[News] How Israel Enforces "Demographic Separation"
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 19 12:23:37 EST 2007
January 19, 2007
Carter Doesn't Tell the Half of It
How Israel Enforces "Demographic Separation"
By JONATHAN COOK
When I published my book Blood and Religion last
year, I sought not only to explain what lay
behind Israeli policies since the failed Camp
David negotiations nearly seven years ago,
including the disengagement from Gaza and the
building of a wall across the West Bank, but I
also offered a few suggestions about where Israel might head next.
Making predictions in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict might be considered a particularly
dangerous form of hubris, but I could hardly have
guessed how soon my fears would be realized.
One of the main forecasts of the book was that
Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line --
those who currently enjoy Israeli citizenship and
those who live as oppressed subjects of Israels
occupation -- would soon find common cause as
Israel tries to seal itself off from what it
calls the Palestinian demographic threat: that
is, the moment when Palestinians outnumber Jews
in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
I suggested that Israels greatest fear was
ruling over a majority of Palestinians and being
compared to apartheid South Africa, a fate that
has possibly befallen it faster than I expected
with the recent publication of Jimmy Carters
book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. To avoid
such a comparison, I argued, Israel was creating
a Jewish fortress, separating -- at least
demographically -- from Palestinians in the
occupied territories by sealing off Gaza through
a disengagement of its settler population and by
building a 750km wall to annex large areas of the West Bank.
It was also closing off the last remaining avenue
of a Right of Return for Palestinians by changing
the law to make it all but impossible for
Palestinians living in Israel to marry
Palestinians in the occupied territories and thereby gain them citizenship.
The corollary of this Jewish fortress, I
suggested, would be a sham Palestinian state, a
series of disconnected ghettos that would prevent
Palestinians from organizing effective
resistance, non-violent or otherwise, but which
would give the Israeli army an excuse to attack
or invade whenever they chose, claiming that they
were facing an enemy state in a conventional war.
Another benefit for Israel in imposing this
arrangement would be that it could say all
Palestinians who identified themselves as such --
whether in the occupied territories or inside
Israel -- must now exercise their sovereign
rights in the Palestinian state and renounce any
claim on the Jewish state. The apartheid threat would be nullified.
I sketched out possible routes by which Israel could achieve this end:
* by redrawing the borders, using the wall, so
that an area densely populated with Palestinian
citizens of Israel known as the Little Triangle,
which hugs the northern West Bank, would be sealed into the new pseudo-state;
* by continuing the process of corralling the
Negevs Bedouin farmers into urban reservations
and then treating them as guest workers;
* by forcing Palestinian citizens living in the
Galilee to pledge an oath of loyalty to Israel as
a Jewish and democratic state or have their citizenship revoked;
* and by stripping Arab Knesset members of their right to stand for election.
When I made these forecasts, I suspected that
many observers, even in the Palestinian
solidarity movement, would find my ideas
improbable. I could not have realized how fast
events would overtake prediction.
The first sign came in October with the addition
to the cabinet of Avigdor Lieberman, leader of a
party that espouses the ethnic cleansing not only
of Palestinians in the occupied territories (an
unremarkable platform for an Israeli party) but
of Palestinian citizens too, through land swaps
that would exchange their areas for the illegal
Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Lieberman is not just any cabinet minister; he
has been appointed deputy prime minister with
responsibility for the strategic threats that
face Israel. In that role, he will be able to
determine what issues are to be considered
threats and thereby shape the public agenda for
next few years. The problem of Israels
Palestinian citizens is certain to be high on his list.
Lieberman has been widely presented as a
political maverick, akin to the notorious racist
Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was outlawed
in the late 1980s. That is a gross
misunderstanding: Lieberman is at the very heart
of the countrys rightwing establishment and will
almost certainly be a candidate for prime
minister in future elections, as Israelis drift ever further to the right.
Unlike Kahane, Lieberman has cleverly remained
within the Israeli political mainstream while
pushing its agenda to the very limits of what it
is currently possible to say. Kadima and Labor
urgently want unilateral separation from the
Palestinians but are shy to spell out, both to
their own domestic constituency and the
international community, what separation will entail.
Lieberman has no such qualms. He is unequivocal:
if Israel is separating from the Palestinians in
parts of the occupied territories, why not also
separate from the 1.2 million Palestinians who
through oversight rather than design ended up as
citizens of a Jewish state in 1948? If Israel is
to be a Jewish fortress, then, as he points out,
it is illogical to leave Palestinians within the fortifications.
These arguments express the common mood among the
Israeli public, one that has been cultivated
since the eruption of the intifada in 2000 by
endless talk among Israels political and
military elites about demographic separation.
