Archive for October, 2009

It’s Judea and Samaria

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Names, words, language. Their importance in shaping reality as perceived can’t be minimized. Do we say ‘Palestine’ or eretz yisrael? Is there a ‘security fence’ or an ‘apartheid wall’?

As someone who writes about the Mideast almost every day, I make lots of decisions like these. Although I’m not likely to say ‘apartheid wall’, I might struggle with ‘fence’ vs. ‘barrier’. What I’m looking for are expressions that are neutral — not polemical in themselves; I want my explicit argument to carry the weight of (I hope) convincing the reader.

What I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of days is the area between the Green Line and the Jordan River, not including East Jerusalem. And what I think is that I’ve been making a mistake for the last three years.

There’s a whole continuum of terms, each with its connotations:

  • Judea and Samaria
  • Disputed territories
  • West Bank
  • Occupied territories
  • Occupied Palestinian territories

I’ve been using ‘West Bank’, thinking that it was the most neutral possible term. Wrong. Here’s what “Philologos” wrote in 2006:

What, after all, is “the West Bank”? It is a translation of the Arabic term al-daf’a al-gharbiya — which is a rather odd term for Judea and Samaria when you consider that the “bank” in question is that of the Jordan River and that these territories are both separated from that river by the Jordan Valley and are not on its bank at all. And in fact, this was not a term ever used for them by their inhabitants or, for that matter, by anyone at all, until King Abdullah’s Arab Legion occupied them when it crossed the Jordan westward in its 1948 war against Israel.

In 1950 Abdullah annexed the “West Bank,” a move that was protested by the rest of the Arab world as a land grab over the heads of the Palestinians. Already, the previous year, he had changed the official name of his country from The Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan to The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to indicate that it now comprised territory on both sides of the Jordan River rather than only on its eastern side. And to drive home this point, the Jordanians encouraged the use of the terms “East Bank” and “West Bank” as a way of stressing that theirs was a single country that straddled a river running through it. Eventually, “West Bank” became a term used by the “West Bankers” themselves, as well as by the rest of the world.

On the other hand, ‘Judea and Samaria’ [an anglicization of יהודה ושומרון, yehuda veshomron] dates to biblical times, and was used exclusively to describe this area in maps, documents and books up to about 1950.

So rather than being neutral, ‘West Bank’ is a hostile creation that obscures the Jewish connection to the land.

[A]fter the 1967 war it became bon ton among Israeli intellectuals on the anti-annexationist left to refer, too, to Judea and Samaria as “the West Bank,” as if these were areas devoid of Jewish historical associations and Jewish memories. And because it was the annexationist right that continued to use the traditional Hebrew words Yehuda and Shomron, it was assumed by the ignorant that these had been yanked crudely from the mothballs of a distant biblical past to justify expansionist policies.

I’ve been told not to say “Judea and Samaria” because it will immediately identify me as a member of the extreme Right, and nobody will take anything I say seriously.

But this is exactly how the political corruption of language progresses; soon, only ‘Palestinian territories’ will be acceptable, and how can one say that ‘Palestinians’ shouldn’t have sovereignty over Palestinian territories?

(Which brings us to the word ‘Palestinian’ itself. Before 1948, when someone said ‘Palestinian’ he or she was as likely to be referring to a Jew as to an Arab. By arrogating the term to themselves, Palestinian Arabs try to imply that they are the indigenous inhabitants of the land and the Jews are interlopers, something I discussed yesterday. Even the word ‘Palestine’ was invented by the Romans for political purposes).

Already, to many people the word ‘Zionism’ has come to mean ‘Jewish racism’  (see the correct definition here).

In any event, I intend to stand firm and not retreat in the face of  linguistic aggression.

It’s Judea and Samaria from now on.

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Postcolonialist dogma doesn’t fit

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

The following illustrates an argument I hear a lot:

The Palestinian Authority would not oppose the prosecution of Hamas militants on war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court, Israel Radio on Saturday quoted the PA’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva as saying.

Ibrahim Khraishi reportedly made the comments after the UN Human Rights Council’s voted in favor of his motion to endorse a report accusing both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the December-January hostilities in Gaza.

