Sunday, April 25, 2010


In June of 1967, Israel simultaneously attacked and invaded the West Bank (under Jordanian rule), the Gaza Strip (under Egyptian rule), the Golan Heights (part of Syria), and the Sinai Peninsula (part of Egypt). Its first strike in this Six Day War was on the Egyptian and Jordanian air forces, which completely disabled them and gave Israel free rein to invade.

Israel’s excuse for making a preemptive strike was that Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were supposedly massing troops near their borders with Israel. The Israelis claimed they were going to be attacked by the Arab countries. In 1982, Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledged that they didn’t have proof that an attack was imminent; they decided to attack Egypt anyway. This gave Israel the opportunity to push 250,000 more Palestinians into exile. [‘Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict’ by Phyllis Bennis, pp. 159-160]

The final outcome of the Six Day War, a total victory for Israel, was the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem (the last portions of historical Palestine that were intended for a Palestinian state), which has lasted for 43 years. Israel denies it is occupying East Jerusalem, having unilaterally annexed it as their capital, even though the United Nations declared it a multi-national city when Israel was created. No nation recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. At any rate, military occupation of any area is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

Although the Fourth Geneva Convention “prohibits an occupying power from transferring any part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” and “international humanitarian law prohibits any permanent change to an occupied land”, [Bennis, pg. 20], Israel began building Jewish settlements throughout the Palestinian lands immediately following the Six Day War. The goal has been the conquest of Palestinian land through colonization. In 1973, Ariel Sharon told a British journalist, "We'll make a pastrami sandwich of them. We'll insert a strip of Jewish settlement, in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlement, right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years time...nobody will be able to tear it apart."

The control of Palestinian life is absolute. While Israel dismantled its settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005 and withdrew its troops, the military surrounds Gaza and maintains a total vertical occupation: absolute control of movement on the land, under the land, in the air, and by sea. President Jimmy Carter says of Gaza, “They are being strangled since the Israeli ‘withdrawal’, surrounded by a separation barrier that is penetrated only by Israeli-controlled checkpoints, with just a single opening (for personnel only) into Egypt’s Sinai as their access to the outside world. There have been no moves by Israel to permit transportation by sea or by air. Fishermen are not permitted to leave the harbor, workers are prevented from going to outside jobs, the import or export of food and other goods is severely restricted and often cut off completely, and the police, teachers, nurses, and social workers are deprived of salaries…the poverty rate has reached 70 percent…with more than half of all Palestinian families eating one meal a day.” [‘Peace Not Apartheid’ by Jimmy Carter, pp. 175-176]

This absolute control can only be maintained by violence. “Israeli soldiers, checkpoints, tanks, helicopter gunships, and F-16 fighter jets control every aspect of Palestinian lives, and have recently brought social, family, and economic life to a virtual halt.” [Bennis, pg. 2] Rockets are fired into neighborhoods that border Israel on a daily basis, striking civilians, including children, indiscriminately. Palestinian homes are regularly bulldozed by Israeli troops without provocation and without warning. “Israeli-only” roads in the West Bank cut off Palestinian communities and families from one another. The Apartheid Wall that Israel is building completely encircles Palestinian towns, further cutting off Palestinian from Palestinian. The most fertile of the Palestinian lands and the majority of their water rights are taken over and given to Israeli settlers, who use guns and troops to keep Palestinians from tending their own orchards and crops. Palestinians, including women and children, are arrested at will and held indefinitely without charges. Every one of these actions violates international law.

Israel avoids and postpones the peace process in order to further consolidate their hold on Palestinian lands. Jimmy Carter states, “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land. In order to perpetuate the occupation, Israeli forces have deprived their unwilling subjects of basic human rights. No objective person could personally observe existing conditions in the West Bank and dispute these statements.” [Carter, pp. 208-209]

The rest of the world stands by while Israel, one of the strongest military powers on earth, continues to subjugate the nearly powerless Palestinian people. No other country deserves more blame for this than the United States, whose government finances Israel’s military, gives the country $10,000,000 a day in aid, and blocks every attempt by the United Nations to impose penalties on Israel. George H.W. Bush is the only president who succeeded in stopping the Israelis’ settlements; he did so by threatening to withhold funding. However, as soon as the first President Bush left office, the building resumed. The U.S. still has the power, if we can find the will, to insist on a just and lasting peace.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Judaism is a religion that is more than 3,000 years old. Its practitioners are Jewish, but Jews comprise a larger ethno-religious group, meaning that even Jews who are not religious still often identify with the culture/ethnicity.

Zionism is a political movement that was born in the 1880’s as a result of discrimination against and persecution of the Jews. The purpose of Zionism was to establish a safe homeland that was specifically—and exclusively—Jewish, to which Jews from anywhere in the world could immigrate.

Many different regions were originally considered as potential locations for this Jewish homeland, including Uganda, Argentina, and Turkey. ['Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict', by Phyllis Bennis, pg.175] The Zionists recognized that the place would need to be relatively underdeveloped and that they would need the power of a colonizing country behind them. Ultimately, they decided upon Palestine, which was taken over by Britain at the end of World War I, after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The Zionists recognized that they could appeal to more Jews by emphasizing historic, religious links to Palestine.

An oft-quoted, Zionist slogan for Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”—an attitude that totally ignored the fact that hundreds of thousands of indigenous Arabs—Christian and Muslim—already occupied the land. However, the Zionists found sympathizers among the British rulers, who grew tired of the growing conflict between newly arrived Jewish immigrants and native Palestinians and turned the problem over to the United Nations. Out of that action, with the backing of Britain, Israel was born.

