Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Father's Grief, Uri Avnery, Oren Yiftachel, and Israelis ask for Sanctions on Israel

The population of Gaza is completely fenced in, and for the last three weeks - since the start of Israel's air, sea and then land assaults - there has been no escape route, no possible exist from the Israeli assault. More than 1,000 Palestinians have already been killed in this war, many if not most of whom were civilians, including more than 300 children.

The internet, cell phones and the existence of concerned people outside the warzone give us a strange and terrifying window into life in Gaza. Human rights organizations are collecting testimonies from survivors of Israel's attacks, which are available here: On another blog, a Palestinian from Ramallah, Mohammad, continues to report on his extended family in Gaza (we published links to other reports of his here: At last writing, Israeli forces had surrounded one uncle's neighborhood (Tal al-Hawa), bombs were falling, houses collapsing, and that uncle and his family were no longer answering their phones:

Below is a link to a heartbreaking video that's as horrific as it is absurd. On Channel 10 news, an Israeli news anchor speaks with a Palestinian doctor in Gaza moments after the man's children have been killed by Israeli shells. The doctor, who has worked extensively in Israel, has been a regular source for this news program. The conversation is Hebrew, the video has English subtitles, but the cries defy language. The L.A. Times wrote about the father and the video here:,0,4395549.story.

Sarah Anne Minkin


Uri Avnery, former Knesset member and a grandfather of the Israeli peace movement, is once again on the mark in his analysis of Israeli maneuvering towards a truce. The timing of such a potential truce, Avnery reflects, is no less contrived than was the onset of Israeli bombing on December 27. In the short term, Israel hopes that the image of its "victory" may serve as a tactical deterrant (and more cynically, as an election boost for Ehud Barak and Labor), even as it comes at an enormous human cost for the Palestinians.

But Israel's claim to have won a (pyrrhic) victory in Gaza is unlikely to be a view shared by others -- especially in the Arab world, where Hamas has won new prestige for its refusal to submit to Israel's vastly disproportionate military might. Moreover, much of the rest of the world is deeply dismayed that Israel has conducted its war with so little care for civilian suffering or for the legal strictures of warfare. The long-term injurious consequences for the Middle East as a whole, therefore, are likely to confirm Israel's contrivances of casus belli and timing as simply the destructive and self-deluding machinations they seem to historically minded observers. This lack of historical perspective is echoed in the euphemistic phrase for collective punishment that Israelis have taken to using -- that this war will be "seared into [Palestinian] consciousness" -- which, as a metaphor for unforgettable suffering, is so ironically redolent of Jewish historical trauma in another time and

On one point I disagree with Avnery's analysis. If there is a positive outcome to these bloody events, it may be that the craven Arab dictatorships throughout the Mideast have been unmasked before their own citizens. It is possible that popular dismay among Arabs for these autocratic regimes will lead to beneficial, rather than sinister, pressure from below for regime change and greater democracy in the Arab states.

Lincoln Shlensky


Professor Oren Yiftachel teaches political geography and urban planning at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba. Yiftachel has written extensively on the political geography of ethnic conflict. Among his books are: Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine (2006, PennPress), and Israelis in Conflict (ed, 2004, Sussex Academic Press). He is an occasional contributor to Israel's leading newspapers Haaretz and Ynet. Yiftachel is an active member in several peace and civil society organizations, including B'tselem, the Bedouin Council of unrecognized villages, Adva and is a founding member of Faculty for Israel- Palestine Peace (FFIPP).

In my view, this is an important article. Its significance comes from the way it depicts the underlying logicof what's going on in Gaza, situating it within a global context. The basic idea is that at this time in world history, simply exterminating whole populations (the way it was done in the good old days by colonial powers) isn't acceptable any longer. What we see in Gaza, and in other places - such as Darfur, Chechnya, etc. - is the "next best" method of dealing with unwanted populations, resorting to spatial containment and violent "punishment" which occurs when jailed populations dare to resist.

Yiftachel points out that in Israel/Palestine, this process isn't only happening in Gaza: It's also taking place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as in Israel "proper" (within the pre-'67 borders), but in Gaza we can see the policy in its most extreme and brutal form.

The absurdity of this is that in the long run no such arrangement works, not even for the oppressor.

Yiftachel concludes his article by saying: "...against the reality of mass incarceration, it may be advisable to listen to Mahmoud Darwish's [3] wise words: "My prison guard looks me in the eye/ I can see his fear/ Like me, he knows that/ today's warden is already tomorrow's prisoner. "



The letter points out that words alone are not working, and have not worked in the past. Without *deeds*, nothing will change, which is why some Israelis are supporting the idea of "immediate, decisive and strict sanctions against the state of Israel."