Speaking in an interview with Israel Radio, Khraishi said he had no problem in saying that legal proceedings against Israel over alleged human rights abuses should also be instigated against Palestinians. But he was quoted as adding that occupiers must not be confused with the occupied.

It’s not surprising that the PA would like to see Hamas suffer! But what I’m interested in is the phrase I boldfaced at the end.

It represents a  ‘postcolonialist’ ideology, traceable to Frantz Fanon and Edward Said, that enshrines a double standard for behavior as applied, for example, to Israel and the Palestinians.

Postcolonial theory asserts that there are ‘settler countries’ and ‘non-settler countries’, and of course you can imagine who are supposed to be the good guys. A great deal of effort is expended by the Arabs and their supporters to place Israel in the first group, with the Zionists in the position of colonizers of the ‘indigenous’ Palestinian Arabs. Honest historical analysis shows that in fact this is not accurate, but it’s important for them to say this in order to take advantage of the special dispensations granted to the ‘colonized’.

Here’s an example of the reasoning, as expressed in an article by Nir Rosen, an American-born journalist:

Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors…

Attacking civilians is the last, most desperate and basic method of resistance when confronting overwhelming odds and imminent eradication. The Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the expectation that they will destroy Israel. The land of Palestine is being stolen day after day; the Palestinian people is being eradicated day after day. As a result, they respond in whatever way they can to apply pressure on Israel…

Haaretz reported that a Palestinian woman blinded an Israeli soldier in one eye when she threw acid in his face. “The terrorist was arrested by security forces,” the paper said. An occupied citizen attacks an occupying soldier, and she is the terrorist?

The argument depends on the “overwhelming odds”, the disparity in power between the ‘colonizer and colonized’. Edward Said, the high priest of applying postcolonial theory to Israel and the Palestinians, never tired of mentioning that Israel was a “nuclear power”, as if this had some relevance to its responses to Arab terrorism!

Once it is established that one party is a ‘colonizer’ and the other ‘colonized’, the game is over. For the postcolonialist, nothing that the colonizer does to defend himself is permissible, and anything that the colonized does in the name of resistance is justified.

This is insisted upon despite the actual power relationship between the sides, which — because of the actions and constraints of outside powers and the force-multiplying effect of asymmetric warfare — may be much closer to equal than the postcolonialist wants us to think.

The postcolonialist point of view is endemic to the academic world — google ‘postcolonialism’ and you will be overwhelmed by the huge mass of professorial careers that have been built on it — but it has little applicability to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite Said’s struggle to make it appear so.

Like most grand theories — those of Marx or Freud, for example — postcolonialism gets its explanatory power when an apparently chaotic situation can be shown to be a special case of some general principles. Most such theories are inspired by a particular paradigm case; for Fanon it was the French in Martinique. Said, who was comparatively an intellectual lightweight, saw the huge power of the postcolonial metaphor to promote his own — Palestinian — cause.

But it’s difficult to beat this conflict into the mold.

First, the history of the development of the Arab and Jewish populations in Ottoman and Mandatal Palestine during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th is much more a story of parallel development than of invasion and conquest. Although there were more Arabs than Jews in Palestine when the early Zionists arrived in the 1880’s, many of those Arabs were relative newcomers to the region themselves, originating in Egypt and arriving with the Muhammad Ali expedition to ‘Syria’ (which included much of what was to become the Palestine Mandate area) in 1831.

Palestinian Arab nationalism and Zionism — and Arab and Jewish populations — both grew together until 1948, when the Zionists succeeded in establishing their state. The fact that many Arabs became refugees of the war was due almost entirely to bad choices made by their leadership — particularly the Nazi-allied Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini. And the fact that they stayed refugees after the war was a result of the intransigence of the Arab nations, particularly Egypt, which found their stateless condition useful.

Second, there’s no colonial power whose colonists settled in Palestine. ‘International Jewry’, a convenient whipping boy, was always — and still is — sharply divided on the subject of Zionism. It’s more correct to see Zionism as primarily an indigenous — there’s that word — movement; in fact, Zionists among Palestinian Jews often had (and still have) serious disagreements with Diaspora Zionists.