Regular opinion polls show that about two-thirds
of Israelis support transfer, either voluntary or
forced, of Palestinian citizens from the state.
Recent polls also reveal how fashionable racism
has become in Israel. A survey conducted last
year showed that 68 per cent of Israeli Jews do
not want to live next to a Palestinian citizen
(and rarely have to, as segregation is largely
enforced by the authorities), and 46 per cent
would not want an Arab to visit their home.
A poll of students that was published last week
suggests that racism is even stronger among young
Jews. Three-quarters believed Palestinian
citizens are uneducated, uncivilized and unclean,
and a third are frightened of them. Richard
Kupermintz of Haifa University, who conducted the
survey more than two years ago, believes the
responses would be even more extreme today.
Lieberman is simply riding the wave of such
racism and pointing out the inevitable path
separation must follow if it is to satisfy these
kinds of prejudices. He may speak his mind more
than his cabinet colleagues, but they too share
his vision of the future. That is why only one
minister, the dovish and principled Ophir Pines
Paz of Labor, resigned over Ehud Olmerts
inclusion of Lieberman in the cabinet.
Contrast that response with the uproar caused by
the Labor leader Amir Peretzs appointment of the
first Arab cabinet minister in Israels history.
(A member of the small Druze community, which
serves in the Israeli army, Salah Tarif, was
briefly a minister without portfolio in Sharons first government.)
Raleb Majadele, a Muslim, is a senior member of
the Labor party and a Zionist (what might be
termed, in different circumstances, a self-hating
Arab or an Uncle Tom), and yet his apppointment
has broken an Israeli taboo: Arabs are not
supposed to get too close to the centers of power.
Peretzs decision was entirely cynical. He is
under threat on all fronts -- from his coalition
partners in Kadima and in Liebermans Yisrael
Beitenu, and from within his own party -- and
desperately needs the backing of Labors Arab
party members. Majadele is the key, and that is
why Peretz gave him a cabinet post, even if a
marginal one: Minister of Science, Culture and Sport.
But the right is deeply unhappy at Majadeles
inclusion in the cabinet. Lieberman called Peretz
unfit to be defense minister for making the
appointment and demanded that Majadele pledge
loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic
state. Liebermans party colleagues referred to
the appointment as a lethal blow to Zionism.
A few Labor and Meretz MKs denounced these
comments as racist. But more telling was the
silence of Olmert and his Kadima party, as well
as Binyamin Netanyhus Likud, at Liebermans
outburst. The centre and right understand that
Liebermans views about Majadele, and Palestinian
citizens more generally, mirror those of most
Israeli Jews and that it would be foolhardy to
criticise him for expressing them -- let alone sack him.
In this game of who is the truer Zionist,
Lieberman can only grow stronger against his
former colleagues in Kadima and Likud. Because he
is free to speak his and their minds, while they
must keep quiet for appearances sake, he, not
they, will win ever greater respect from the Israeli public.
Meanwhile, all the evidence suggests that Olmert
and the current government will implement the
policies being promoted by Lieberman, even if
they are too timid to openly admit that is what they are doing.
Some of those policies are of the by-now familiar
variety, such as the destruction of 21 Bedouin
homes, half the village of Twayil, in the
northern Negev last week. It was the second time
in a month that the village had been razed by the Israeli security forces.
These kind of official attacks against the
indigenous Bedouin -- who have been classified by
the government as squatters on state lands --
are a regular occurrence, an attempt to force
70,000 Bedouin to leave their ancestral homes and
relocate to deprived townships.
A more revealing development came this month,
however, when it was reported in the Israeli
media that the government is for the first time
backing loyalty legislation that has been
introduced privately by a Likud MK. Gilad Erdans
bill would revoke the citizenship of Israelis who
take part in an act that constitutes a breach of
loyalty to the state, the latest in a string of
proposals by Jewish MKs conditioning citizenship
on loyalty to the Israeli state, defined in all
these schemes very narrowly as a Jewish and democratic state.
Arab MKs, who reject an ethnic definition of
Israel and demand instead that the country be
reformed into a state of all its citizens, or a
liberal democracy, are typically denounced as traitors.
Lieberman himself suggested just such a loyalty
scheme for Palestinian citizens last month during
a trip to Washington. He told American Jewish
leaders: He who is not ready to recognize Israel
as a Jewish and Zionist state cannot be a citizen in the country.
Erdans bill specifies acts of disloyalty that
include visiting an enemy state -- which, in
practice, means just about any Arab state. Most
observers believe that, after Erdans bill has
been redrafted by the Justice Ministry, it will
be used primarily against the Arab MKs, who are
looking increasingly beleaguered. Most have been
repeatedly investigated by the Attorney-General
for any comment in support of the Palestinians in
the occupied territories or for visiting
neighbouring Arab states. One, Azmi Bishara, has
been put on trial twice for these offences.
