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A Process of Dehumanization: Raping the Palestinians
"You can forgive the man who robs you, but you can't forgive the man you rob--in his haggard features you read your indictment and this makes his face so repulsive that you must keep it under your heels where you cannot see it."
A Process of Dehumanization
Raping the Palestinians
by M. Junaid Alam
"You can forgive the man who robs you, but you can't forgive the man you rob-in his haggard features you read your indictment and this makes his face so repulsive that you must keep it under your heels where you cannot see it."
--Eugene Debs, American Socialist, 1904.
Massacre, theft, torture, destruction, and ethnic cleansing: the Palestinian native is well aware of his history-not an ancient history recalled through myths and symbols, but a sharp, painful history reinforced decade upon decade, day upon day, hour upon hour. It is not the history of the comforting textbook held in one's hand, but of the dagger thrust into one's side. The Palestinian cannot-no, dare not-forget it, not if he wishes to stay alive at any rate. For if he fails to remember that his home may come crashing over his head at the whim of a bulldozer, that his crops may burn at the arrival of a settler, that his life may be ended at the command of a soldier, he is all but finished.
But this dreadful awareness has already become almost automatic, reflexive: over fifty years of perpetual terror have permanently tensed his muscles in preparation for the all-too-familiar sound of the tank treads, the fighter jet, the impending explosion. He is accustomed to the never-ending series of strangling blockades, checkpoints, beatings, and fleeing. The Israeli colonizer has seen to these tasks meticulously. So far, nothing seems remarkable.
And then suddenly, the oppressive silence. Silence over the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages. Silence over the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Silence over the mass killings, the tortures, the suffocation, growing and intensifying over a period of over a half-century. In a word, silence over Palestinian suffering. But then-cup your ear-one can soon hear faint murmurs, then clear voices, and finally a loud chorus: it is not as expected. "Terrorists! Murderers! Savages! Inhuman beasts!", cries the inflamed audience, pointing squarely at the long-suffering, dispossessed native. A sole, feeble voice inquires timidly, "What of the greater power, the settler, the colonizer, the occupier?" As his voice quivers and trails off the answer arrives like thunder: "Israel is defending itself! Defending civilization! Defending democracy! Surrounded by barbarians and irrational hatred!" Reality and truth have been stood on their respective heads, and hatred is pleased to have its feet set firmly on terra firma.
The complete castration of history has gone hand in hand with the utter negation of Palestinian existence, not to speak of Palestinian suffering. What has accompanied the robbery of the native is the denial that it ever took place, or better yet, the denial that the native even exists. And when this fails, it is admitted that robbery has indeed taken place-with the Palestinian as the culprit. Here we no longer have robbery but rape: the total dehumanization and degradation of an entire people, their history, experience, and story of suffering slandered and maligned. This is more than confiscation of property, land, or home; it is the confiscation of the dignity and humanity of the chief victims of modern colonialism. Let us see then, in its entirety, the false framework in which the Palestinians have been framed up, and burst it open at the seams.
Origins of Israel
Civilization had an odd way of emerging in the Middle East (and by civilization, what else could I mean but Israel?). Prior to 1948, there was no Israel. Since the 7th century, which marked the ascendance of Islam in the Middle East, the land later to be called British-mandated Palestine was inhabited mostly by Muslim Arabs. Israeli "new historian" Benny Morris, in his book Righteous Victims, puts population figures in the region by 1881 as 400,000 Muslim, 42,000 Christian, and 13,000 to 20,000 Jews-"a numerically insignificant minority". Yet the foundations for the Jewish state were to be forged not from this minority, but from European Jews under the movement of Zionism.
A reaction to European anti-Semitism, Zionism was founded by Theodore Herzl in the late 19th century, who advocated the creation of a Jewish state because as he explains, "I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardonI realized the emptiness and futility of trying to 'combat' anti-Semitism". Herzl had considered settling in a number of undeveloped countries, but the Zionists decided on Palestine, to set up "a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism". Noting the existence of natives in 1891, early Zionist Ahad Ha'am wrote, "We abroad are used to believing that Eretz Yisrael is now almost totally desolate, a desert that is not sowedBut in truth this is not the case. Throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed." Herzl approached the problem of the native in terms of "spirit[ing] the penniless population across the border" through the "process of expropriation and removal of the poor". The settlers viewed the native, Morris writes, as "primitive, dishonest, fatalistic, lazy, savage." They were no doubt furious at the Arab, who must have risen from the sand spontaneously and queued up for the sole purpose of denying the settler-living in Europe for the past two millennia-of his "homeland". And what of the indigenous Jew, living in Palestine alongside the Arab? He was not only unimpressed with Zionism, but opposed it. Nevertheless, Ha'am saw among the settlers "an inclination to despotism," lamenting, "They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds" Civilization had arrived.
Creating a Jewish state where there were only Arabs posed a unique problem. Israeli scholar Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi admits that "the basic problem of Zionism in Palestine was to dispossess the natives and become the majority." In 1925, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Zionist and avid admirer of Il Duce, announced, "Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population." In 1937 Joseph Weitz, heading the Jewish National Fund spoke of "the transfer of the Arab population" to both "diminish" it and "release [the land] for the Jewish immigrants." And by 1938, Ben-Gurion himself made clear in private: "I support compulsory transferI don't see anything immoral in it." A splendid assessment.
In 1947 the United Nations proposed a "partition plan" to create a Jewish state within British-mandated Palestine. The Jewish settlers would carve out a home in an inhabited foreign land. Better still, the plan offered the colonial population, which accounted for 37% of Palestine and legally owned only 7% of the land, a full 55% of the nation's territory. These figures have been affirmed by Israel's "new historians". Thus the Palestinian Arabs were to kindly slice themselves in half for the betterment of the settlers. A moral authority no less than Ghandi opposed the creation of the Jewish state: "What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct... I am not defending the Arab excesses But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds."
