[News] Bad Faith and the Destruction of Palestine

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 29 11:25:39 EDT 2006


September 29, 2006

Critics are Too Generous to Israel

Bad Faith and the Destruction of Palestine



A mistake too often made by those examining Israel's behaviour in the 
occupied territories -- or when analysing its treatment of Arabs in 
general, or interpreting its view of Iran -- is to assume that Israel 
is acting in good faith. Even its most trenchant critics can fall 
into this trap.

Such a reluctance to attribute bad faith was demonstrated this week 
by Israel's foremost human rights group, B'Tselem, when it published 
a report into the bombing by the Israeli air force of Gaza's power 
plant in late June. The horrifying consequences of this act of 
collective punishment -- a war crime, as B'Tselem rightly notes -- 
are clearly laid out in the report.

The group warns that electricity is available to most of Gaza's 1.4 
million inhabitants for a few hours a day, and running water for a 
similar period. The sewerage system has all but collapsed, with the 
resulting risk of the spread of dangerous infectious disease.

In their daily lives, Gazans can no longer rely on the basic features 
of modern existence. Their fridges are as good as useless, 
threatening outbreaks of food poisoning. The elderly and infirm 
living in apartments can no longer leave their homes because 
elevators don't work, or are unpredictable. Hospitals and doctors' 
clinics struggle to offer essential medical services. Small 
businesses, most of which rely on the power and water supplies, from 
food shops and laundry services to factories and workshops, are being 
forced to close.

Rapidly approaching, says B'Tselem, is the moment when Gaza's economy 
-- already under an internationally backed siege to penalise the 
Palestinians for democratically electing a Hamas government -- will 
simply expire under the strain.

Unfortunately, however, B'Tselem loses the plot when it comes to 
explaining why Israel would choose to inflict such terrible 
punishment on the people of Gaza. Apparently, it was out of a thirst 
for revenge: the group's report is even entitled "Act of Vengeance". 
Israel, it seems, wanted revenge for the capture a few days earlier 
of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, from a border tank position used 
to fire artillery into Gaza.

The problem with the "revenge" theory is that, however much a rebuke 
it is, it presupposes a degree of good faith on the part of the 
vengeance-seeker. You steal my toy in the playground, and I lash out 
and hit you. I have acted badly -- even disproportionately to use a 
vogue word B'Tselem also adopts -- but no one would deny that my 
emotions were honest. There was no subterfuge or deception in my 
anger. I incur blame only because I failed to control my impulses. 
There is even the implication that, though my action was unwarranted, 
my fury was justified.

But why should we think Israel is acting in good faith, even if in 
bad temper, in destroying Gaza's power station? Why should we assume 
it was a hot-headed over-reaction rather than a coldly calculated deed?

In other words, why believe Israel is simply lashing out when it 
commits a war crime rather than committing it after careful advance 
planning? Is it not possible that such war crimes, rather than being 
spontaneous and random, are actually all pushing in the same direction?

More especially, why should we give Israel the benefit of the doubt 
when its war crimes contribute, as the bombing of the power station 
in Gaza surely does, to easily deciphered objectives? Why not think 
of the bombing instead as one instalment in a long-running and slowly 
unfolding plan?

The occupation of Gaza did not begin this year, after Hamas was 
elected, nor did it end with the disengagement a year ago. The 
occupation is four decades old and still going strong in both the 
West Bank and Gaza. In that time Israel has followed a consistent 
policy of subjugating the Palestinian population, imprisoning it 
inside ever-shrinking ghettos, sealing it off from contact with the 
outside world, and destroying its chances of ever developing an 
independent economy.

Since the outbreak six years ago of the second intifada -- the 
Palestinians' uprising against the occupation -- Israel has tightened 
its system of controls. It has sought to do so through two parallel, 
reinforcing approaches.