And third, as I suggested before, there is not such a great disparity of power between Israel and the forces arrayed against it, which include the Arab nations and an increasingly powerful Iran. Israel’s support from the rest of the world, which now seems to come from only the US and nations like Kiribati, is more tenuous than it has been in a long time.

The colonizer-colonized metaphor clearly does not apply to Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

Even if it did, isn’t there something repugnant to the argument that absolutely any violent behavior — like throwing acid in the face of a conscript who was doubtless performing a police function, or blowing up a civilian bus, or breaking into a house and murdering its occupants, men, women and children — is justified in the name of ‘liberating an oppressed people’?

Especially if the aim of such such ‘liberation’ is, as often happens, the establishment of an even more oppressive and/or incompetent regime, like that in Zimbabwe?

The other side of the coin is that for the postcolonialist, the ‘settler country’ isn’t allowed to defend itself. Because of the great disparity of power that the ‘settler’ has by definition, anything that it does is ‘disproportionate’. The only moral option for ‘settlers’ is to flee or lay down and die.

Sound familiar? This is what lies behind the Goldstone report and the multitude of NGO slanders that led up to it. Because the people behind them are steeped in postcolonialist ideology, they don’t have to prove that Israel committed war crimes. They know a priori that Israel is guilty, because it is a ‘settler country’, an ‘occupier’.

Postcolonial theorist Edward Said throws a stone at Israeli soldiers across Lebanese border in 2000. He missed.

Postcolonial theorist Edward Said throws a stone at Israeli soldiers across Lebanese border in 2000. He missed.

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Two short takes

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Palestinian Rocket Science

News item:

A weapons lab containing explosives and pipes that were apparently meant to be used to assemble rockets was discovered in a joint Border Police-IDF-Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] operation last month in Abu Dis, next to Ma’aleh Adumim, security officials announced Friday. Three Palestinians were arrested.

Abu Dis is about 4.2 km (2.6 miles) from the center of Jerusalem. This is well within the range of Qassam missiles; at an estimated speed of 200 m/sec, such a weapon would land in about 21 seconds after launching. Of course rockets made in Abu Dis could be moved anywhere in the territories. Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport is about 10 km (50 seconds) from the Green Line, which puts it  just within range of the latest Qassams.

The reports do not indicate which terrorist group the three Palestinians belonged to.


Turkish drama

News item:

Following the recent slump in Jerusalem-Ankara relations caused by last week’s cancellation of a joint military drill and Tuesday’s airing of an anti-Israeli drama on a government-controlled TV channel, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc downplayed the apparent tensions.

“Relations between Israel and Turkey have always been strong, and we’re entirely sure that they will remain strong,” Arinc told local reporters on Friday.”

Referring to the TV drama Ayrilik – which variously depicted IDF soldiers shooting a fleeing Palestinian boy in the back, killing a sweetly smiling Palestinian girl at point-blank range and lining up Palestinian detainees before an IDF firing squad – Arinc that “there are no political motives to the television drama that annoyed Israel.”

The ‘television drama’ is so disgusting that I’m not going to embed the YouTube video here. But you can see it at the source linked above.

Daily anti-Israel incitement is a fact of life in most Arab and Muslim countries. During the Gaza war, Al Jazeera showed almost continuous ‘news’ reports, which were visible everywhere — in homes, stores, public places.  Here’s how Eric Calderwood described them (in a not particularly pro-Israel article which you should read in full):

Their broadcasts routinely feature mutilated corpses being pulled from the scene of an explosion, or hospital interviews with maimed children, who bemoan the loss of their siblings or their parents – often killed in front of their eyes. Al-Jazeera splices archival footage into the live shots, weaving interviews and expertly produced montages into a devastating narrative you can follow from the comfort of your own home.

This is news without even the pretense of impartiality. After several days of following the Al-Jazeera coverage of Gaza, I’ve never seen a live interview with an Israeli, neither a politician nor a civilian. In the Al-Jazeera version, the Gaza conflict has only two participants: the Israeli army – an impersonal force represented as tanks and planes on the map – and the Palestinian civilians, often shown entering the hospital on makeshift stretchers. There are few Hamas rockets and no Israeli families. It’s not hard to see why Al-Jazeera is accused of deliberately inflaming regional enmity and instability.