Naturally, the partition plan caused much despair and anxiety-among the Zionists. Avi Shlaim, another Israeli "new historian", wrote of Ben-Gurion's real designs in The Iron Wall: "he worked on the assumption that this state would be not the end but only the beginning."(emphasis added) Meanwhile Menachem Begin, then commander of Irgun militia, warned, "The partition of Palestine is illegalEretz Israel will be restored [!] to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever." We will presently see where this madness led.
The inevitable antagonism between the settler and the native had reached its peak: the existence of the Zionist depended directly on the non-existence of the Palestinian. No one can really doubt this, least of all Ben-Gurion, who declared that "who ever approaches the Zionist problem from a moral aspect is not a Zionist." The destruction of the native by the colonizer and the confiscation of his land and property, defended always by racist and religious rhetoric, never depends on a "moral" aspect, but a military one.
Shortly after the announcement of the partition plan in 1947, the Jewish militia forces initiated an aggressive campaign against the Palestinians, first on the Israeli and then the Arab side of the partition. Listen carefully: "I maintain that even before the establishment of the State, each battle ended with a massacre. In all Israel's wars massacres were committed but I have no doubt that the War of Independence was the dirtiest of them all."1 Who is speaking? Israeli military historian Uri Milstein.
Forcible expulsions occurred in dozens of villages in this period. Israeli scholar Simha Flapan, in addition to Morris and others, have compiled a partial list of villages purged, plundered, and looted, among them Qisariya, al-Rama, Danna, and Najd, all months before Israeli independence. Psychological warfare was a key feature of this process, involving false propaganda and wails sounded off from militia loudspeakers in Palestinian villages. Not to be outdone by the rank and file, key Zionist leaders generously pitched in for the "struggle" against, or rather the strangling of, the Palestinians. Ben-Gurion apparently had a fondness for economic strangulation, boasting, "Deprived of transportation, food, and raw materialsthe [Arab] urban communities underwent a process of disintegration, chaos, and hunger."-and cited this as a "strategic objective" of Jewish militia. The most effective form of-are we permitted to say it?-Jewish terror, still before independence, was massacre. On April 9, 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin, Jewish militia groups massacred 254 Palestinians, "in cold blood" according to the presiding Red Cross official, Jacques de Reynier. A British official on the scene, Richard Catling, noted that "Many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered. Many infants were also butchered and killed." Reynier later remarked the scene reminded him of the German SS. Menachem Begin, head of the militia, also had a description ready: "a splendid act of conquest". Thus the Palestinian exodus was initiated before Israel's establishment and before Arab military intervention, which was prevented by the British until May 14, 1948.2
Listen once again: "The time has come to face the ocean of lies in which we were brought up. In almost every conquered village in the War of Independence, acts were committed, which are defined as war crimes, such as indiscriminate killings, massacres and rapes"3 That is Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzakhi, Senior Lecturer at Bar Ilan University and the IDF. He explains the fairy-tale of Palestinians leaving 'on Arab orders' as "an absolute fabrication", and that after the declaration of Israel on May 14, 1948, "a smell of massacre" emanated from the clashes. British-radio interceptions during the war only found Arab leaders advising the Palestinians to stay. But the terror tactics of the colonizers-no longer Jewish terror to be sure, but after May 1948 official Israeli terror-made this impossible. One example is the forced evacuation of 50,000 civilians from Lydda and Ramle in July, during which many of the refugees died from the oppressive heat-but not to worry. Fortunately, the Israelis had already looted them of all their possessions beforehand, as reported in the British Economist on August 21, 1948. This is but one episode in a series of such actions, resulting in the ultimate forced removal of over 800,000 Palestinian civilians. None of them would return. More massacres from this period are being unearthed even now. John Pilger in June 19th edition of The New Statesman reported that top Israeli student Teddy Katz from Haifa University has shed light on a May 1948 massacre in Tantura: "According to the recorded testimony of 40 witnesses, both Arab and Jewish, half the civilians were shot in a 'rampage'." In a most democratic manner, he had his degree annulled. Another "new historian", Ilan Pappe, who came to Katz's defense and explained that his taping of eyewitness evidence included accounts of "the killing of fathers in front of children, of rape and torture", is also under administrative threat at Haifa. One can at least congratulate the Israelis for their consistency; today, almost half its citizens support the idea of "transfer".
One salient feature of the Zionist campaign was the wide-scale plundering and looting conducted by the world's most 'moral' army. Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev gives this due attention in his book 1949, The First Israelis. He notes that during and after the war "plundering and looting were very common", citing Ben-Gurion who said "the mass robbery in which all portions of the population participated" had "surprised him bitterly." Behor Shitrin, of the Ministerial Committee for Abandoned Property, reported "From Lydda alone, the army took out 1,800 truck-loads of property." Let us recall that the entire community of this village had been forced out by the army. And let us further note that, as Ilan Pappe had explained to Pilger, over four hundred Palestinian villages and hundreds of urban areas were destroyed by Jewish-Israeli terror. Thus the amount of looting and theft, not to speak of land confiscation, of almost one million Palestinians across perhaps a half-thousand residencies can only expose, once again and once and for all, the utter barbarity and savagery not of the natives, not of the victims-but of the rapacious colonizers. Of course, not all the colonizers were heartless: we can take comfort in the touching words of one Israeli Minister Cizling, cited by Segev, speaking when asked about a convoy of spoils:
It's been said that there were cases of rape in Ramallah. I can forgive rape, but I will not forgive other acts which seem to me much worse. When they enter a town and forcibly remove rings from the fingers and jewelry from someone's neck, that's a very grave matter.
Has Western civilization ever before witnessed so brave a defender of human rights?
The time for half-apologies, timidity, and a thousand caveats on question of Israel's creation must come to an end. The historical record, unearthed by Jewish Israeli historians using declassified archives is decisive and damning. Let us sum up the result: the State of Israel has was established through ethnic cleansing, rape, robbery, and massacre-without these atrocities, present-day Israel would not exist. The mass expulsions, mass murders, and mass looting form the foundation upon which the Israeli state rests.
