Thursday, July 17, 2014

Are the Palestinians Israel's Native Americans?

As I looked at the map posted on Juan Cole's The Map: A Palestinian Nation Thwarted & Speaking Truth to Power I was reminded of the infamous 1996 statement by Netanyahu’s spokesperson David Bar-Illan; when asked if Israel was opposed to a Palestinian state he replied: "Semantics don’t matter. If Palestinian sovereignty is limited enough so that we feel safe, call it fried chicken." Indeed, as of 2000, the state of the occupied territories, particularly the West Bank, has started to resemble scattered pieces of flesh on the ground. Here is the map chronicling the Palestinian loss of land from 1946 to 2000:



My guess is that today, 14 years later, the pieces may look even smaller – fried quail perhaps? In addition to Bar-Illan's comment I was also reminded of a picture I purchased many years ago when I visited Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Similarly to the map above, the picture shows a timeline of the conquest of Native American land by European settlers:




The last map (1890) looks very similar to the 2000 map of Palestinian land: scattered pieces of small enclaves.

A few months ago I wrote a post titled The Problem With BDS where I argued that the comparison of Israel with with South Africa may not be appropriate and perhaps counterproductive to the interests of the Palestinians. My position in not an original one and is primarily derived from Chomsky's assessment of the circumstances. Since then, Chomsky has published an essay in The Nation explaining his position in detail. Predictably, Chomsky's essay has been selectively quoted by the likes of Fred Lazin who, in a recent appearance on CrossTalk, conveniently omitted the fact that Chomsky's criticism of the analogy between Israel and South Africa is due to the fact that, in his view, "the road ahead is not toward South Africa, as commonly alleged, but toward something much worse."

The "much worse" is the slow and steady elimination, as Chomsky puts it, of Israel's "Palestinian burden." As he explains, unlike South Africa – where the black population was the white's workforce –  Israel doesn't need the Palestinians. It is for this reason that, in my opinion, the genocide of Native Americans by European settlers seems a more apt comparison. If so, the belief of some that the Israeli government will eventually have to reckon with the Palestinian burden – as Miko Peled stated in the same episode of CrossTalk – may also be misplaced less some major geopolitical shift.

Of course the analogy between Palestinians and Native Americans is not new. In fact, as I was pondering such parallel I came across an essay by Ron Jacobs discussing this very notion. In US and Israeli Exceptionalism Jacobs writes that

Although the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl considered his philosophy to be a secular one, there has always been a religious element. Indeed, Israel’s “Declaration of Independence,” opens with the declaration “Eretz Israel [Hebrew: The Land of Israel] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.” In making this claim, the founders of Israel linked their nation to the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition. Further on in the same document, those founders refer to the British colonial mandate Balfour Declaration to establish their legal right to the land they were stealing. By acknowledging the biblical land of Israel and the colonial mandate for Palestine, Israel’s founders made clear their allegiance to the western colonialist tradition. More importantly, and disastrously, they paved the way for their ongoing occupation of Palestine and the neverending war against its people. 
Israel’s founding documents (and the utterings of many of its politicians during its earlier years) insist on the nation’s allegiance to principles of freedom and fairness for all of its inhabitants. Likewise, a call for peace and cooperation with its neighbors was issued. However, a nation founded by the theft of others’ lands, homes and places of worship is bound to find adhering to those principles to be impossible. This will certainly be the case if actions of the new nation display little intention to follow its stated principles. Like the young nation called the United States, the nation of Israel was founded by stealing land and the spilling of blood. Also, like the young United States, Israel quickly proved that its lofty principles of its founding documents applied only to certain inhabitants of the newly created nation.

Given such similarity, one is left to wonder if the Palestinians will meet a destiny similar to that of Native Americans. The maps above speak clearly: that is indeed the direction and, most likely, the goal of the Israeli government. Some Israeli politicians say just as much: Ayelet Shaked, for example, recently declared on her Facebook that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy ... including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

Having stated the problem, the pressing question is: how can the people of the world stop yet another neocolonial land grab by one of Washington's client states resulting in the immense suffering and likely erasure of an entire people from their native land? The proponents of BDS say: boycott and divest (BD) from Israel (as Chomsky rightfully points out in his essay, there haven't been any credible calls for international sanctions). Yet, given the acquiescence of Western media to the Israeli narrative – with the notable exception of Jon Snow and a few others – it doesn't seem likely that people in the West will have the type of awareness required for demanding any kind of meaningful condemnation of Israeli policy from their own governments.

This is not surprising since these governments, and the media which are owned by the corporate interests which shape public policy, are the very colonial powers who participated in the genocide of American indigenous populations and after which Israel is modeling itself. In addition, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out some time ago, it would be hypocritical in the least for Obama to criticize Israel for doing exactly what his administration has been doing all over the world for some time; namely, assassinating people extrajudicially. Finally, Western military contractors are making a lot of money selling weapons to the Israeli government and thus they don't want the billions of dollars in subsidies that Israel's military machine receives from US taxpayers to stop.

Given that for the most part Israel doesn't move a finger without Washington saying so, regardless of the occasional theatrics, it follows that the latter is the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East. This, incidentally, is clearly understood by the people in the region. A recent poll, for example, found that most Arabs "believe that the United States is not even-handed in its approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making" and "have very little confidence that the United States is committed to an independent Palestinian state." This truism is also understood by the Israeli elites and their counterparts in the US, who devote considerable resources in order to shape public opinion in the US in favor of Israel.

Ultimately, the only way to avert the erasure of the Palestinians and their heritage is by diminishing the hegemony of the world's sole superpower. It is perhaps for this reason that the BRICS countries have finally established a New Development Bank as an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF. The recent effort of Washington to impose sanctions on Russia because of the Ukrainian crisis has also backfired as it helped seal a $400 billion gas deal between Russia and China. In addition, Washington's European partners have been reluctant to impose any serious sanctions on Russia despite the boisterous claims to the contrary by Obama and Kerry. Predictably, the more the USE (United States Empire) tightens its hegemonic grip on the world, the more countries will slip through its fingers:



Thus, while this may seem counterintuitive, it is in the weakening of "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," the US government, that the best hope of ending the multi-decade suffering of the Palestinians resides.

In a recent column, Danny Schechter asked: Is It Time To “Boycott” The USA?  Apparently, many are starting to believe so. In his column Schechter cites examples such as the fact that "international technology companies, angered at NSA spying and attempts to manipulate the internet are refusing to do business with their American counterparts" and that "Russia is spearheading an anti-dollar alliance built around the BRICS States." And while it may take some time for Washington's hegemony to recede from the foreground, these are signs that the process is well on its way and will continue unless Washington chooses a more cooperative approach in its dealings with the rest of the world. When that happens, the state of Israel will no longer have the world's big bully to hide behind and will also have to choose a more cooperative path with the Palestinians.

Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi once wrote that “everybody is somebody’s Jew and today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis." In light of this essay, a more appropriate analogy may be that today the Palestinians are the Native Americans of the Israelis.

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