Is there any wonder that the absurdly biased Goldstone report was taken seriously in so many venues? Indeed, I’m surprised that as many as 6 members of the UNHRC out of 47 saw clearly enough to vote against its adoption (25 in favor, 11 abstentions, 5 declined to vote, 6 opposed. No, I don’t understand the difference between abstaining and declining to vote!)

Speaking of Turkey, Caroline Glick has a good piece on “How Turkey was lost” today. Although there are obviously good political reasons that the Islamist government of Recip Tayyip Erdogan is moving the nation out of the Western orbit and into that of Iran and Syria, is it not also the case that a relationship with Israel, no matter how advantageous, cannot be maintained in an atmosphere where everyone believes that Israel behaves like — is — the Devil?

After all, both ordinary citizens and politicians watch television.

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Reset again

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Time to hit the reset button (again), Mr. President.

You made solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the centerpiece of your foreign-policy efforts both during the campaign and after your election.

You didn’t know too much about the Middle East, having concentrated on Chicago up until now, but your advisers — smart people like Zbig Brzezinski, Samantha Power and Rob Malley — told you that you could squeeze Israel back to pre-1967 borders and make the Arab world happy, and maybe get yourself a Nobel Prize for finally solving the conflict that had gone on for 61 years (actually, it’s been much longer than that).

All you had to do was force Israel to get out of the territories and allow the PLO to declare a state there. Hamas-dominated Gaza was a problem, but you could deal with that, er, somehow.

Well, they did give you the Nobel, for good intentions — it certainly couldn’t have been for dousing the conflict, which is burning as brightly as ever.

Even before your inauguration, you pressured Israel to end the war in Gaza with Hamas still standing. You failed to understand that the ability of the PLO to maintain a radical, no-compromise position rests on the implied threat that the alternative is something worse, Hamas.

You insisted on a freeze on all construction in the territories and East Jerusalem. Oops — didn’t you realize that no Israeli government could accept a limitation on sovereignty in its own capital, or a prohibition on building homes inside areas that would have become part of Israel under any imaginable peace deal?

To add insult to injury, your ‘friends’ in the Arab world that you tried so hard to ingratiate yourself with wouldn’t even make symbolic concessions to Israel in return!

And when you finally understood this and relaxed the demand for a freeze, you found out the hard way that legitimacy in Palestinian politics does not leave room for compromise. The PLO stabbed you in the back by refusing to talk without the impossible freeze.

This lesson was reinforced when you pulled Mahmoud Abbas’ string to get him to withdraw his insistence on bringing the Goldstone report to the Security Council, only to see him do a 180 a few days later.  What did you expect? As a result, your guy lost whatever standing he had among the Palestinians, with Hamas the gainer.

Finally, with your efforts to bring about a deal struggling on the ropes, Hamas moved in with a solid uppercut to the jaw, delivered by its surrogate the Islamic Movement in Israel — which is doing its best to incite a third intifada by spreading lies about an imminent Jewish ‘attack’ on the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

So what did you accomplish? Less than nothing.

Meanwhile, the real threats to peace — Hezbollah and Hamas –  are daily becoming stronger and more dangerous.

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Understanding J Street

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

I really have to take a vacation from J Street, the “pro-Israel” lobby that takes money from Iranian and Saudi sources. But I can’t stop feeling that I need to understand them.

Recently, the Israeli embassy in the US criticized J Street for “advocating policies that could impair Israel’s interests”. Today its director, Jeremy Ben Ami, published a letter to Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren:

In just two weeks, over 1,000 people – most of them American Jews – will gather in Washington to give voice to a burgeoning movement that loves Israel, cares about its future, and believes only peaceful and immediate resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can secure Israel’s future as the democratic home of the Jewish people.

I hope that he and the other 999 people will think twice about this, because a “peaceful and immediate resolution” of the conflict will not happen, not in this world, not when the Palestinian leadership consists of the PLO and Hamas. Anyone who knows anything about the Mideast understands this.

But I don’t think this is the important argument. The real thrust of the letter is to play to the insecurities of  some American Jews, not to relate to the objective situation in the Mideast:

We will come together as pro-Israel activists to discuss the best path forward for Israel and the United States in troubling circumstances, balancing a desire for security and for peace and a commitment to the values we bring to the table as Jews and as Americans.