First, it has imposed forms of collective punishment to weaken 
Palestinian resolve to resist the occupation, and encourage 
factionalism and civil war. Second, it has "domesticated" suffering 
inside the ghettos, ensuring each Palestinian finds himself isolated 
from his neighbours, his concerns reduced to the domestic level: how 
to receive a house permit, or get past the wall to school or 
university, or visit a relative illegally imprisoned in Israel, or 
stop yet more family land being stolen, or reach his olive groves.

The goals of both sets of policies, however, are the same: the 
erosion of Palestinian society's cohesiveness, the disruption of 
efforts at solidarity and resistance, and ultimately the slow drift 
of Palestinians away from vulnerable rural areas into the relative 
safety of urban centres -- and eventually, as the pressure continues 
to mount, on into neighbouring Arab states, such as Jordan and Egypt.

Seen in this light, the bombing of the Gaza power station fits neatly 
into Israel's long-standing plans for the Palestinians. Vengeance has 
nothing to do with it.

Another recent, more predictable, example was an email exchange 
published on the Media Lens forum website involving the BBC's Middle 
East editor, Jeremy Bowen. Bowen was questioned about why the BBC had 
failed to report on an important peace initiative begun this summer 
jointly by a small group of Israeli rabbis and Hamas politicians. A 
public meeting where the two sides would have unveiled their 
initiative was foiled when Israel's Shin Bet secret service, 
presumably with the approval of the Israeli government, blocked the 
Hamas MPs from entering Jerusalem.

Bowen, though implicitly critical of Israel's behaviour, believes the 
initiative was of only marginal significance. He doubts that the Shin 
Bet or the government were overly worried by the meeting -- in his 
words, it was seen as no more than a "minor irritant" -- because the 
Israeli peace camp has shown a great reluctance to get involved with 
the Palestinians since the outbreak of the intifada in 2000. The 
Israeli government would not want Hamas looking "more respectable", 
he admits, but adds that that is because "they believe that it is a 
terrorist organisation out to kill Jews and to destroy their country".

In short, the Israeli government cracked down on the initiative 
because they believed Hamas was not a genuine partner for peace. 
Again, at least apparently in Bowen's view, Israel was acting in good 
faith: when it warns that it cannot talk with Hamas because it is a 
terrorist organisation, it means what it says.

But what if, for a second, we abandon the assumption of good faith?

Hamas comprises a militant wing, a political wing and a network of 
welfare charities. Israel chooses to characterise all these 
activities as terrorist in nature, refusing to discriminate between 
the group's different wings. It denies that Hamas could have multiple 
identities in the same way the Irish Republican Army, which included 
a political wing called Sinn Fein, clearly did.

Some of Israel's recent actions might fit with such a simplistic view 
of Hamas. Israel tried to prevent Hamas from standing in the 
Palestinian elections, only backing down after the Americans insisted 
on the group's participation. Israel now appears to be destroying the 
Palestinians' governing institutions, claiming that once in Hamas' 
hands they will be used to promote terror.

The Israeli government, it could be argued, acts in these ways 
because it is genuinely persuaded that even the political wing of 
Hamas is cover for terrorist activity.

But most other measures suggest that in reality Israel has a 
different agenda. Since the Palestinian elections six months ago, 
Israel's policies towards Hamas have succeeded in achieving one end: 
the weakening of the group's moderates, especially the newly elected 
politicians, and the strengthening of the militants. In the debate 
inside Hamas about whether to move towards politics, diplomacy and 
dialogue, or concentrate on military resistance, we can have guess 
which side is currently winning.

The moderates not the militants have been damaged by the isolation of 
the elected Hamas government, imposed by the international community 
at Israel's instigation. The moderates not the militants have been 
weakened by Israel rounding up and imprisoning the group's MPs. The 
moderates not the militants have been harmed by the failure, 
encouraged by Israel, of Fatah and Hamas politicians to create a 
national unity government. And the approach of the moderates not the 
militants has been discredited by Israel's success in blocking the 
summer peace initiative between Hamas MPs and the rabbis.

