Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Gangster State

If you care at all about what is happening in Gaza no doubt you have been reading all manner of reasons for what on the surface may seem to be a senseless war. To make matters worse there is the U.S. world view of Israel as a poor abused and endangered group of innocents huddled together shivering in fear from a bunch of religion crazed Arabs. Then there is the propaganda machine of Israel itself, a never ending source of disinformation and lies. Compounding it all is of course the U.S. news media whose insidious coverage of this human tragedy has only obscured the reality behind a smoke screen of affected “fair” reporting posing as a moderate and thoughtful source of facts though thankfully fewer and fewer people are buying into it as the real facts of the gargantuan modern well equipped murder machine, the IDF, run by the Israeli government stomps the virtually helpless Palestinians into the dirt come into light.

Indeed, if we were forced to rely on the news media without the benefit of the internet where a handful of luminaries such as Arthur Silber, Chris Floyd, Dennis Perrin, Jonathan Schwarz, Bernard Chazelle, to name a few we would be groping in the dark of a sterile landscape dominated by the mainstream news media who’s job is apparently self appointed apologists for the U.S. government and who would have us suffocating beneath a blanket of ignorance. Another benefit of the internet is that it allows us to read news from sources other than that of the U.S. such as some of the better news outlets like those in Brittan and elsewhere. I do not claim that this even begins to solve the problems wrought by state violence and propaganda but it is a small incremental step in a better direction to dispel the indoctrination we are all subject to and victims of.

This brings us back to the why’s of the purpose of the brutality of state violence now so disgustingly on display in Gaza. Today Chris Floyd links to an article by Avi Shlaim a former Israeli soldier and professor of international relations at Oxford. As Chris Floyd points out it is highly unlikely you would read this in any American news outlet. But the article lays out the reasons for Israel’s inordinate violence in the best summary I have read to date.


The only way to make sense of Israel's senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel's vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration's complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza's prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.

I urge you to read the entire article if you are interested in understanding the driving forces of Israeli violence towards Palestine.


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