How well do the fantasies and canards conjured up by those who deny the basis of the Palestinian tragedy stand, or rather limp, when exposed to the glare of history? Self-defense does not even enter into the equation: the Zionist descended upon the Palestinian from a foreign continent and expropriated him. What was defended was the settler's crimes, conquests, and advances, but what does this brand of 'defense' most resemble? Only the rationalization of the robber who, in the process of stealing from one's home, brandishes a gun to ensure the victim cannot resist. Surely, the robber is defending himself, and this is self-defense, with the ever-so-minor qualification that the "self" is the aggressor. If it can be proved that the Palestinians settled another people's land, drew up designs to confiscate it, set up terrorist militias, and committed massive war crimes-in short, if it can be proven that the Palestinians were Israelis-then the self-defense claim rings true. Then of course there is the question of being "surrounded" by Arabs. The proponent of this position may forgive us for prefacing our response with a chuckle: when the Zionists of 1900, as members of the European community for 2,000 years, decided to settle Palestine, never mind "spirit the penniless population", they were well aware that it was Arab land. Only a man who swims halfway across the Atlantic, settles upon a tiny island, and then complains he is "surrounded" by water could sympathize with the colonizer on this point.
The claim that Moses granted the land to the Jews is made not on the rational but the religious plane. One strains to understand the 2,000 year delay for this remarkable land deal, and is further flustered upon finding that the Bible has not appointed prophets for the purpose of becoming real-estate salesman. Putting forth the argument that Jews "have always been there" is equally irrational. The small number of Jews who were living alongside the Arabs never invented, and in fact opposed, Zionism, which was created by Europeans and holds all the trappings of European colonialist enterprises. If everyone 'returned' to where one's supposed ancestors lived millennia ago, American whites would ship themselves back to Europe, and American blacks would set sail for Africa. One can imagine the bemused smile forming on the face of the Native American at this prospect.
The simple truth is that rational argument has nothing to do with the defense of Israel's origins, for it is not the power of logic, but the logic of power which plays the decisive role in colonialist ventures. Thus it is with the utmost confidence that Zionist leaders have attempted to sound the death knell of the Palestinian people. Ben-Gurion said after the war, "we have accomplished our settlement by transfer of the [Palestinian] population" and "[their] old will die and the young will forget"; his special advisor Uri Lubrani gloated in 1960, "We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waitresses." A decade later Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan told the Palestinians, "we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs." We can even quote Israel's first president, Chaim Weizman, who declared that the problem of "several hundred thousand Negroes" in and around Israel "is a matter of no consequence". Indeed, it would seem that all has been said and discovered, that our examination has come to a sorrowful conclusion, and we are left only to hang our heads.
But it turns out these fine gentlemen were wrong. The "Palestinian population" has swelled to over four million, and far from having "forgotten" anything the young have achieved a level of anger and militancy matched only by their numbers. The (Palestinian) Arab population has not been "reduced" but has instead exploded and forged among its numbers the most resilient and resolute men and women of the modern era; the Israelis indeed "have no solution", but the Palestinian masses have prepared one for themselves, that is, constant struggle, defiance, and guerrilla warfare. Weizmann's 'Palestinian Negroes' are not only "a matter of consequence" for Israel but carry with them all the permanent scars and lashes he and his fellow henchmen have inflicted upon them, and "consequently" will never rest without attaining the dignity and freedom of which they have long been deprived. While the Zionist has stripped the native of his land and property, he cannot rob him of his memory-and that is a most dangerous truth. The words of Sartre which preface The Wretched of the Earth, written by Marxist revolutionary and fighter of French colonialism Frantz Fanon, are most appropriate in describing the problem presently faced by the Zionist:
this imperious being, crazed by his absolute power and by the fear of losing it, no longer remembers clearly that he was once a man; he takes himself for a horsewhip or a gun; he has come to believe that the domestication of the 'inferior races' will come about by the conditioning of their reflexes. But in this he leaves out of account the human memory and the ineffaceable marks left upon it; and then, above all there is something which perhaps he has never owned: we only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us. (emphasis added)
In essence, the modern-day Palestinian, having suffered under thirty-five years of military occupation, remembers his past because it sheds light upon the present, and seeks to emancipate himself from the present in order to avenge his past. Thus it is in our interest to examine the reality of Palestinian life of the past few decades-that is, after the 1967 war, under Israeli military rule-to draw the necessary lessons, and dismantle the myths surrounding the current period.
Following the 1967 war Israel seized East Jerusalem, forced out all of the 6,500 residing Palestinians, and bulldozed their religious centers. The UN reported that by 1971, 48 Palestinian villages were destroyed, and by 1974 the Red Cross counted almost 20,000 Palestinian homes crushed by Israeli bulldozers. The surviving refugees joined their 1948 counterparts in squalid camps. Meanwhile, Israeli leaders had come to a certain consensus about the nature of their victims, namely that they were all animals. "Two-legged beasts", "grasshoppers", "snakes", "drugged insects", "cockroaches"-terms employed not by random Israeli fanatics, but rather very well-placed ones, i.e. prime ministers, defense ministers, and so forth-have been used to describe, or rather dehumanize, Palestinians. One wonders if Israeli leadership plans on erecting zoos across the country to house the newly dispossessed 'Negroes': it would be a welcome respite from the hovels and ghettoes that comprise much of the Occupied Territories.
The remarks more importantly reflect a deep-seated racist attitude that permeates Israeli society, and play an important psychological role in the dehumanization process. It would be inhuman to detain, torture, shoot and beat fellow human beings, for the sight of a fellow man in chains is appalling to the Western ethos. But once humans are described in bestial terms-'animalized'-then the problem disappears; if it is discovered that the hands in chains are in fact paws, that the cries of the tortured are only howls, then it is safe to cease idle talk of human rights and attend to other matters.
Yet it so happens that the colonizer's projection of a bestial image upon his subject is not a one-sided project, but a dialectical one. Sartre spoke of the settler taking himself for "a horsewhip or a gun", an idea which a radical African anti-imperialist of the 1950's, Aimé Césaire, explained in A Discourse on Colonialism:
colonizationdehumanizes even the most civilized manthe colonizer, who, in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal.