In other words, Israeli policies are encouraging the extremist and 
militant elements inside Hamas rather the political and moderate 
ones. So why not assume that is their aim?

Why not assume that rather than wanting a dialogue, a real peace 
process and an eventual agreement with the Palestinians that might 
lead to Palestinian statehood, Israel wants an excuse to carry on 
with its four-decade occupation -- even if it has to reinvent it 
through sleights of hand like the disengagement and convergence plans?

Why not assume that Israel blocked the meeting between the rabbis and 
the Hamas MPs because it fears that such a dialogue might suggest to 
Israeli voters and the world that there are strong voices in Hamas 
prepared to consider an agreement with Israel, and that given a 
chance their strength and influence might grow?

Why not assume that the Israeli government wanted to disrupt the 
contacts between Hamas and the rabbis for exactly the same reasons 
that it has repeatedly used violence to break up joint demonstrations 
in Palestinian villages like Bilin staged by Israeli and Palestinian 
peace actvists opposed to the wall that is annexing Palestinian farm 
land to Israel?

And why, unlike Bowen, not take seriously opinion polls like the one 
published this week that show 67 per cent of Israelis support 
negotiations with a Palestinian national unity government (that is, 
one including Hamas), and that 56 per cent favour talks with a 
Palestinian government whoever is leading it? Could it be that faced 
with these kinds of statistics Israel's leaders are terrified that, 
if Hamas were given the chance to engage in a peace process, Israeli 
voters might start putting more pressure on their own government to 
make meaningful concessions?

In other words, why not consider for a moment that Israel's stated 
view of Hamas may be a self-serving charade, that the Israeli 
government has invested its energies in discrediting Hamas, and 
before it secular Palestinian leaders, because it has no interest in 
peace and never has done? Its goal is the maintenance of the 
occupation on the best terms it can find for itself.

On much the same grounds, we should treat equally sceptically another 
recent Israeli policy: the refusal by the Israeli Interior Ministry 
to renew the tourist visas of Palestinians with foreign passports, 
thereby forcing them to leave their homes and families inside the 
occupied territories. Many of these Palestinians, who were originally 
stripped by Israel of their residency rights in violation of 
international law, often when they left to work or study abroad, have 
been living on renewable three-month visas for years, even decades.

Amazingly, this compounding of the original violation of these 
Palestinian families' rights has received almost no media coverage 
and so far provoked not a peep of outrage from the big international 
human rights organisations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty 

I can hazard a guess why. Unusually Israel has made no serious 
attempt to justify this measure. Furthermore, unlike the two examples 
cited above, it is difficult to put forward even a superficially 
plausible reason why Israel needs to pursue this policy, except for 
the obvious motive: that Israel believes it has found another 
bureaucratic wheeze to deny a few more thousand Palestinians their 
birthright. It is another small measure designed to ethnically 
cleanse these Palestinians from what might have been their state, 
were Israel interested in peace.

Unlike the other two examples, it is impossible to assume any good 
faith on Israel's part in this story: the measure has no security 
value, not even of the improbable variety, nor can it be sold as an 
over-reaction, vengeance, to a provocation by the group affected.

Palestinians with foreign passports are among the richest, best 
educated and possibly among the most willing to engage in dialogue 
with Israel. Many have large business investments in the occupied 
territories they wish to protect from further military confrontation, 
and most speak fluently the language of the international community 
-- English. In other words, they might have been a bridgehead to a 
peace process were Israel genuinely interested in one.

But as we have seen, Israel isn't. If only our media and human rights 
organisations could bring themselves to admit as much. But because 
they can't, the transparently bad faith underpinning Israel's 
administrative attempt at ethnic cleansing may be allowed to pass 
without any censure at all.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 
He is the author of the forthcoming 
and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State" 
published by Pluto Press, and available in the United States from the 
University of Michigan Press. His website is 

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