The Assault on Israeli Legitimacy
Israel, with its vast settlement expansion – including the hundreds of new homes it intends to build in East Jerusalem – makes no pretense anymore about working toward a two-state solution.
It is an overtly apartheid state. Its goal is no longer rapprochement with the Palestinians but rather the carving up of the West Bank into ringed Palestinian ghettos that will replicate the misery and violence of the large ghetto that has become Gaza.
The Jewish settlements and their constant expansion in the two decades since the signing of the Oslo accords have created a vast and elaborate Israeli infrastructure on Palestinian land that can no longer be reversed. The faint hope that Barack Obama would pressure the Israeli government to abide by UN resolutions and international law was shattered when the president refused to condemn Israel’s brutal 22-day assault on Gaza. Obama’s obsequiousness was cemented when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu flatly rejected the administration’s call for a halt to illegal settlement expansion. At that point Obama appeared to have given up.
Israel’s decision to seize most of the West Bank and leave 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in the open-air prison that is Gaza inevitably means the creation of a deformed Jewish state in which privileged citizens will live with one set of rules and second-class citizens, Palestinians, will be systematically denied national and individual rights. In this apartheid state, Palestinians will be subjected to ever more humiliating and demeaning forms of control and repression.
The Israelis have consciously orchestrated acute misery and poverty in the Palestinian territories over the past two decades in an effort to subdue and ethnically cleanse the captive population. They have reduced Palestinians, many of whom now live on less than two dollars a day, to a subsistence level. They have created squalid, lawless and impoverished ghettos in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli soldiers who surround these ghettos have the ability to instantly cut off food, medicine and goods, perpetuating the misery. When these little Bantustans become restive, Israel drops 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs and artillery shells – as they did in Gaza – on the concrete hovels that pack neighborhoods. The Israeli objective is to turn the Palestinian territories into a hell on earth. This policy has, however, swollen the ranks of radical Islamists in the occupied territories and throughout the Middle East and exposed the criminality of the Israeli state to the wider world.
When I was based as a correspondent in Jerusalem two decades ago, it was unthinkable that an Israeli politician who openly advocated ethnically cleansing the Palestinians from Israeli-controlled territory, as well as forcing Arabs in Israel to take loyalty oaths or be forcibly relocated to the West Bank, could sit in the Cabinet.
The racist tirades of Jewish proto-fascists like Meir Kahane stood outside the law. They were vigorously condemned by most Israelis and were prosecuted accordingly. Kahane’s repugnant Kach Party, labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union, was outlawed by the Israeli government in 1988 for inciting racism.
But in the last two decades Israel has undergone a radical and disturbing change. The racism spread by Kahane – whose thugs were charged with the murders and beatings of dozens of unarmed Palestinians and whose members held rallies in Jerusalem where they chanted “Death to Arabs!” – has been embraced by leading Israeli politicians, including Israeli’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman openly calls for an araberrein Israel – an Israel free of Arabs.
There has been a moral erosion from the days of the socialist Mapai Party, which founded Israel in 1948 and later merged into the Labor Party. The Labor Party held within its ranks many leaders such as Yitzhak Rabin who, while certainly blinded by Zionism, were nevertheless serious about coexistence with the Palestinians. The rise of political extremists such as Netanyahu and Lieberman signals a new era.
Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer who was a member of the Kach Party, represents the new face of Israel’s apartheid state.
He has the personal and political habits of the Islamic goons he opposes. He was found guilty in 2001 of beating a 12-year-old boy and fined by an Israeli court. He is being investigated for multimillion-dollar fraud and money laundering and is rumored to have close ties with the Russian mafia. He lives, in defiance of international law, in the Jewish settlement of Nokdim on occupied Palestinian land.
Lieberman, as did his mentor Kahane, calls for the eradication of Palestinians from Israel and the territories it occupies. During the massive Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 2008 and early 2009, he said that Israel should fight Hamas the way the United States fought the Japanese in World War II. He noted that the occupation of Japan was unnecessary to achieve victory, alluding to the dropping of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. When he assumed his position as foreign minister he announced that the 2007 Annapolis peace agreement was dead. He said in 2004 that 90 percent of Israel’s Palestinian citizens “have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost.” This statement was especially galling since Lieberman, unlike Palestinians who can trace back their ancestry in the area for generations, immigrated to Israel in 1978 from Moldova and retains a heavy Russian accent. And Lieberman, from the floor of the Knesset, openly fantasized about executing the handful of Palestinian Knesset members.
“We requested that in the government guidelines it would say explicitly that all the inciters and collaborators with terrorism that sit in this house should bear the brunt of the penalty for those actions,” Lieberman said from the Knesset plenum in May of 2006. “All those who continue to meet freely with Hamas and Hezbollah, who go on monthly visits to Lebanon. Those who declared Israel’s Independence Day to be ‘nakba’ [Arabic for catastrophe] Day and raised black flags … World War II ended with the Nuremberg trials. The heads of the Nazi Party went to be executed – but not just them, also those who collaborated with them. Just like [the prime minister of Vichy France during World War II Pierre] Laval was later executed, I hope that this is the fate of the collaborators in this house.”
He has suggested bombing Egypt’s Aswan Dam, an act that would lead to a massive loss of Egyptian lives. As Ariel Sharon’s minister of transportation he offered to bus several hundred Palestinian prisoners to the sea and drown them. He told the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, one of Israel’s few Arab allies, to “go to hell.” And, along with Netanyahu, he advocates massive air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The rise of racist trolls like Lieberman and Netanyahu, together with the increased repression, like the saturation bombing of Lebanon in 2006 and the recent assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai by the Mossad, is making it harder and harder for Israel to present a democratic facade to the outside world. In February the Reut Institute in Tel Aviv reported to the Israeli cabinet, which it advises, that violence had failed to achieve Israel’s ends and had produced worldwide revulsion instead.
“In last year’s Gaza operation,” the report said, “our superior military power was offset by an offensive on Israel’s legitimacy that led to a significant setback in our international standing and will constrain future Israeli military planning and operations.”
Israel, despite warnings from many within the Israeli establishment, has embarked on a course that will see it, like the South African apartheid regime, become ever more isolated and reviled. A Palestinian state, if it comes into existence, will have to be declared by forces outside of Israel – most likely the United Nations. These international forces will openly challenge Israel’s apartheid regime and unilaterally draw state lines along the old 1967 border. Once this takes place, Israel’s very legitimacy – like that of its old ally the apartheid regime in South Africa – will be in doubt.
Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, is the author of several books including the best sellers War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.