The utter brutality to which the Palestinian has been exposed under occupation, compounded by the most fantastic exercises in denial and feigned ignorance by the occupier, can only be explained in light of this deep and explosive dialectic. Since it is in fact impossible for man to appoint himself judge, jury, and executioner of an entire people without committing grave crimes, a boomerang effect emerges. For the native seeks to indict the settler with his own charges of injustice and brutality and, lacking the ballots and bullets provided by imperialism, pours his whole willpower into this gigantic effort. It is in this context that the workings of colonial occupation and anti-colonial resistance should be studied.
The key feature of Israeli military occupation is its all-sidedness: every aspect of Palestinian life is made disorderly, impossible, and chaotic by an injection of one or another element of the occupation No daily established routine of attending school, going to work, or enjoying leisure time exists; in fact it in a sense it can be said that the occupation imposes not disorder but a tyrannical order, whereby the native is constantly trapped, tense, waiting, and essentially imprisoned in his own homeland.
The restriction of movement is the most striking feature of Palestinian life. Endless checkpoints, blockades, and curfews enforce the paralysis. Haaretz on May 19 reported that Palestinians now require-brace yourselves-'freedom-of-movement permits' to travel. In order to move, one requires colonial permission: simply another way of reinforcing native submission. All that remains to be done now is issue 'freedom-to-live' permits-and no doubt they will be in short supply. In an important article in April 22 Haaretz Gideon Levy points out but a few cases within the year illustrating that movement equals death. One-armed Rada was selling shirts when a soldier informed him he would "take off [his] other arm" if he dared to reappear; six months later an Israeli soldier prevented his pregnant wife through a roadblock despite his pleas. Levy observes, "On his infant's grave I saw him weeping". Abdallah, a sick child, was rushed to the hospital, but five hours and five taxies later, the doctors told his parents that the delay, courtesy of an Israeli siege, had cost their child his life. Rafaat, a refugee of '48, was shot dead from a comfortable distance by an Israeli soldier while on his daily work-related errands. Suleiman, a premature baby, saw life for a mere hour as his desperate mother spent twelve hours trying to get to a hospital despite the siege in Jenin; Mohammed, another premature baby of the same town, managed to live a full eight hours before his death. The soldier manning the tank offered his heartfelt condolences: "I have the right to kill you, but not to let you pass." And there is Abed, a fisherman of 30 years ran into the Israeli Navy which "made him undress and jump overboard, wearing only his underwear" and then "shot live ammunition into the water around him to frighten him", ultimately leaving him "naked and blindfolded". Yes, even in the ocean, there is no respite from Israeli terror.
I do not at all mean to imply, however, that the Israelis focus on killing only moving Palestinians in the Territories. This would be most selective and thus an entirely undemocratic method of murder. Let us turn to Levy again. Eight-year old Ubai stood in his bedroom before being felled by soldiers' bullets. Brothers Yassr and Samr, 11 and 15, were killed within forty days of one another for throwing stones at soldiers and tanks. Yunis and Mohammed earned wages by building Jewish settlements at Gush Etzion and Pisgat Ze'ev. The settlers kindly thanked them by paralyzing one and blinding the other. The reason? Levy answers: "No reason whatsoever".
I point out these few incidents of violence and murder only in passing and only briefly to highlight but one aspect of Palestinian life under occupation: death. If the native moves, he dies; if the native remains still, he dies; if the native exists, he dies. The words occasionally brandished on the helmets of Israeli soldiers, "Born to Kill", are fitting: the occupier is born to kill, and the native is born to die.
There are other aspects of occupation which deserve our attention, including economic suffocation. It is impossible to talk of a national economy when we are examining not a nation but a set of discontinuous, sliced up ghettoes. This is precisely the case in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Theoretically, the Palestinian Authority controls some territory, but in reality the constant presence and invasions of Israeli military forces, bulldozers, and settlers, put the actual land effectively in control of the occupiers. Sara Roy notes in the book The New Intifada that, "by December 1999, the Oslo agreements had created 227 separate West Bank enclaves under the full or partial control of the PA," and that "88 percent of these areas are less than two square kilometers in size." Two square kilometers? Perhaps the Israelis are hoping to build mini-golf courses. The economic situation in Palestine is bound up with its colonial context, which involves, naturally, more Israeli theft and aggrandizement. Roy further notes that "Between 1994 and 2,000, the Israeli government confiscated approximately 35,000 acres of Arab land in the West Bankworth more than $1 billion" and stole some 10,000 acres more after 1999. What does this mean on the ground? Only that unemployment in the Territories hovers between 60% to 70%, that half the Palestinian population lives under the poverty rate, and that our friend Ben-Gurion, with his fondness for Palestinian "disintegration, chaos and hunger," is cheering on from hell.
In essence the Palestinian economic situation is dire, enough so that it is pointless to talk of GDP and inflation given the most pressing economic concern of Palestinians: survival. Soon after the initial rape of Jenin, the IDF blocked crucial and sorely-needed (economic and medical) humanitarian aid. But does anyone remember Jenin? This was the site of Israeli destruction and terror so grave that it caused UN special envoy Roed-Larsen to comment, "It is horrifying beyond belief", and even prompted US envoy William Burns to admit it was "obvious what happened here has caused enormous suffering for thousands of Palestinian civilians". The Independent on April 21st reported that "The Israeli army refused to allow the Red Cross and others into the camp for six days, well after most of the fighting had ended," and cited a senior UN official as saying "they kept out humanitarian aid for days and that in itself is a war crime." The Scotsman on April 19th stated that the UN was "allowed access after 12 days during which ambulances were turned away and scores of injured bleed to death". Here we have a grave example of not just economic but all-encompassing suffocation. Jenin is only worth mentioning in this context because today the Israelis have imposed these tight chains on the entire Territories. Peter Hansen, head of the UN's Relief and Development Agency, recently cited the month-long blockade on Gaza's ports as hindering humanitarian aid, and added that often only 20-25% of his staff were active because Israel refused to issue new permits, which "are normally about to expire by the time they are issued".4 On July 4 according to BBC, a full thirty aid agencies issued a joint statement condemning Israel for obstructing their relief missions through harassment and delays. As Palestinians starve and sell off assets simply to buy food, the colonizer only smiles at his humiliation before straightening his face and sternly citing "security concerns."