Uri Avnery

The Boss Has Gone Mad

169 YEARS before the Gaza War, Heinrich Heine wrote a premonitory poem of 12 lines, under the title "To Edom". The German-Jewish poet was talking about Germany, or perhaps all the nations of Christian Europe. This is what he wrote (in my rough translation):

"For a thousand years and more / We have had an understanding / You allow me to breathe / I accept your crazy raging // Sometimes, when the days get darker / Strange moods come upon you / Till you decorate your claws / With the lifeblood from my veins // Now our friendship is firmer / Getting stronger by the day / Since the raging started in me / Daily more and more like you."

Zionism, which arose some 50 years after this was written, is fully realizing this prophesy. We Israelis have become a nation like all nations, and the memory of the Holocaust causes us, from time to time, to behave like the worst of them. Only a few of us know this poem, but Israel as a whole lives it out.

In this war, politicians and generals have repeatedly quoted the words: "The boss has gone mad!" originally shouted by vegetable vendors in the market, in the sense of "The boss has gone crazy and is selling the tomatoes at a loss!" But in the course of time the jest has turned into a deadly doctrine that often appears in Israeli public discourse: in order to deter our enemies, we must behave like madmen, go on the rampage, kill and destroy mercilessly.

In this war, this has become political and military dogma: only if we kill "them" disproportionately, killing a thousand of "them" for ten of "ours", will they understand that it's not worth it to mess with us. It will be "seared into their consciousness" (a favorite Israeli phrase these days). After this, they will think twice before launching another Qassam rocket against us, even in response to what we do, whatever that may be.

It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this war without taking into account the historical background: the feeling of victimhood after all that has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.

WHEN THE killing and destruction in Gaza were at their height, something happened in faraway America that was not connected with the war, but was very much connected with it. The Israeli film "Waltz with Bashir" was awarded a prestigious prize. The media reported it with much joy and pride, but somehow carefully managed not to mention the subject of the film. That by itself was an interesting phenomenon: saluting the success of a film while ignoring its contents.

The subject of this outstanding film is one of the darkest chapters in our history: the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In the course of Lebanon War I, a Christian Lebanese militia carried out, under the auspices of the Israeli army, a heinous massacre of hundreds of helpless Palestinian refugees who were trapped in their camp, men, women, children and old people. The film describes this atrocity with meticulous accuracy, including our part in it.

All this was not even mentioned in the news about the award. At the festive ceremony, the director of the film did not avail himself of the opportunity to protest against the events in Gaza. It is hard to say how many women and children were killed while this ceremony was going on – but it is clear that the massacre in Gaza is much worse than that 1982 event, which moved 400 thousand Israelis to leave their homes and hold a spontaneous mass protest in Tel-Aviv. This time, only 10 thousand stood up to be counted.

The official Israeli Board of Inquiry that investigated the Sabra massacre found that the Israeli government bore "indirect responsibility" for the atrocity. Several senior officials and officers were suspended. One of them was the division commander, Amos Yaron. Not one of the other accused, from the Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, to the Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan, spoke a word of regret, but Yaron did express remorse in a speech to his officers, and admitted: "Our sensitivities have been blunted".

BLUNTED SENSITIVITIES are very evident in the Gaza War.

Lebanon War I lasted for 18 years and more than 500 of our soldiers died. The planners of Lebanon War II decided to avoid such a long war and such heavy Israeli casualties. They invented the "mad boss" principle: demolishing whole neighborhoods, devastating areas, destroying infrastructures. In 33 days of war, some 1000 Lebanese, almost all of them civilians, were killed – a record already broken in this war by the 17th day. Yet in that war our army suffered casualties on the ground, and public opinion, which in the beginning supported the war with the same enthusiasm as this time, changed rapidly.

The smoke from Lebanon War II is hanging over the Gaza war. Everybody in Israel swore to learn its lessons. And the main lesson was: not to risk the life of even one single soldier. A war without casualties (on our side). The method: to use the overwhelming firepower of our army to pulverize everything standing in its way and to kill everybody moving in the area. To kill not only the fighters on the other side, but every human being who might possibly turn out to harbor hostile intentions, even if they are obviously an ambulance attendant, a driver in a food convoy or a doctor saving lives. To destroy every building from which our troops could conceivably be shot at – even a school full of refugees, the sick and the wounded. To bomb and shell whole neighborhoods, buildings, mosques, schools, UN food convoys, even ruins under which the injured are buried.

