Thursday, November 27, 2008

How to squander moral authority

Yesterday's Haaretz carried an article by Judea Pearl, a distinguished professor of computer science and the father of Daniel Pearl, a journalist kidnapped and beheaded in Afghanistan, apparently for the sole reason of being Jewish. After his son's murder, Pearl started a movement called Daniel Pearl Muslim-Jewish Dialogue of Understanding; he has since been described as an international pacifist.

The article bears the promising title For the sake of peace, Israel and Palestinians should apologize to each other. One is further encouraged upon reading in the first paragraphs "The two sides are locked in a fundamentally immobile stalemate." The professor seems about to describe the things both Israelis and Palestinians are doing wrong and how they could redress them.

And here comes the big disappointment. Says Pearl:

Israel cannot accommodate a sovereign neighbor rocket-range away from its vital airports while militant elements can and vow to use the shelter of sovereignty to accomplish their aims.

So much for Israel's deadlock; what about the Palestinians'?

And Palestinian society, having taught its youngsters for decades that Israel's existence is temporary, is unable to restrain its militants from pursuing their aims, especially under conditions of occupation, when Iran promises to render those teachings a reality.

So that you see; the Israelis are deadlocked and it's the Palestinians' fault; and the Palestinians are deadlocked and it's also the Palestinians' fault.

He could have said:

The Israeli society, having told its settlers to grab West Bank hilltops before a permanent agreement is reached on the area where Palestinians hope to build an independent homeland, is unable to restrain its fundamentalists from pursuing their aims, especially under conditions of occupation, when wealthy foreign donors are subsidizing the land grab.

Or he could have said:

The Palestinians can't accept a State with wedges of Israeli settlements cutting deep into the West Bank, cris-crossed by Israeli-only roads, with Israeli military presence on the Jordan Valley and in which the land will be returned not immediately but gradually.

He could have blamed Israel for the Israeli deadlock and the Palestinians for the Palestinian deadlock. Or the Palestinians for the former and Israel for the latter. Or he could have put the full blame on Israel. But of all the possible combinations, he chose to blame the Palestinians for both deadlocks.

The rest of the article doesn't interest me. Pearl will probably call for a conference in which both parties apologize. But it's not a sincere call, because he thinks only the Palestinians have things to apologize for, and the Israeli apology would essentially be a goodwill gesture, even a painful concession, designed to save the Palestinians' face.

As the father of a terror victim, Judea Pearl enjoys an enormous moral authority. Too bad he squanders it making bogus analyses of realities he's not acquainted with, and patronizing the people he pretendedly seeks to understand.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Catholic than the Israeli Pope

The last thing one would expect from a Jewish person is to be more Catholic than the Pope; but when it comes to defending the indefensible (i.e., Israel), everything is possible. The Pope is in this case the Israeli government, and the display of religious fervor consists of stubbornly denying there's anything illegal about its behavior, even when the government itself acknowledges or, at least, does not deny the illegality.

A good example is the 2006 war in Lebanon. Despite the scandalous extent of Israeli destruction in the land of the cedars in response to a trivial border incident, Zionist zealots insist that the actions were not disproportionate. For instance, in a primer titled How to talk about the Crisis in Israel, a rabbi instructed his readers:

Israel's response, particularly in Lebanon, is not “disproportionate,” as some have charged. Israel is attacking only targets directly related to the terror unleashed upon Israel. Because Hezbollah hides rockets in and around civilian homes, the loss of life in Lebanon is a tragic but unavoidable consequence, and is entirely Hezbollah's doing. Israel, like all of us, is deeply saddened by the loss of civilian life in Lebanon.

A think tank, for its part, moaned:

Israel's overall response was not disproportionate when considering the enemy Israel was fighting, the tactics Hizballah used, and the past unprovoked attacks that had been left unaddressed.

However, the Israeli government itself never called into question the disproportionality of the response. In fact, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, stated before a US audience at the time:

Let us finish the job! You know better than anyone else that what we are doing is doing your own work: fighting terror.... And to those countries who claim we are using disproportionate force, I have only this to say: you're damn right we are!

In fact, disproportionate force has since been unabashedly adopted as policy by the Israeli army. As commander Gadi Eisenkot stated to the newspaper Yediot Ahronot:

"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases," he said. "This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized."

The candid Eisenkot had no qualms calling a spade a spade. He may have his reasons for supporting the measure, but he does not deny the disproportionality of the proposed response -- unlike Israel apologists.