Many Jews were not, and are not, Zionists. According to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, “Jewish tradition and religion clearly instruct Jews to await the coming of the promised Messiah at ‘the end of times’ before they can return to Eretz Israel as a sovereign people in a Jewish theocracy…In other words, Zionism secularized and nationalized Judaism.” ['The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine', pg. 10-11.] Some of the conservative branches of Judaism, in particular, objected to the establishment of Israel by the hand of man rather than by the hand of God.

However, the Zionist founders of Israel were secular and apparently felt that the end goal of an Israeli homeland justified any means needed to obtain it. The diaries of men like David Ben-Gurion, as well as the military archives of the Zionists, hold many details of the 1948 expulsions and massacres of 750,000 Palestinians from their own land. [‘Endnotes’ in 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine', pp. 262-281]

These methods continue today in an effort to force as many Palestinians as possible to flee. For example, during Israel’s military attack on the Gaza Strip in December, 2008 to January, 2009, Israeli forces killed over 1400 Palestinians: 926 were civilians, including 313 children and 116 women. [Bennis, pg. 194] Any criticism of Israel’s actions is met by an effective tactic of the Zionists: a charge of anti-Semitism. Norman Finkelstein writes of these highly publicized charges that, “The main purpose behind these periodic, meticulously orchestrated media extravaganzas is not to fight anti-Semitism but rather to exploit the historical suffering of Jews in order to immunize Israel against criticism.” [Norman Finkelstein, 'Beyond Chutzpah', pg. 22]

Many Jews inside and outside of Israel object to the violation of human rights to which the Palestinian occupants of Gaza and the West Bank are subjected every day. Multiple human rights organizations—again, within and outside of Israel—are dedicated to changing the policies of Israel. Jewish writers such as political scientist Norman Finkelstein, professor and philosopher Noam Chomsky, analyst Phyllis Bennis, and historian Ilan Pappe work tirelessly to expose the lies and mischaracterizations of the Zionists, as well as the human suffering of the Palestinians. In this high-tech age, it is becoming more and more difficult for Israel to violate with impunity both international law and the basic tenets of humanity.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


When Britain took over the Palestinian Territory after World War I, as a result of defeating the Ottoman Empire, Jews made up about 5% of the population of historic Palestine. By the end of World War II, Jews made up about 30% of the population in Palestine. This growth was largely due to European Jewish refugees—people that neither Britain nor the United States was willing to accept in large numbers. Britain, however, was willing to throw open the door to Palestine and allow Jews to settle there.

The inevitable conflict between the indigenous people and the Jewish newcomers meant that Britain was soon ready to transfer responsibility for the area to the United Nations. In 1947,the UN proposed a two-state solution to the problem—a solution that would give the Jews 55% of the land to establish Israel while the larger Palestinian population would get only 45%. Naturally, the Jews were willing to accept this proposal. Also naturally, the surrounding Arab states (no one asked the Palestinians) didn’t see this as fair and refused.

The Zionists didn’t wait for statehood to be declared before taking things into their own hands. They began a process of displacing the Palestinians, forcing 750,000 of them off of the land (see previous blog on The Nakba). By the end of 1948, having defeated the few ill-equipped Arab armies that tried to repel them, Israel had taken possession of 78% of the land, leaving only 22%—the physically unconnected areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—for a future Palestinian state.

Even 78% wasn’t enough. The goal of the Zionists (a minority of Jews in Israel at that time) was to control all of the land. In 1973, Ariel Sharon said, “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them. We'll insert a strip of Jewish settlement, in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlement, right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years time...nobody will be able to tear it apart." And that is what Israel has done by creating settlements in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, even though to do so violates international law. Of course, military occupation and the subsequent control of the Palestinians’ lives also violate international law.

The settlers insinuate themselves throughout the fabric of the land while Palestinians cannot get building permits. If they build, or add onto their homes, they risk eviction, after which Jewish settlers move in, often taking over even the possessions that are left behind. The settlers destroy the orchards, on which the Palestinians rely to make a living, foul the wells from which the Palestinians get their water, and block access to both the orchards and the wells. As the settlers permeate the Palestinian lands, they become more and more difficult to dislodge.

Roads throughout the West Bank are reserved for Jews: no Palestinians allowed. Palestinian towns and villages are cut off from one another due to this system. The infamous (and illegal) Apartheid Wall being built by Israel through the West Bank also cuts off Palestinian villages and families, who are not permitted to move freely enough to visit one another. The Wall is being built on and further usurps Palestinian lands. Orchards are clear-cut to create ‘secure’ zones next to the Wall, thus taking more land out of Palestinian hands. Homes are plowed into rubble by bulldozers (made specifically for this job by the American company, Caterpillar).

These Israeli tactics may well backfire. Indeed, the Jewish settlements are so interwoven with the Palestinians and their land that it is becoming impossible to separate them out. While Israel talks peace on the one hand, on the other, it supplies the settlements and continues to build the Wall. However, the intertwining is making the two-state solution an unlikely one. The only viable avenue is looking more and more like a one-state solution—one state in which Israelis and Palestinians are equal.

While official Israel hoped to force the Palestinians to flee to other countries (notably Lebanon and Jordan) by making their lives unbearable, the technological age makes it impossible for the abuses to continue unobserved. The frightening fact on the ground, from Israel’s perspective, is that if the Palestinians remain, Jews are the minority, and will continue to be the minority. Forcing four million Palestinians to live on 22% of the land cannot change that fact. Evacuating four million Palestinians from the area is untenable (even overlooking the immorality of such an action). Peaceful coexistence and equality constitute the only viable path forward.

[An expansion of this information can be found in the book, 'Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict', by policy analyst Phyllis Bennis.]