Meanwhile, Jewish MKs have been allowed to make
the most outrageous racist statements against
Palestinian citizens, mostly unchallenged.
Former cabinet minister Effi Eitam, for example,
said back in September: The vast majority of
West Bank Arabs must be deported ... We will have
to make an additional decision, banning Israeli
Arabs from the political system
cultivated a fifth column, a group of traitors of
the first degree. He was warned by the
Attorney-General over his comments (though he has
expressed similar views several times before),
but remained unrepentant, calling the warning an attempt to silence him.
The leader of the opposition and former prime
minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the most popular
politician in Israel according to polls, gave
voice to equally racist sentiments this month
when he stated that child allowance cuts he
imposed as finance minister in 2002 had had a
positive demographic effect by reducing the
birth rate of Palestinian citizens.
Arab MKs, of course, do not enjoy such indulgence
when they speak out, much more legitimately, in
supporting their kin, the Palestinians of the
West Bank and Gaza, who are suffering under
Israels illegal occupation. Arab MK Ahmed Tibi,
for example, was roundly condemned last week by
the Jewish parties, including the most leftwing,
Meretz, when he called on Fatah to continue the
struggle to establish a Palestinian state.
However, the campaign of intimidation by the
government and Jewish members of the Knesset has
failed to silence the Arab MKs or stop them
visiting neighboring states, which is why the
pressure is being ramped up. If Erdans bill
becomes law -- which seems possible with
government backing -- then the Arab MKs and the
minority they represent will either be cut off
from the rest of the Arab world once again (as
they were for the first two decades of Israels
existence, when a military government was imposed
on them) or threatened with the revocation of
their citizenship for disloyalty (a move, it
should be noted, that is illegal under international law).
It may not be too fanciful to see the current
legislation eventually being extended to cover
other breaches of loyalty, such as demanding
democratic reforms of Israel or denying that a
Jewish state is democratic. Technically, this is
already the position as Israels election law
makes it illegal for political parties, including
Arab ones, to promote a platform that denies
Israels existence as a Jewish and democratic state.
Soon Arab MKs and their constituents may also be
liable to having their citizenship revoked for
campaigning, as many currently do, for a state of
all its citizens. That certainly is the view of
the eminent Israeli historian Tom Segev, who
argued in the wake of the governments adoption
of the bill: In practice, the proposed law is
liable to turn all Arabs into conditional
citizens, after they have already become, in many
respects, second-class citizens. Any attempt to
formulate an alternative to the Zionist reality
is liable to be interpreted as a breach of
faith and a pretext for stripping them of their citizenship.
But it is unlikely to end there. I hesitate to
make another prediction but, given the rapidity
with which the others have been realized, it may
be time to hazard yet another guess about where Israel is going next.
The other day I was at a checkpoint near Nablus,
one of several that are being converted by Israel
into what look suspiciously like international
border crossings, even though they fall deep inside Palestinian territory.
I had heard that Palestinian citizens of Israel
were being allowed to pass these checkpoints
unhindered to enter cities like Nablus to see
relatives. (These familial connections are a
legacy of the 1948 war, when separated
Palestinian refugees ended up on different sides
of the Green Line, and also of marriages that
were possible after 1967, when Israel occupied
the West Bank and Gaza, making social and
business contacts possible again.) But, when
Palestinian citizens try to leave these cities
via the checkpoints, they are invariably detained
and issued letters by the Israeli authorities
warning them that they will be tried if caught again visiting enemy areas.
In April last year, at a cabinet meeting at which
the Israeli government agreed to expel Hamas MPs
from Jerusalem to the West Bank, ministers
discussed changing the classification of the
Palestinian Authority from a hostile entity to
the harsher category of an enemy entity. The
move was rejected for the time being because, as
one official told the Israeli media: There are
international legal implications in such a
declaration, including closing off the border
crossings, that we don't want to do yet.
Is it too much to suspect that before long, after
Israel has completed the West Bank wall and its
border terminals, the Jewish state will
classify visits by Palestinian citizens to
relatives as visiting an enemy state? And will
such visits be grounds for revoking citizenship,
as they could be under Erdans bill if
Palestinian citizens visit relatives in Syria or Lebanon?
Lieberman doubtless knows the answer already.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist living
in Nazareth, Israel. His book, Blood and
Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and
Democratic State, is published by Pluto Press.
His website is <http://www.jkcook.net/>www.jkcook.net
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