Something similar happens with the concept of occupied territories. While the Israeli government does not use the term to describe the situation in the West Bank, it doesn't object, not at least actively, to the adjective "occupied" being applied to the territory. And in Israeli national discourse, whether there are legal loopholes that may allow the territories to be called "disputed" is a nonissue. Israel fanatics, however, think otherwise, and believe that if only they can put together a complicated legalistic argument the world will be convinced that the West Bank is not occupied.

One such apologist is British pundit Melanie Phillips. In a recent article in The Spectator, Phillips lambasts the British government over its decision to enforce an EU boycott of produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Phillips reports she asked the Foreign Office the reasons behind the decision; the FO answered, quite reasonably, that it was because Israel was illegally occupying the West Bank.

Wrong, Phillips alleges; Israel is not occupying the West Bank:

First, Article 2 of the Geneva Convention provides that the agreement applies ‘to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a high contracting party’, or sovereign territory. Thus the Convention cannot apply to the West Bank, nor to East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for that matter, because these have never been recognized as sovereign territory. As part of Mandatory Palestine, they never belonged to any sovereign state but were occupied and administered illegally by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967 after the Arab war of aggression against Israel in 1948.

This is pure nonsense. The Geneva Convention does apply to the West Bank according to an International Court of Justice advisory opinion issued in 2004. Notice, also, the extremely legalistic approach which, nevertheless, does not explain why Israel has any right to settle the West Bank. The fact that a territory has never been sovereign does not mean it's up for grabs to the first country that wants to take it. The rights of the people already living there certainly trump the rights of newcomers.

Philips continues with her Hasbara:

Second, Article 49 of the Geneva Convention provides that an occupying power ‘shall not deport or transfer part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’ This was designed to prohibit inhumane practices such as by the Nazis and the Soviets before and during the Second World War in forcibly transferring or deporting people into or out of occupied territories. But the Israeli settlers in the West Bank went there voluntarily. They have not been ‘deported’ or ‘transferred’ by the government of Israel.

There are several layers of deception in this paragraph. In the first place, Phillip's version of what Article 49 was intended for is her personal interpretation, not a ruling or an advisory opinion of any legal body. My interpretation, and I think many others would concur, is that the prohibition for a country to deport or transfer its citizens to an occupied land is primarily designed to protect the rights of the occupied people and avoid the creation of "facts on the ground."

Next, she rewrites the Oxford English Dictionary to restrict the meaning of "transfer." If the Convention says "deport" and "transfer," it's because "deport" is forcible, and "transfer" not necessarily so. Not that she's not aware of this: a few years ago, the Moledet party in Israel made the "voluntary transfer" of Arabs from Israel to any of their 21 countries part of its program. The party was not expelled from the Knesset precisely because the proposed transfer was voluntary. Yet Phillips, a well-informed person where Israel is concerned, did not raise her voice against Moledet reminding them that transfer was necessarily forcible. So that the Geneva Convention, by forbidding "deportation" and "transfer," in fact banned both forcible and voluntary movements of people to occupied territories.

Finally, Phillips deceives her readers by inflating the level of "voluntariness" involved in the transfer of Israeli Jews to the West Bank. Many, if not most, went there because they were subsidized to a degree that they could afford housing out of their reach in Israel proper. I.e., economic pressure was used.

But Phillips has further reasons to scold the British FO:

[T]he West Bank is not Palestinian land in any sense. As said before, it was originally part of the British Mandate and then illegally occupied by Jordan. Nor have the settlers occupied individual Palestinians’ land, but have mainly built on empty space. I do not condone the actions of some of these settlers against their Arab neighbours, nor their attitudes; and I would like them to leave most of these territories, in Israel’s own interests. But the claim that Israel has ‘stolen’ Palestinian land is simply a lie.

Note that, in the face of extensive settler violence in the West Bank, Phillips does not "condone the actions of some of these settlers," but says nothing about the Israeli government that does condone those actions by not jailing the settlers. That aside, the claim that "the claim that Israel has ‘stolen’ Palestinian land is simply a lie" is itself a lie. Earlier this year, Haaretz reported:

All 450 homes in Ofra, the "mother of settlements" in Samaria, were built on privately owned Palestinian land, Vice Premier Haim Ramon said during a session at the Knesset State Control Committee two months ago. (...)

According to the transcript of the February 25 meeting, which addressed the outposts and the implementation of the Sasson Report, committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev asked Ramon: "To add 20 more homes in Ofra has political implications? I want to understand the point." Ramon responded: "From many standpoints Ofra is not a good example for you, because all of it is build on private Arab land, private Palestinian property."

Ramon said the pressure to enlarge Ofra and other settlements does not stem from a housing shortage, but rather is an attempt to undermine any chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.