Ben Ami is suggesting that there is a conflict between Israel’s security and our values as Jews and Americans. In this he outdoes Mearsheimer and Walt, who don’t mention Jewish values, but simply suggest that the conflict is between American and Israeli interests. It’s a very strange conception of “Jewish values” that doesn’t support a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, but of course Ben Ami claims that he does. Here’s more in this direction:

The excitement that J Street has generated and its rapid early growth indicates that there is a thirst in the progressive Jewish community – and among young liberal Jews – to find a way to relate to, to talk about and, yes, to advocate for Israel that is consistent with progressive Jewish values. We are only one facet of a new and growing movement in American Jewry that is attracting hundreds of thousands of progressive Jews into study, communal service and non-traditional observance.

Judging by the policies advocated by J Street, one can assume that this progressive Jewish way to relate to Israel includes denying it the right to self-defense — J Street called for an immediate cease-fire on the first day of the Gaza war — and opposing sanctions on Iran. Try as I might, I can’t find the Jewish value in Iranian atomic bombs.

But of course what he really means is to find a way to oppose Zionism, like most of today’s ‘progressives’, without having to admit that one wants to see the Jewish state disappear.

Some have suggested that maybe J Street, as an American organization, should not assume that it knows better how to assure the survival of Israel than the government democratically elected by the people that live there, the people who will have to live with the outcome; and that even though it might disagree with some of the actions of that government, as a ‘pro-Israel’ group it should at least support the broad outlines of Israeli policy — such as strong diplomatic action to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. But Ben-Ami sets them straight in no uncertain terms:

Public comments by your spokesman last week indicate that you have “concerns over certain policies [of J Street’s] that could impair Israel’s interests.” I’m sure you also have concerns and disagreements over policies advocated by certain political parties and their leaders in Israel. That’s democracy – and it is fitting that there would be deep disagreements at moments of important communal decision.

We too have our own serious concerns over the policies of the present Israeli government and its impact not just on Israel’s interests but on our interests as Americans and as American Jews. As Jews who care about Israel, we fear that, on Israel’s present path, we will see our shared dream of a Jewish, democratic home in the state of Israel slip through our fingers.

As Americans, we worry about the impact of Israeli policies on vital US interests in the Middle East and around the world.

Finally, as American Jews, we worry that the health and vitality of our community will be deeply affected by what happens in the region, how the world perceives Israel and by how our community here at home deals with increasingly complex conversations around Israel.

This is incredible.

First of all, it’s not a question of ‘democracy’. J Streeters in the US do not have to worry about Hamas and Hezbollah rockets, or sending their sons and daughters to fight wars, or — at least for a while — getting vaporized by Iranian nukes. Does he seriously suggest that taking decisions about dealing with these threats is ‘communal’ and should include J Street?

Second, this is at least the third time Ben Ami plays the ‘American interests’ card. What interests in particular is he talking about? Cheap oil? Or is he just trying to raise the spectre of ‘dual loyalty’ accusations against Jews?

And third… this is the best one. What are the “increasingly complex conversations” that he refers to?

Are they the conversations that ‘progressive’ Jews have with their ‘progressive’ friends when Israel keeps embarrassing them by not committing suicide? The Left’s adoption of Zionophobia as an integral part of its world view  is a long-established fact, and this may give rise to a feeling of being left out for Jews who haven’t yet purged themselves of their ‘bourgeois Zionism’. Is Ben Ami suggesting that the lack of courage to hold an unpopular position is a virtue?

Or maybe I misunderstood. Maybe he means that the US Jewish community better be careful, because they don’t want to become associated with those hated Israelis, lest it give rise to a new wave of antisemitism in the US. So when they come to beat you up or worse, you can tell them that you are a real American, not one of those Zionists.

You know what? It’s just too hard to answer all of these questions. Is J Street’s ‘progressive’ Jewish sensibility a manifestation of the old ghetto self-protection instinct to not stand out, not make waves? Or is Jeremy Ben Ami just another guy paid to screw Israel, like Jimmy Carter or Chas Freeman?

You decide.

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