arafat is of course under house arrest in Ramallah, with high-tech armor surrounding his residence.

THE policy thus seems to have three objectives:

1. To beat the populace into abject submission through military assault, political repression, encirclement and starvation;

2. The permanent destruction of infrastructure as well as the Palestinian Authority as such, so that living conditions become so insufferable that sizeable numbers of people would be forced to flee the occupied territories;

3. The toppling of Arafat and negotiating with local leaders so that the leaders become the equivalent of the "chiefs" in colonial Africa and are then made to manage the remaining population on the model of the Bantustans in apartheid South Africa. Nelson Mandela's old remark that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories was "worse than apartheid" is thus becoming remorselessly true.

Alex Fishman, who is reputed to have excellent connections with top security officials, reported in Yediot Aharanot, the rightwing Israeli daily, in December 2001 that Sharon had prepared a plan to get rid of Arafat "even before the election" of February 2001. The plan is named after his security adviser during the election campaign, Reserve General Meir Dagan, who is currently Israel's representative to Bush's special emissary in the region, General (retd) Anthony Zinni. The plan calls for the toppling of Arafat on the one hand, and the repudiation of the Oslo agreements on the other. Covering this Hebrew language report, Le Monde of December 17, 2001 said:

According to Yediot Aharanot's sources, the Defense Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor Party), stated weeks ago during a meeting of his high command that Arafat "had finished his historical role", and he asked his colleagues to "undertake independent discussions with other forces" than those of the Palestinian chief. The Dagan plan foresees that once the Intifada is put down Israel "will negotiate separately with Palestinian forces that are dominant in each territory - Palestinian forces responsible for security, intelligence, and even for the Tanzim (Fatah)." The plan thus closely resembles the idea of "cantonisation" of Palestinian territories, put forth by a number of Ministers.

Similarly, Foreign Report (Jane's Information Group) of July 12, 2001 disclosed a plan by the Israeli Army for an "all-out assault to smash the Palestinian Authority, force out leader Yasser Arafat and kill or detain its army". The blueprint, titled "The Destruction of the Palestinian Authority and Disarmament of All Armed Forces", was presented to the Israeli government by Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz on July 8 and envisages the suicide bombings by the Hamas militants as sufficient justification for it.

U.S. collusion in all this is palpable. It has bestowed upon Israel $92 billion in aid, more than any country has ever gifted another country. It allows Israel to use the whole range of U.S.-supplied weaponry - from F-16 jets to Apache helicopters - to kill and terrorize a population that does not even have ordinary armor to defend itself. When, at an early stage of this 18-month old assault, the Palestinian Authority asked for unarmed U.N. monitors to be stationed in the territories, the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution that had been supported by all the other members as well as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. The veto was supported by an overwhelming majority of the U.S. Congress. Defense Secretary Richard Holbrook simply declared that "no force would be supported without Israeli approval" and The New York Times of November 13, 2000 blandly declared that "Israel rightly resists any shift to a more international format," blithely ignoring the fact that even the Oslo agreements had been legitimized through the invocation of Security Council resolutions.

It has been clear from the beginning that Bush gave Sharon a free hand to do as he wishes, short of killing Arafat outright, much as Ronald Reagan had given Sharon, who was Defense Minister at the time, the green light for the invasion of Lebanon. This savage resolve has hardened since September 11. After a very brief fit of anxiety that the Arab states might not be able to deliver to the U.S. what it wanted so long as the brutal attacks on the Palestinians continued, the U.S. recognized the sheer spinelessness and subservience of those states and again threw its full weight behind Israel, just as Sharon took to calling Arafat "our own bin Laden". Already in mid-November 2001 Amnesty International had protested that the rate of Palestinian casualties had doubled over those two months. Haaretz on January 24, 2002 noted that no fewer than nine U.S. congressional delegations had visited the region in two weeks but none had even contemplated meeting Arafat. It also reported that Zinni, Bush's special envoy, was said to be carrying a letter to Arafat which contained a final warning that the U.S. would cut off relations with the Palestinian Authority if the latter does not accede to the U.S.-Israeli demands. At the time of this writing, the U.S. is said to be contemplating a whole range of options, from sanctions to the closing down of Palestinian Authority offices in Washington.

Prof. Alain Joxe, head of the French CIRPES (peace and strategic studies) wrote in Le Monde (December 17, 2001) that "the American leadership is presently shaped by dangerous right wing Southern extremists, who seek to use Israel as an offensive tool to destabilize the whole Middle East area". The lobby that favors a major assault on Iraq is still very strong in Washington, while people like U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell seem to be constrained by two factors: the consequences of such an escalation for internal balance in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are unpredictable, and the U.S. really does not have a strong enough group of Iraqis to replace Saddam Hussein. The extremist Right would in any case like to extend the war not only to Iraq but also possibly Syria, on the charge that it harbors leaders of "terrorist" organizations. It is also significant that both the Hezbollah and the Hamas figured prominently in Bush's list of "terrorist organizations" in his State of the Union message in January. In all this, Israel is the one great reliable force in a region which the U.S. seems bent to tear apart.