But formal settlements are only part of the story. A big chunk of land grab is done through informal outposts established on private Palestinian property with the Israeli government turning a blind eye. In 2006, State prosecutor Talia Sasson reported that:

  • The housing ministry supplied 400 mobile homes for outposts on private Palestinian land
  • The defence ministry approved the positioning of trailers to begin new outposts
  • The education ministry paid for nurseries and their teachers
  • The energy ministry connected outposts to the electricity grid
  • Roads to outposts were paid for with taxpayers' money

I.e., the State fully supported the stealing of Palestinian land by settlers establishing outposts.

Just to cite another of Phillips' disingenuous inaccuracies, she also claims that:

Israel is ‘occupying’ the West Bank (which on a day-to-day basis is not ‘occupied’ but ruled by the Palestinians) entirely within its rights under international law[.]

To borrow a term from the Brits, this is bollocks. The West Bank consists of three areas. Area A comprises 17% of the land but 55% of the Palestinian population and is under Palestinian control and Palestinian administration. Area B comprises 24% of the land but 41% of the Palestinians, and is under Israeli control and Palestinian administration. Finally, Area C comprises 59% of the land but just 4% of the Palestinians and is under Israeli control and Israeli administration.

That is, the Israelis have gerrymandered the land so that almost all Arabs are confined to the 41% of the territory under their administration (of which, however, just 17% is under their control). This allows some, Phillips included, to state "91% of Palestinians already enjoy self-rule," as if self-rule consisted just of controlling the people, and not the natural resources (such as land or water) those people need to live.

Those are the inaccuracies in Phillips' Hasbara points. Let's turn now to the general critique of her argumentation.

What Phillips doesn't explain is exactly what the nature of Israel's presence in the West Bank is. She fails to describe it as an occupation; but she also fails to describe it as the exercise of sovereignty. It would appear that Israel is in the middleground between both, but this is not an internationally recognized alternative. There's no such legal status as "just being there."

One can understand why she doesn't explain it. Either option would inexorably lead to a contradiction.

If Israel is an occupying power, then it's bound by the Geneva Convention and can't move its own civilians there.

If Israel is exercising sovereignty, then it must give the vote to the Palestinians.

Unless Phillips reasons that the West Bank is occupied enough not to give voting rights to the Arabs, but not enough for its production to be boycotted. Hardly the kind of argument that will convince any reasonable person that the Foreign Office is unfair in supporting the boycott.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Emanuel Sr., Ahmadinejad and common sense

In a recent contribution to Harry's Place, Ben Cohen, the editor of Z-Word Blog, takes on those who saw the appointment of Rahm Emanuel to the influential post of Chief of Staff in Barack Obama's future administration as the continuation of the George W. Bush Administration’s pro-Israel policies. Emanuel is the son of Benjamin Emanuel, an Israeli medical doctor and former member of the rightwing Irgun paramilitary group that carried out countless atrocities against Arabs in the 30s and 40s.

Before actually writing the magic words "conspiracy theorists," Cohen lambasts critics of the appointment in the following terms:

Perspectives like these echo the basic thesis of Mearsheimer and Walt’s flawed book “The Israel Lobby” - that the disproportionate representation of pro-Israel individuals and groups in the upper echelons of US government determines why the US does what it does. And that, perhaps, is a more comforting explanation than the more obvious conclusion, namely that the basic values and strategic goals of the US and Israel spectacularly coincide.

It's beautiful to believe in values in foreign policy, but it's also somehow naïve. Countries are markedly egoistic when it comes to dealing with other countries. Also, one has a hard time grasping how supporting the tyrannical monarchy in Saudi Arabia can be a basic value, or even a coincident strategic goal, of the US and Israel.

That aside, it's worth it to pay a look at the conspiracy theorists' evidence. Rahm Emanuel is said to be an Israeli citizen. While I haven't found conclusive evidence to support this claim, very respectable sources have upheld it. Also, he worked as a civilian volunteer at an Israeli Army base during the first Gulf War.

Does this mean he'll tilt Obama's administrarion towards Israel's interests? One very significant person seems to believe so -- Rahm Emanuel's father. According to the Jerusalem Post,

In an interview with Ma'ariv, Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

Although Rahm was quick to disengage himself from the racist overtones of his father's statement, he didn't deny the part of influencing Obama in Israel's favor. Still, believing in Emanuel Sr.'s words about his own son is considered by Ben Cohen and similar pundits to be theoretically conspirative, or, in more worldly language, antisemitic.


We all know Iran plans to get nukes, don't we? They're refining uranium, and they said that they want to destroy Israel. This they expect to achieve by dropping a nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv, for instance.