The most prominent and recognizable physical feature of the colonial occupation are the settlements. Israeli human rights group B'Tselem reported in May that over 40% of the West Bank is controlled by settlers. Sharon alone is responsible for the building of at least forty new settlements. Maps reveal that the Territories are sliced up, separated, and isolated by the perpetual construction of settlement roads and buildings. In the Gaza Strip alone, a full one million Palestinians are huddled onto 60% of the land-the other 40% is occupied by 3,000 colonists. 5
These numbers are only symbolic representations of a violent life and death struggle being waged by the native against land expropriators, bulldozers, and soldiers, against the all-sided destruction and robbery which has never ceased to haunt him. Some observations made by international volunteer Justin Podur in a July 1st interview highlight this process.6 No sooner had he arrived he observed "an orange grove being knocked down by Israeli bulldozers", and no sooner had he started taking pictures did "nearby tanks fire into the air". Returning a day later he discovered the army "shot up [the] house and [the] water tank" of the grove-owners. Citing the proximity of checkpoints to settlements, he explains, "A few days ago, on June 28, a couplewere shotThe man had gone out to hang up laundry. He was shot by Israeli soldiers. His wife went outside to see what was happening and she was shot as well." Security concerns, no doubt. Remarking on travel discrimination, he added "Israelis have orange license plates. Palestinians have green. At just about any checkpoint, you see a long line of green license plates waiting for hours while the orange ones zip right through." (An aside: there is, of course, also a whole network of settlers-only roads that surround Palestinians.) Podur further comments that "in southern Gaza, an Israeli bulldozing operation left a broken, open sewer that was becoming a serious public health concernWhen workers tried to fix it, they were fired upon" The internationals "formed a ring around the workers, and the workers fixed the sewer"-an instance of both tremendous courage by the internationals and remarkable barbarity by Israel.
The most barbaric feature of the settlements is the settler himself. In a rare article by Jack Kelley of USA Today in September 2001, we gain some insight of the settler's psychology. Thirteen settlers of Hebron "grabbed their semiautomatic rifles and headed toward Highway 60" to set up a barricade to stop Palestinian taxis and, "Surround any taxi, 'open fire' and kill as many of the 'blood-sucking Arab' passengers as possible," as leader Avi Shapiro ordered. The aim outlined by Shapiro is indeed noble: "to drive these sons of Arab whores from the Land of Israel." We can perhaps forgive him for such daring romanticism given his deep ancestral attachment to the land: he is from Brooklyn. Citing Israeli and Palestinian officials Kelley informs us, "Jewish settlers are shooting and beating Palestinians, stealing and destroying their property and poisoning and diverting their water supplies," in this area comprising 450 Jews and at least 120,000 Palestinians. The article goes on to cite one instance where men load their rifles, women grab ammunition, and children gather up rocks, all to target a Palestinian car. More recently, as reported by The Times of India on April 22, a gang of twenty Jewish settlers in Nablus "busted into a Palestinian goat farm" and shot two Palestinians. They then proceeded to steal "some fifty goats from the farm, ten of which they had shot." The Israeli army arrived, and did nothing-it is but twelve dead animals to them.
This should surprise no one: the settler's existence forever depends upon the constant and unrelenting harassment, humiliation, and destruction of the native.
The aggrandizement of 90% of Palestinian water, daily construction of settler fences, daily destruction of native homes, military outposts, apartheid roads, beatings, thefts, and at least 126 killings (B'TSelem) can all be traced back directly to the settler. And yet what is the settler-a racist and a white supremacist by any account-but the modern, most current representative of the Israelis of 1948, of 1967, and of the government that supports him? Is he not merely a reflection of what Israel has done to the Palestinians for the last fifty years? Indeed, he is the vanguard element of Herzl's "outpost of civilization", equipped with a rich history of beatings, killings, and theft. Free samples of 'civilization' can be found at a settlement near you.
As evidenced, it is difficult to separate the physical paralysis, economic suffering, and offending settlements, as the native often finds himself victim of all three elements at once, in addition to others. Thus it is hard to classify certain Israeli atrocities, such as the inclination to gun down ambulances and medics. On April 20, Jordan Flaherty, an international speaking from Bethlehem informed the world via e-mail that he and others rode in ambulances because "Israeli soldiers continue to target doctors and relief workers for assassination", and spoke of a fifteen-year old Palestinian girl who volunteered as a medic, "shaking and crying in fear, as we tried to stop Israeli soldiers from seizing her." On May 18 The Guardian issued a special report on the subject, citing the bullet-holes of 75 ambulances, destruction of eight more, deaths of two drivers and three medics, and fifteen injuries, all at the hands of the IDF. Thirty-five more workers were "handcuffed, blindfolded, and forced to strip." Is the world inclined to re-examine its most 'moral' army, which has now taken to destroying ambulances and beating medics? Then there are peripheral crimes of the occupation: a June 15th Jerusalem Post article explains that the Israeli government has refused to allow American Jonathan Miles, head of a Christian humanitarian agency, from re-entering the country. His crime was most heinous: "facilitating the transfer of Palestinian babies to Israeli hospitals and bringing medications into Gaza unavailable there." Like army, like government.
