Monday, November 18, 2013

“Israel’s Policy of Erasure”

A Palestinian man sits by the remains of his house destroyed last month in Aqraba village near the West Bank city of Nablus. The Israeli military said it demolished four structures that had been built illegally in the village. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Associated Press)

From Saree Makdisi in today’s Los Angeles Times: 

A path to peace between Israelis and Palestinians requires not simply dealing with settlements but with the whole complex of displacement, suffocation and erasure.

“The revelation last week that Israel wanted to plan for 20,000 new settlement housing units received the usual outraged responses from around the world. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mindful of a backlash in the midst of the Iran nuclear negotiations, walked the revelation back, but not very far.
Just a few days earlier, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in Israel trying to keep peace talks afloat, reiterated the U.S. view in an interview: ‘We do not believe the settlements are legitimate. We think they’re illegitimate.’ 

Settlement expansion, we are constantly told, is the stumbling block to the fragile negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The settlements are eating up the territory that is supposed to provide the basis for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. If only there were a settlement freeze, some say, one last chance for peace might be salvaged.

All of that may be true enough as far as it goes. But in fact, Israeli settlement expansion is meaningless when it’s considered in isolation. And that is how it is usually considered, given how much media attention the word ‘settlement’ garners every time it comes up. There are, however, other, individually quieter, smaller, less visible — but collectively far more significant — events taking place on a daily basis.

Indeed, the settlement program is only one component of a broad complex of Israeli policies that has come to define the rhythm and tempo of life for Palestinians, not only in the occupied territories but inside Israel itself. These policies express Israel’s longstanding wish to erase the Palestinian presence on land it considers its own. 

Consider, for example, this stunning statistic from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA: On average, every week so far this year, Israel has demolished about 13 Palestinian-owned structures in the occupied territories (up from a weekly average of about 12 last year). The structures include water cisterns, barns and family homes that Israel claims violate the draconian rules it imposes on Palestinian life. Sometimes these demolitions effectively obliterate entire communities at once. 

On Aug. 19, according to OCHA, Israel destroyed all the structures in the East Jerusalem Palestinian community of Tel al-Adassa. The same week, Israel re-demolished the Palestinian village of Araqib, in southern Israel, as it has done more than 50 times since 2010. On Sept. 11, Israel bulldozed almost all the structures in the West Bank herding community of Az Zayyim, rendering dozens of people homeless. Days later, Israel demolished all the homes of the village of Mak-hul in the Jordan Valley, and declared its ruins a closed military area, preventing the villagers’ return.

And so it goes — a litany of catastrophes occurring on a small scale, in communities you have never heard of, all the year round. 

These acts of eradication are a matter of routine practice, so routine that they rarely attract international media attention. Neither does the regular vandalizing, bulldozing or burning of Palestinian-owned olive trees , either by Jewish settlers — who generally act with legal impunity — or by the Israeli army.

According to the U.N., settlers cut down 100 trees Nov. 9; they damaged 400 trees from Oct. 29 – Nov. 4, and 30 the week before that. And, again, so it goes—week in, week out. More than 38,000 trees have been destroyed in the last four years , a devastating loss for Palestinian farmers.
Individually, these acts of violence affect only a dozen people or a single tiny community. But they add up. If I may borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens, it is like being stung to death by single bees. Slowly, methodically, deliberately, Israel is attempting to grind an entire people into the dust.” [….]

The remainder of the article is here.  

Ah, you say, Makdisi is dispositionally biased, after all, he’s an American of Palestinian and Lebanese descent, and perhaps even more telling, a nephew of the late Edward Said! Such a complaint is rightly dismissed as a textbook example of an abusive and circumstantial ad hominem. Nonetheless, let’s assume for the sake of argument that judgment contains a small dose of truth. I would then ask you to read the latest book of an award-winning journalist of “Jewish heritage,” Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (New York: Nation Books, 2013). Now examine Makdisi’s piece again and tell me he’s off the mark.

We’ll end with a few words from the preface to Blumenthal’s book: 

“…[M]y subject is the State of Israel during a period of deepening political and societal crisis. Most Americans know far less about this situation than they do about the political polarization in their own country, but it is an issue on which they have opinions—and an issue of paramount significance to US national security and relevance to their own professed values of democracy, equality, and decency. And it is American tax dollars and political support that are crucial in sustaining the present state of affairs. I want to show what they are paying for, the facts as they really are today, in unadorned and unsanitized form, without sentimentality or nostalgia.” 

My select bibliography for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

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