Although I can't use the words "conspiracy theory," since they're a trademark registered by someone else, I'm entitled, as a citizen of the free world, to ask for some evidence for the claims.

Is there any? While we are day in and day out bombarded with information about Iran's rhetoric about wiping out Israel, the fact is that there has been no announcement that Iran itself will do the annihilation. On the contrary, in a story earlier this year the official news agency IRIB clarified that:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday that the Zionist regime is inherently doomed to annihilation and there is no need for Iranians to take action.

My emphasis. These words should have brought relief to the international Zionist community, but for some reason they were not given the same relevance as other Ahmadinejad statements.

The clown who rules Iran (or, at least, serves as its president; the true rulers are the mullahs) may have talked, thus, about the obliteration of Israel (or of the Zionist regime, which is not the same; but I won't pretend to know Farsi), but he has also clearly stated that the destruction will come about spontaneously and it's not Iran's business to speed it up. This is "spectacularly coincident" with Iran's proven history of never having attacked another country.

Also, no evidence has been provided by any agency that Iran currently pursues nuclear weapons. As Prof. Gerald Steinberg reports:

The U.S. government's latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has concluded that Iran froze its active efforts to manufacture nuclear weapons in 2003, and will not have such a capability until at least 2012.

So, how can we say that Iran wants to get nukes to bomb Israel with?

The only answer is common sense. You see, if Iran hates Israel, and Iran is enriching uranium, it logically follows that Iran will try to get a bomb for use against its declared foe.

But, if we are going to be led by common sense, it's also logical to think that an ardent Zionist who collaborated with the Israeli army, whose father is Israeli and who may himself hold Israeli citizenship will try and tilt the Obama administration towards Israel's interests, like his father says -- even when a neutral stance would be more convenient to the US's interests.

But for some reason, using common sense in the case of Rahm Emanuel is considered antisemitic. And NOT using common sense in the case of Ahmadinejad (and asking for solid evidence for the nuclear-weapons-pursuit claim) is also considered antisemitic.

It's sort of boring when you're an antisemite no matter what.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Israel tested --and failed-- on the population exchange theory

The population exchange theory holds that as many Arabs "voluntarily fled" from Israel as Jews "were expelled" from Arab lands. While it may be true that certain Palestinians owned property that was taken over by Israel, Jewish property was taken over by Arab governments as well. In short, Arab grievances against Israel cancel out with Jewish grievances against Arab countries and there should be no right of return for either. Since the Jews haven't been asking to return to Iraq, Yemen or Morocco, this basically means that the Palestinians should renounce their right of return to Israel. Sixty years have passed and it's not reasonable not to accept that.

Of course, the theory rests on the premise that Oriental Jews who emigrated to Israel were refugees, and a number of objections can be made to that claim; but that will be covered in another post and I'd like to focus here on another aspect of the problem.

A little known fact about the population displacements that took place in 1948 is that some Arab refugees from West Jerusalem went to live in as nearby a place as... East Jerusalem. When Israel occupied and annexed the eastern city following the Six-Day War, those refugees became Israeli residents.

Among those people, Haaretz informs us, were Mohammed al-Kurd and his wife Fawzieh. In 1956, the couple were provided housing by the Jordanian government and a UN refugee agency in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Fifty years later, a Jewish group moved into part of the house, maintaining that an Ottoman-era bill of sale granted ownership of the property to the Committee for the Sephardic Group. The al-Kurds started a legal battle for their house which was adjudicated in July 2008, when a Jerusalem District Court issued a ruling in favor of the Sephardic Group, which transferred the property to a settler organization called "Shimon's Estate." The al-Kurds were ordered to leave the property, amid protests from human rights groups and, unusually, the United States.

Finally, today, at 4:45 in the morning, some 20 IDF vehicles and seven police minibuses sealed off much of the neighborhood, and proceeded to evict the al-Kurds.

Apart from the horrendous humanitarian dimension of a couple well into their seventies being thrown out of their home by the military in the wee hours, this incident puts the population exchange theory to test.

Granted, the Sephardic Group may have been the true owners of the house. But doesn't their right "cancel out" with the rights of, say, the inhabitants of Ein Hod whose mosque was turned into a posh café for Jewish artists? And if the inhabitants of Iqrit and Birim (who are Israeli Arabs expelled by the IDF) don't have the right to return to their villages, why should the "Shimon's Estate" group enjoy the right to "return" to an East Jerusalem house where neither they, nor their parents or grandparents, ever lived?

Why is it assumed that the Palestinians must accept the outcome of a population exchange (i.e., the loss of their property), but the Jews don't have to accept their part of that outcome?

Israel has been tested on the population exchange theory, and the result is FAIL.