Regardless of the impossibility of classifying every Israeli atrocity, we can state steadfastly that they are all bound together by one decisive feature: inhumanity. The colonizer is duty-bound to steal land, hoard resources, and expand constantly, he is duty-bound because nothing belongs to him by right, and thus he must take everything by force. To soothe his conscience the colonizer must convince himself that the land is rightfully his and that it has always been his, and to this end he must dehumanize the native and crush him. For if the colonizer can strip the native of his humanity he will no longer be guilty of stripping the native of his land, but of saving it from the clutches of his unworthy claws. But the land is not his, and never was his, and because of this the colonizer becomes jealous of the native, whose very existence is a constant reminder of this fact-yes, of course he can beat and torture him to no end, but the fact remains that he not only can but must; there is no escaping it, and he is in fact condemned to this task, for regardless of his subjective illusions to the contrary, the objective fact remains: he is a criminal. The colonizer is in the constant process of committing one crime to absolve himself of another. That is the self-fueling contradiction of Israel's ongoing colonial occupation; that is the crux of colonialism itself.
We return now to a subject touched upon briefly, if only by necessity, which has been distorted and manipulated to no end: the subject of violence. Fanon noted that "the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil." Thus in our press and media, which takes the viewpoint of the settler, the Palestinian is branded a terrorist from the outset, intent upon nothing else but the destruction of Israeli democracy, lurking just beyond it, surrounding it, and waiting to strike. We can immediately recognize in this image an exact reflection of the viewpoint on Israel's origins and the circumstances surrounding it. That viewpoint has been exploded. The mainstream outlook concerning violence has its underpinnings on the previous set of myths, but so much nonsense has been said and written about it that it deserves serious treatment.
We have seen in the examination of the Israeli occupation that the life of the Palestinian is almost defined by Israeli violence; his ability to move, to travel, to live in his home, to give birth, to call an ambulance: all of this is denied daily by Israel. Indeed, the Palestinian is given the opportunity to "move" only when Israeli military forces have either reduced his home to rubble, which has been done tens of thousands of times since 1967, or if he has been dispossessed in an ethnic cleansing campaign. The very location of the Palestinian population is a result of Israeli violence: he is confined to isolated ghettoes and squalid refugee camps resting on 1/5th of the land which rightfully belonged to him. But our "terrorism expert" and his colleagues at the editorial offices of Wall Street Journal and New York Times remain unimpressed, and cry out: "this is part of the 'we must look at the roots' of terror nonsense! The Palestinian purposely kills innocent civilians and is a terrorist!" For these gentlemen, to even mention the forced removal of millions, mass looting, pauperization and imprisonment of an entire population for decades is heresy. They try to prove that the Palestinian is a terrorist by defining his violence as terror and by defining terror as the only true violence, yet they succeed only in proving that Darwin's theory of human evolution has a fair number of exceptions, located mainly in certain New York office buildings.
But let us descend to this primitive level-and what a descent it is-to see who is guilty of intentional murder of civilians. We are already aware-courtesy of recent Israeli historians-that deliberate massacres were carried out by Zionist militia from the outset. In fact, Segev's aforementioned book contains a telling quotation: in the course of a Knesset debate in 1949, when Communist Member of Knesset Toubi accused a fellow MK of "preparing another Deir Yassin", MK Meridor replied: "Thanks to Deir Yassin we won the war, sir!" Indeed. But there is hardly any need to travel so far back: during the first Intifada, twenty-five Palestinian civilians were killed by Israelis for every one Israeli killed by Palestinians in the Territories.7 During this whole six-year period the Palestinians rarely used guns, while naturally the Israeli forces were equipped with automatic rifles. In the first three weeks after the second Intifada had begun, 100 Palestinians had been killed, 30 of them children, and Amnesty International issued a report citing, "excessive use of lethal force in circumstances in which neither the lives of the security forces nor others were in imminent danger..." In other words: intentional murder of civilians.
The framework of intentional murder is, in fact, too narrow: if we include deliberate, systematic torture, we gain a finer appreciation for Israel's moral conduct. Until very recently, torture was officially legal in Israel, and had its pinnacle year in 1991, during which five thousand Palestinians were tortured (BTSelem). We are graced with one example of judicial generosity cited below:
in 1992, a young man named Al-Akawi, brought to court after 'moderate physical pressure' looked so badly beaten and unwell that the judge took the 'unusual step' of giving the Shin Bet only eight more days for interrogation. But by 5 PM the next day the authorities summoned Al-Akawi's father to come and remove his son's body.8
The practice of cruel treatment of detainees has far from ended. After Israel's April onslaught, hundreds of Palestinians had mysteriously 'disappeared' from the West Bank. The 'mystery' has been unraveled: Israel had deported them to torture camps "behind razor wire and lookout posts" at an Israeli army base. The approximately 1,000 prisoners were being "regularly beaten with wooden batonsforced to spend nights sitting in the dirt outside in the cold, in their underwearrefused food for days at a time". One former inmate recalled the high level of professionalism displayed by his oppressors: "They made us stand in a group and drove an armoured personnel carries at us. It swerved away at the last minute." Independent Israeli human rights organizations have apparently confirmed all of this. (The Independent, April 15)
At this point our terrorism expert and his cohorts appear uncomfortable: it is only temporary. "Palestinians blow themselves up! They strap bombs around themselves and kill civilians; I don't see any Israeli blowing himself up." We must congratulate our most perspicacious friend: after having overseen the minor details of mass Israeli expropriations, massacres, killings, and tortures over the course of the last fifty years, he has at least noticed the difference in the methods of violence. But even in this remarkable epiphany of his he overlooks all else. He fails to note that his favorite outpost of civilization has received over $90 billion dollars from the United States since its creation, that it still receives billions of dollars in military aid, including hardware, technology, and expertise annually-and that he is paying for it. The Palestinian, on the other hand, is essentially a dispossessed former peasant. What small arms he has attained here and there include old rifles and some automatic weapons, nothing which can pierce armor or challenge air power. So when the Israeli army embarks on the proud mission of terrorizing the Palestinian people, it does so in the most modern tanks, the most expensive aircraft, with the deadliest missiles, and the most powerful bombs. Thus the Israeli need not "blow himself up"; he is quite content to blow the Palestinian up and leave himself entirely out of the equation. The Palestinian, however, is well aware of his predicament: his entire six-year campaign without the use arms has brought him only twenty-five martyred brothers for every dead occupier-and worse-the farce of Oslo. Seeing that he is no match for the colossal colonial military, he strikes quickly and fatally at soft targets within Israel.