The media devoted several hours to the fall of a Qassam missile on a home in Ashkelon, in which three residents suffered from shock, and did not waste many words on the forty women and children killed in a UN school, from which "we were shot at" – an assertion that was quickly exposed as a blatant lie.

The firepower was also used to sow terror – shelling everything from a hospital to a vast UN food depot, from a press vantage point to the mosques. The standard pretext: "we were shot at from there".

This would have been impossible, had not the whole country been infected with blunted sensitivities. People are no longer shocked by the sight of a mutilated baby, nor by children left for days with the corpse of their mother, because the army did not let them leave their ruined home. It seems that almost nobody cares anymore: not the soldiers, not the pilots, not the media people, not the politicians, not the generals. A moral insanity, whose primary exponent is Ehud Barak. Though even he may be upstaged by Tzipi Livni, who smiled while talking about the ghastly events.

Even Heinrich Heine could not have imagined that.

THE LAST DAYS were dominated by the "Obama effect".

We are on board an airplane, and suddenly a huge black mountain appears out of the clouds. In the cockpit, panic breaks out: How to avoid a collision?

The planners of the war chose the timing with care: during the holidays, when everybody was on vacation, and while President Bush was still around. But they somehow forgot to take into consideration a fateful date: next Tuesday Barack Obama will enter the White House.

This date is now casting a huge shadow on events. The Israeli Barak understands that if the American Barack gets angry, that would mean disaster. Conclusion: the horrors of Gaza must stop before the inauguration. This week that determined all political and military decisions. Not "the number of rockets", not "victory", not "breaking Hamas".

WHEN THERE is a ceasefire, the first question will be: Who won?

In Israel, all the talk is about the "picture of victory" – not victory itself, but the "picture". That is essential, in order to convince the Israeli public that the whole business has been worthwhile. At this moment, all the thousands of media people, to the very last one, have been mobilized to paint such a "picture". The other side, of course, will paint a different one.

The Israeli leaders will boast of two "achievements": the end of the rockets and the sealing of the Gaza-Egypt border (the co-called "Philadelphi route". Dubious achievements: the launching of the Qassams could have been prevented without a murderous war, if our government had been ready to negotiate with Hamas after they won the Palestinian elections. The tunnels under the Egyptian border would not have been dug in the first place, if our government had not imposed the deadly blockade on the Strip.

But the main achievement of the war planners lies in the very barbarity of their plan: the atrocities will have, in their view, a deterrent effect that will hold for a long time.

Hamas, on the other side, will assert that their survival in the face of the mighty Israeli war machine, a tiny David against a giant Goliath, is by itself a huge victory. According to the classic military definition, the winner in a battle is the army that remains on the battlefield when it's over. Hamas remains. The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip still stands, in spite of all the efforts to eliminate it. That is a significant achievement.

Hamas will also point out that the Israeli army was not eager to enter the Palestinian towns, in which their fighters were entrenched. And indeed: the army told the government that the conquest of Gaza city could cost the lives of about 200 soldiers, and no politician was ready for that on the eve of elections.

The very fact that a guerrilla force of a few thousand lightly armed fighters held out for long weeks against one of the world's mightiest armies with enormous firepower, will look to millions of Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims, and not only to them, like an unqualified victory.

In the end, an agreement will be concluded that will include the obvious terms. No country can tolerate its inhabitants being exposed to rocket fire from beyond the border, and no population can tolerate a choking blockade. Therefore (1) Hamas will have to give up the launching of missiles, (2) Israel will have to open wide the crossings between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, and (3) the entry of arms into the Strip will be stopped (as far as possible), as demanded by Israel. All this could have happened without war, if our government had not boycotted Hamas.

HOWEVER, THE worst results of this war are still invisible and will make themselves felt only in years to come: Israel has imprinted on world consciousness a terrible image of itself. Billions of people have seen us as a blood-dripping monster. They will never again see Israel as a state that seeks justice, progress and peace. The American Declaration of Independence speaks with approval of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind". That is a wise principle.

Even worse is the impact on hundreds of millions of Arabs around us: not only will they see the Hamas fighters as the heroes of the Arab nation, but they will also see their own regimes in their nakedness: cringing, ignominious, corrupt and treacherous.

The Arab defeat in the 1948 war brought in its wake the fall of almost all the existing Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of nationalist leaders, exemplified by Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. The 2009 war may bring about the fall of the current crop of Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of leaders – Islamic fundamentalists who hate Israel and all the West..

In coming years it will become apparent that this war was sheer madness. The boss has indeed gone mad – in the original sense of the word.