The position of Arafat in all this is truly pathetic. The Oslo agreements have served the Israeli purposes and have now become redundant, as has Arafat himself. He handed over his security forces to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for training and complied, as best as he could, with the Israeli demands to control and smash the Hamas, which has nevertheless survived, and it is therefore ironic that he is being held responsible for attacks by an organization which he tried to co-opt with one hand, smash with the other. The corruptions, the essentially bureaucratic ambitions, the ineptitudes, of his close aides are now catching up with him. A leader who has discredited himself and yet symbolizes the organized political will of his people, he now faces the choice between petitioning for refuge elsewhere and running the risk of assassination. If the Americans have not yet allowed the Israelis to kill him, that is only because they do not know what comes after him.

The secret of the current Israeli savagery lies in the simple fact that ever since it began its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip some 35 years ago it has sought to annex as much of the territory as possible with as little of the Arab population as possible. If it were simply to annex the occupied territories, the induction of some three and a half million Palestinians of those territories into this expanded Israel would in effect turn the "Jewish state" into a bi-national Arab-Jewish state, destroying the very raison d'être of this settler-colonial state. On the other hand, however, it cannot relinquish its claims to the land owing both to quasi-religious ideological reasons ("Biblical lands" for "the Chosen People") and, more prosaically, to the greed for land and water resources as well as a territorial expansionism which wishes to swallow even parts of Syria and Lebanon. Within the larger, overarching consensus, therefore, the Israeli establishment has long debated as to how much territory it ought to annex and in what form the rest is to be reconstituted, with how much of the population. This debate can be schematically summed up as an opposition between the "softer" Alon plan, usually identified with the Labor Party, of enforcing a permanent apartheid, and a "harder" Sharon plan, closer to the Likud's vision, of apartheid-plus-expulsion. Sharon's own journey from Labor to Likud and his present stewardship of a Labor-dominated Cabinet shows how little distance separates the two plans.

The "softer" plan envisaged annexing some 35 per cent of the territory and permitting the rest to become something resembling a Palestinian state with severely restricted sovereignty. The "harder" plan, as enunciated by the likes of Sharon, has advocated annexing close to 60 per cent of the territory, expelling as much of the population as possible and containing the rest in an unviable mini-state of numerous cantons where municipal authority would rest with local leaders and some form of central authority would be constituted for policing purposes and for coordination among local magnates. The softer plan was eventually contained in the so-called "peace process" initiated by the Oslo agreements of 1993 which Arafat, to his shame and discredit, accepted and set out to implement in collusion with his Israeli interlocutors and under U.S. supervision. This, plus the annexation of East Jerusalem, is what Barak, the former Labor Prime Minister, offered to Arafat as the final solution before breaking off negotiations when Arafat balked at the idea of surrendering East Jerusalem altogether. That refusal is what Bill Clinton has recently - and again - described as Palestine's "missed opportunity".

Having used the Oslo agreements to attain all the objectives of the "softer" plan and to discredit Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization in the process, Israel was then ready, by the second half of 2000, to make a bid for the "harder" plan. The deliberate provocation planned by the Barak-Sharon secret negotiations, which witnessed Sharon arriving in the compound of the Al-Aqsa mosque with 1,000 guards provided by Barak and which was then followed by the Israeli Army opening fire on a congregation of Palestinians the next day, was the beginning of this new phase involving the constant use of what Amnesty International and others have again and again characterized as "deliberately excessive force" designed to provoke Palestinian retaliation which would then pave the way for further Israeli assaults. The bipartisan military government - what Sharon calls "the government of all the Jewish people" - was organized to implement this audacious plan.

Born in the moment of expulsion of half the Palestinian population in 1948, Israel was now ready to carry out another "mini-48", annexing as much as possible, expelling as many as possible. If the whole of West Asia goes up in a ball of fire in the process, so much the better, so far as the Israelis are concerned. Arab tragedy has always been the Zionist's opportunity.

This, then, seems to be the end-game: topple Arafat (even kill him, if the U.S. would allow it), disorganize the Palestinian Authority, force as many Palestinians as possible to leave, choke the life-lines for the rest, establish a new system of local "chiefs", make a brave new world based upon 'life by the sword' for the Israelis, apartheid-plus-expulsion for the Palestinian. After the defeat of the great revolutionary upsurge of the 20th century, we are now witnessing, at the dawn of the 21st century, the expanded consolidation of a racist settler-colonial state modeled upon the classical colonialisms of the 19th. The enterprise may not be sustainable in the long run, but it promises to kill and mutilate tens of thousands of people in the process.