Yes, after facing at least four decades of relentless Israeli terror, in 1993 he begins to carry out suicide bombing campaigns inside Israel. His attacks are scenes of brutality, but also examples of despair. Malcolm X once said, "The price of freedom is death"; for the constantly dehumanized and brutalized native, the benefit of death is freedom. The attacks are terrible no doubt, but only drops of water in the vast Israeli ocean of terrorism that is both quantitatively and historically much more powerful and deadly. In pointing out the differing methods of violence the pro-Israeli pundits hopes to discover a hidden 'culture of hate' or 'culture of evil', but he has only helped us expose the disparity of power between one of the world's most powerful militaries and the world's last colonized people. He worries about "bombs strapped around waists" but should concern himself with removing the restraints strapped around his mind; perhaps he would then see that it is the colonizer who has strapped chains around the arms and ankles of the native and that this lends the conflict its explosive character.
Yet our expert is not entirely without weapons of his own. He is always equipped with phrases-marvelous phrases, no doubt-which wash away the facts of history with a wave of the hand. Today, he raises his favorite: "there is no moral equivalency here." We are forced to agree-from the Palestinian perspective-that there is indeed no "moral equivalency" between a half-century of all-sided, all-encompassing criminality and recent acts born of desperation. But he immediately clarifies his thesis: "there is no moral equivalency between terror and the democracy of Western civilization". Here he has introduced three fine terms in just one sentence; when "moral equivalency" does not suffice to crush dissent he brings in the bulldozers of "terror" and "democracy". Permit us to remind him of the content of Israeli democracy in relation to the native.
If we set aside the fact that Israel had to expel most of its non-Jewish population and has subjugated the remaining Arabs in its territory, it is accurate to say that the Israelis elect their own leaders rather freely. Let us briefly see whom they have chosen to represent them. Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was the man who headed all Jewish militia before and throughout the massacre and ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1947-1949. The two main militia groups involved in the rape, plunder, and killing of Palestinians were Irgun and Haganah, led by Menachem Begin and Yitzakh Shamir, respectively. Begin, who told the Knesset that the Palestinians are "beasts walking on two legs" was elected PM in 1977, and Shamir's heroism earned him the same post in 1983. Golda Meir, elected PM in 1969, is responsible for the famous saying, "There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed." A resounding round of applause for the Israelis: they have elected to the highest offices a cohort of racists and war criminals. An May 14, Haaretz piece on the subject of the International Criminal Court noted that the Israeli elite have become "concerned", even "alarmed", by "the possibility that prominent Israelis, members of the security services as well as politicians, will have to stand trialfor committing war crimes." The article continues, "The legal and military leadership in Israel are becoming increasingly concerned that Israel will be well represented among the first suspects and accused." In the category of war crimes Israeli leaders will undeniably take home the gold.
But I almost forgot about the man who supports mass deportation. I almost forgot the epitome of savagery. I almost forgot Ariel Sharon. Administrator of the Territories in the 1970's Sharon designed the settlements so that they would separate and isolate Palestinian villages from one another. In the 1980's he called for mass expulsion and destruction of a Palestinian village for rioting.9 In 1982, the Israeli government held him "personally responsible" for the horrifying massacre carried out in the camps of Sabra and Shatilla, which left 1800 civilians dead. Today, as his list of crimes grows ever longer, as his own people refer to him as "The Bulldozer", he officially stands as the elected representative of the Israeli people.
It turns out that Israeli democracy, whose existence is meant to shame those who support the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, is in fact an indictment of Israeli society itself. Those living under a dictatorship at least have the distinct advantage of not being indirectly involved in the unjust violence of their government. And what kind of violence is the present Israeli government exacting upon the Palestinians today?
April 22, The Times of India: IDF troops shot and wounded four Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip for throwing stones at Israeli bulldozers. One of the aggressors, a 3-year old Palestinian boy, was shot in the head and died. April 26, The Independent: two 14 and 15 year-old boys who approached Jewish settlements with knives were killed. Israeli vehicles ran over one of the children several times and left both bodies to be gnawed at by wild dogs. May 17th, AP: Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 7-year old boy in a Nablus refugee camp. Soldiers fired from tank-mounted machine guns in response to stones, injuring six civilians, including three children. Nevertheless the source informs us it was "accidental." May 19th, Jerusalem Post: An Arab-Israeli doctor was shot and killed near Hebron for trying to bypass a checkpoint. An Arab-Israeli woman was shot dead by the IDF in Shuweikeh for trying to repair her car. We are informed the fatal bullet was a "warning shot" which "ricocheted." An Arab-Israeli was shot and wounded at an IDF roadblock for failing to stop; he was deaf. May 30th, Haaretz: A 17 year-old Palestinian boy was killed while in custody. The boy was to undergo brain surgery when IDF forces beat and detained him, tied his hands with electrical wire while in custody, and beat him some more. After shooting him dead, soldiers threw his naked body into the street. His mother was not notified. Generously, the IDF offered to open a "special investigation." June 27th, Guardian: Israeli military forces in the Balata refugee camp shot and killed a 17-year old Palestinian. He was firing a pistol at an Israeli tank. June 29th, CNN: A Palestinian woman and her husband were wounded by IDF bullets at Deir Balah refugee camp. We are informed that they were "in the crossfire." The woman died soon after because "an ambulance was delayed from entering the area." We are not informed if this is also because it was "in the crossfire". July 2, Haaretz: a 10-year old Palestinian boy was shot dead by either settlers or soldiers. The army sent its condolences to the family: a bulldozer tore up their vegetable plot-"All of their livelihood for the summer and fall months was ruined"-and then destroyed "three motorized pumps that brought water from the well."
This is the precious content of Israel's coveted 'democracy': murdering Palestinian men, women, and children on a daily basis. Palestinians are finding themselves infused with 'Western civilization' one bullet at a time. As illustrated, in the past several months Israel's guns have spoken and spoken loudly. Now let the men who have wielded them speak for themselves:
IDF sergeant first class reservist Asaf Oron.