12 Jan 2009

The Jailer State

Israel has turned Gaza into a massive prison, and is choosing to prolong the cycle of state terror and prisoner resistance that goes with that, writes Israeli academic Oren Yiftachel

"We have a great opportunity now in Gaza to smash and flatten them…[We] should destroy thousand of houses, tunnels and industries, and kill as many terrorists as possible…"

So declared Eli Yishai, Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, a few days ago. On the same day Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni promised "to topple the Hamas Regime", and Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert demanded in every forum to "hermetically seal" the Gazan-Egyptian border.

These, and many similar statements by Israeli leaders, sketch in painful clarity the "political geography of mass incarceration" increasingly evident in Israel/Palestine. Under this regime large populations are locked into specific areas against their will, and often against international law, and are then subject to the mercy of their wardens. Typically, when the conditions of imprisonment become unbearable, a rebellion erupts, and is suppressed by violent collective punishment, which in turn sets the conditions for the next uprising.

This is how Israel is now treating its rebelling prisoners in Gaza. As its leaders' statements show, Israel seeks to lock them in the tiny strip and punish them with enormous force. At the same time Israel is further institutionalising the geography of incarceration and with it the likelihood of future uprisings.

This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it peculiar to the Palestinian situation: European colonialism widely used mass incarceration of indigenous groups, condensing them in reserves and Bantustans, to enable whites to freely exploit land, minerals and labour. Today too, racist governments attempt to deal with the existence of unwanted populations by applying methods of spatial containment and violent "punishment", as evident in the cases of Chechnya, Kosovo, Kashmir, Darfur and Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. The key to this spreading political order is the prevention of the rebelling region from gaining state sovereignty, leaving it "neither in nor out" of the state's control system. As a non-state entity, resistance of the jailed against colonial power is often criminalised, leading the state's self-righteous claim that it has no choice but to further oppress the anti-colonial struggle.

Importantly, the mass incarceration strategy is usually not the preferred option. It is typically employed only when the colonial power has lost some of its ability to settle and control the land by other, softer, means, and when the option of ethnic cleansing has become too embarrassing or unpopular. Much to the regret of racist regimes, this is the situation today. Hence, mass incarceration remains one of the main policy options for colonial states aiming to dominate indigenous populations.

Back to Israel/Palestine: Gaza had turned into an open-air jail by the late 1940s when over 150,000 Palestinian refugees were driven by Israel into the small region (covering just 1.7 per cent of British Palestine), joining its 60,000 previous residents. The refugees were never allowed to return to their lands and homes which were confiscated and destroyed. Ironically, it was during the "peace process" of the early 90s that the incarceration of Gaza intensified, with a sequence of closures, movement restrictions and the construction in 1994 of a massive barrier around the Strip. Following the 2005 disengagement and the election of Hamas, Israel's illegal siege around the area was taken up a notch with a near-total blockade of movement and trade.

Gaza is a severe case, but it's not unique. Since its establishment, Israel's ethnocratic regime has worked incessantly to Judaise the country by confiscating Palestinian lands, constructing hundreds of Jewish settlements and restricting the Palestinians to small enclaves. This began with the military government inside the Green Line [1] until 1966, and the establishment of a "fenced area" for the Bedouins in the south, which operates until today. Since the 1990s, the ghettoisation of Palestinians continued with the demarcation of areas A, B and C [2] in the occupied territories, with the advent of closures and checkpoints, and finally with the construction of the wall — all helping to fragment Palestine into dozens of isolated enclaves.

The long-term geographical impact of the Judaisation policy has been dramatic. For example, the Palestinians in Israel, constitute 18 per cent of the population, but control less than 3 per cent of the land. In the entire area between Jordan and sea, the population is just under 50 per cent Palestinian, but they control only 13 per cent of the land. Critically however, Judaisation seems to have reached its limits, and since the Oslo period Israel has been re- arranging its colonial geography to fit that realisation.

The difference between Gaza and the other enclaves is the depth of its isolation and its persistent rebellion. The Hamas leadership never accepted the Oslo illusion, or the promise of "two states for two people" enshrined in the "roadmap" or the "Annapolis process". They have realised that the promise has become an empty rhetoric which enables the ongoing colonisation of their lands. In the meantime, the promised Palestinian state has become fragmented, suffocated and impoverished.

And what has been Israel's response to this crisis? The deepening of mass incarceration, "necessitated" to protect Jewish settlement, maintaining at the same time a massive campaign of personal incarceration, during which Israel has arrested over 10,000 people, and imprisoned them without trials, a group which includes dozens of Palestinian parliamentarians. The incarceration policy has thus resulted in the creation of prisons within prisons.

