Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Israel and the Path to Self-Destruction

Biden on Israel is a waste of everybody's time, even AIPAC

So Joe Biden wants the main pro-Israel pressure group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to know that Barack Obama is serious when he says that he will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons ("Biden seeks to reassure AIPAC of loyalty"). But what Joe Biden wants AIPAC to know falls far short of what Biden himself probably knows and definitely needs to say:

Israel is on a path to self-destruction and has been on that path since, oh, say, its founding.

Citing the opinions of four former directors of Shin Bet, Israel's security service, I described the problems with that path in "End the Silence" for the Nov. 21, 2003 issue of In These Times. The immediate stimulus for the piece was the publication by an Israeli newspaper of an interview with the former security chiefs.

At the time, Israel was in the process of building a security fence to separate the occupied Palestinian territories on the West Bank from Israeli settlements established in the territories. A quote pulled from Yedioth Aharanoth cited the opinion of Avraham Shalom, head of Shin Bet from 1980 to 1986: “[The Fence] creates hatred, it expropriates land and annexes hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the state of Israel. The result is that the fence achieves the exact opposite of what was intended. … We must once and for all admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and that it is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully. Yes, there is no other word for it: disgracefully. … We have turned into a people of petty fighters using the wrong tools."

In 2003, when Shalom began to speak out, there were 401,820 Israelis living in the settlements. Ten years earlier, when Israeli and Palestinian representatives signed the first of the Oslo peace accords, there were less than 300,000 Israelis living on the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and Gaza. By last year that number had reached 550,000 and is still climbing.

But the former leaders of Shin Bet are still speaking out. In The Gatekeepers, a documentary directed by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, the four Shin Bet chiefs originally named in the Yedioth Aharanoth article are joined by two others. The film lays out their critique of Israeli policy and the occupation of the Palestinian territories. As a group they are clear, Israeli policy must change.

Avrahom Shalom damns the occupation. "'s a brutal occupation force," he says, "similar to the Germans in World War II.

Ya'akov Peri, head of Shin Bet from 1988 to 1994 said that being the chief security officer and enforcing Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories was deeply affecting. "These moments end up etched deep inside you and, when you retire, you end up becoming a bit of a leftist," he said.

The brutality of the Israeli occupation can't possibly be news to Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years, part of that time as the chair of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. He is also likely to be quite familiar with the details of international law forbidding the establishment of settlements on occupied territories. Biden may even be aware that the state of Israel was created by the unilateral action of Jewish settlers living in Palestine after Palestinians and neighboring Arab states rejected a United Nations resolution that aimed to internationalize Jerusalem and create separate Jewish and Palestinian states.

Despite all this, Biden chose to appear before AIPAC and pander. "We will continue to oppose any efforts to establish a state of Palestine through unilateral actions," Biden said, referring to Palestinian efforts to seek U.N. recognition that the United States has staunchly opposed. "There is no shortcut to peace."

Of course, there is nothing unique about Biden's refusal to address what is really at stake in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Supporters of Israel routinely focus on the hostility and alleged anti-semitism of Arabs, in general, and Palestinians, in particular. But the hatred of people who consider themselves to be conquered, subjugated and dispossessed should come as no surprise to the conquerers, however far events may have receded into history. That the occupation of Palestinian territory continues is a fresh and daily reminder of injustice. That Palestinians frequently conflate Jews and Israelis in ways that supporters of Israel suggest is evidence of anti-semitism should not be a surprise, either. After all, Israelis and Jews frequently describe the theocratic state of Israel, which in law and in practice treats Arabs and Jews differently, as a democracy.

But misrepresenting the reality will not make a theocracy and a military occupation the path to a safe harbor in the Middle East. That way lies only pain and loss for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

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