[In the Territories] we have created an entirely hallucinatory reality, in which the true humans, members of the 'Nation of Masters', can move and settle freely and safely, while the sub-humans, the 'Nation of Slaves', have been shoved into the corners and kept invisible and controlled under our IDF boots.10
IDF staff sergeant reservist Shlomi Segall.
Sharon and his cronies are fighting a colonial war to keep their pet settlement project in place, to perpetuate the Israeli occupation and the subjugation of the Palestinian territories. It is a one-sided war with a not-so-covert purpose of destroying any hope of a Palestinian homeland and independent national life.11
IDF soldier Sergio Yahni.
This army does not exist to bring security to the citizens of Israel, it exists to guarantee the continuation of the theft of Palestinian land. As a Jew, I am repelled by the crimes this militia commits against the Palestinian people.12
To survive the checkpoint, you [the soldier] must become an animal. You become a machine of the checkpoint.13
IDF tank gunner reservist Shamai Lebowitz:
Can you expect a rape victim to negotiate with her attacker? Can you expect a slave to negotiate with his master a 'contract of freedom'? 14
These men are among some 470 Israeli soldiers who have refused to serve in the Territories, citing their refusal to "dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people." Their accounts and testimonies speak to the utter brutality and violence Israel has displayed towards the Palestinians. No doubt they are the exception, as the vast majority of Israelis are content to fulfill their national duty by defecating in Palestinian civilian offices and firing tank shells at little children on bicycles, incidents which have been reported in the mainstream Israeli press.15 But the refuseniks have nevertheless freed themselves from the system and given us valuable insight into the dialectics of colonialism, confirming the realities of a system once described with unparalleled precision by Césaire and Fanon.
By now our terrorism expert, having nothing left to say, has fled the scene. There is no comparison between the systematic, powerful, and all-sided violence of the Israeli colonizer and the desperate reactions of the oppressed native. The original sin of colonization committed by the settler, compounded by the terror and brutality which has flowed from it for over fifty years, is the principal act of aggression. The Palestinian cannot be one-sidedly faulted for trying to prevent his ethnic cleansing and possible extermination, as he is fighting for his very existence. If one can criticize his tactics, which would be hard not to do given the tragic consequences of suicide bombings, it must be a complete criticism, that is, it must be made clear that what the native does out of lack of alternative options to regain his land cannot be placed on the same plane as what the robber of his land has always been doing entirely of his own volition and with incomparably greater force. The words of Mark Twain concerning the violence of the French Revolution could hardly find a more appropriate context:
There were two 'Reigns of Terror' if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand yearsbut our shudders are all for the 'horrors' of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the ax compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heartbreak?....that unspeakably bitter and awful terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.16
It has been the purpose of this article to expose the "unspeakably bitter and awful terror", to grasp it and dig it out from under the stinking pile of racism and hatred which has smothered and covered up the suffering of the Palestinian people for so long.
But having peeled away at the many layers of lies and having exposed the inner workings of Israeli brutality, the question remains: what is to be done? There are, of course, certain international laws and norms which have been drawn up. Israel stands in violation of several articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention, namely regarding the shifting of demographics and use of violence, which covers essentially every pertinent article of the document. Israel stands in violation of certain UN resolutions as well: 194, which calls for the right of return for refugees, and 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders. But in examining these documents in relation to the question of "what is to be done", a certain degree of bluntness is required: nothing has been done. These documents, which were not written up yesterday, were at any rate written up and codified only with the approval of the world's five great powers and are disobeyed and discarded at will by the world's main power. They are a reference point only in that they illustrate the hypocrisy of its supposed enforcers.
Throughout the history of mankind, liberation has been achieved not by brandishing this or that document, but through genuine struggle and solidarity among those who are being deprived of justice and are not afraid to fight for it. And who is being deprived of justice today? The Palestinian natives fighting Israeli colonialism, the unemployed masses of Argentina combating the system of greed heralded by the IMF, the poor of Venezuela defending Chavez against reactionary despots, and of course the American public which finds itself not only robbed by the corporate presidency, but robbed again for the purpose of funding wars abroad that will produce its own set of explosive consequences. Thus the chains burdening the Palestinian native will not be kindly unlocked by the system which forged them; they must be broken apart by the great majority of humanity which is bound and shackled by them through a collective will of resistance.
1. Cited in Erlich, Guy, 'Not Only Deir Yassin', Ha'ir, 6 May 1992.
2. Pg. 31. Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000.
3. See note 1.
4. June 28, Reuters. Quote cited by correspondent Elaine Monaghan.
5. May 31, 2002. Washington Post. "Settlements Expand Under Sharon."
6. Statistics compiled by Israeli human rights group B'TSelem
7. July 01, 2002. Z Magazine. "A Conversation with Justin Podur in Gaza."
8. May 1994, 2002. Cited in Z Magazine. "Israeli Apartheid and Terrorism", by Edward S. Herman, media analyst and Professor at Univ. of Penn.
9. Pg. 581. Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1999.
10. April 10, 2002. Cited in Z Magazine. "Passover 2002: An Open Letter to American Jews", by Asaf Oron
11. July 05, 2002. The Guardian. "Why I Won't Serve Sharon", Shlomi Segall.
12. March 19, 2002. Cited in World Social Forum. "To:Minister of Defence Ben-Eliezer", Sergio Yahni.
13. Quote cited in July 05, 2002 Z Magazine article, "Breeding Points of Terror", Jessica Azulay.
14. July 05, 2002. Cited in Middle East Times. "An Israeli Officer's Response to Bush", Shamai Leibowitz.
15. May 6, 2002, Haaretz. Amira Hass writes, "[The soldiers] defecated into plastic bags, and these were scattered in several places. Some of them had burst. Someone even managed to defecate into a photocopier." There were "two toilets on every floor".July 2, 2002. Haaretz. Gideon Levy. (Note: BBC recently acquired clear footage of the incident)
16. Quote cited in Monthly Review, June 2002, "Violence: A Tool of Order and Change", by Leo Panitich. From Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.