While the geography of incarceration is typically explained as a security measure, its appeal is also increasing for economic reasons. During the current age of globalisation, personal, commercial and financial movement has become essential for development and prosperity. The geography of mass incarceration helps to keep the unwanted outside the riches of this process. Therefore, the ongoing fortification around Gaza, including the current invasion, also put in place a system of protecting Jewish economic privileges.

Palestinian violence plays an important part in the creation of this geography, through the hostile dialectic between coloniser and colonised. For example, the shelling of Israeli civilians by Hamas and suicide bombing of previous years are clear acts of terror, which gave legitimacy within Israeli society to carry out the incarceration policy. But Palestinian violence, and particularly the shelling from Gaza should also be perceived as a prison uprising, currently suppressed with terror by the Israeli state, which kills many more civilians and creates infinitely more damage than the initial act of resistance. This is the cycle of suppression, resistance and suppression maintained through the which exists within a geography of incarceration

It is important to note, however, that the option of rebellion only intensifies the punishment and killing, but not the basic geography of imprisonment. Hence, even after the current invasion is over, Israel will undoubtedly continue to use this strategy in both Gaza and the (non-rebelling) West Bank, and in softer forms inside the Green Line, where Israel's Palestinian citizens are also contained in small enclaves. I have termed this process "creeping apartheid" — an undeclared yet powerful political order which creates vastly unequal forms of citizenship under one ruling power. Rights under such regimes are determined by a combination of ethnic affiliation and place of birth. This cannot be illustrated more vividly than by noting the differences in mobility and property rights — Jews are free to move and purchase land in almost the entire area under Israeli control, while Palestinians are limited to separated enclaves — Gazans in Gaza only, Jerusalemites only in Jerusalem and so on

This type of political geography tends to result in a chain of absurdities. Here is one: the invasion and destruction of Gaza is carried out by an ousted Israeli Government, and is actively supported by a defeated US Administration. The two governments which lost power are violently attacking in their dying days the democratically elected Government of Palestine. This leads to the next absurdity: instead of condemning and placing sanctions on Israel, which has put Gaza under siege for the last two years, the world has imposed sanctions over the Hamas Government. In this way the occupied are punished twice: once by the brutal occupation, and a second time attempting to resist.

Sadly, these absurdities are not surprising, being part of the geography of mass incarceration, under which the colonial power will recognise the prisoners' leadership only if they refrain from rebelling against their incarceration, as is currently the case with the Abbas regime in the West Bank. In the case of a rebellion, however, its leaders are likely to be oppressed and often eliminated.

What may be slightly (but not entirely) more surprising is that Israeli leadership and society have not learnt from history that a geography of mass incarceration exists on borrowed time. Such as geography can never receive legitimacy, and hence cannot create security for the jailing side. On the contrary, instability and constant rebellions are likely to undermine the incarcerating regime itself.

To conclude, against the reality of mass incarceration, it may be advisable to listen to Mahmoud Darwish's [3] wise words: "My prison guard looks me in the eye/ I can see his fear/ Like me, he knows that/ today's warden is already tomorrow's prisoner.



Words and deeds in the Middle East

* The Guardian, Saturday 17 January 2009

The leaders of the western world are wringing their hands in despair at the sight of the horrors inflicted on Gaza (Gaza crisis, 16 January). The UN general secretary, the French president and others are holding intensive discussions with some of the leaders of the Middle East in an attempt to put an end to the carnage in Gaza. Word, words, words.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinian civilians get killed, thousands are bleeding to death, tens of thousands are uprooted and wandering in vain in search of some shelter to protect them. The Israeli army bombs hospitals and Unrwa relief centres, and, defying international convention, it uses white phosphorus bombs against civilians. "What else can we do?" these leaders keep asking. Well, here is what you can do: move from words to deeds. Only immediate, decisive and strict sanctions against the state of Israel and its limitless aggression will make it realise that there's a limit.

We, as Israeli citizens, raise our voices to call on EU leaders: use sanctions against Israel's brutal policies and join the active protests of Bolivia and Venezuela. We appeal to the citizens of Europe: please attend to the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation's call, supported by more than 540 Israeli citizens ( boycott Israeli goods and Israeli institutions; follow resolutions such as those made by the cities of Athens, Birmingham and Cambridge (US). This is the only road left. Help us all, please!

Prof Yoram Carmeli Haifa University
Prof Rachel Giora Tel Aviv University
Dr Anat Matar Tel Aviv University
Jonathan Pollak
Dr Kobi Snitz Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
And 17 other Israeli citizens

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