Chomsky speaks in Edinburgh

Chomsky speaking in EdinburghBig event today – Chomsky spoke in the McEwan hall (extraordinarily grand and impressive but with lousy acoustics). He spoke not once but twice – the first time at an activists’ meeting sponsored by the Palestince Solidarity Campaign amongst others (including Scottish Jews for a Just Peace), the second time as Gifford Lecturer for the University (video feed). I’ll just pick out a couple of themes from the morning talk. One was his frequent references to the “Memory Hole” – this is a really useful idea borrowed from 1984, in which it serves as an oubliette for inconvenient items of history. Examples from his talk included Sadat’s offer of a peace treaty in 1971 (before the Yom Kippur war) the Saudi plan of 2002 offering full recognition by all Arab states in exchange for a full withdrawal from the OT, the assessment by top Israeli intelligence officers before the second intifada that Arafat was committed to the diplomatic path and would use violence only to get out of a diplomatic dead-end, and so on.

The second theme was his emphasis on the political weakness of the ruling elites of the United States and Western Europe. He believes that the only way in which they can maintain their policies – particularly in respect of Israel-Palestine – is by lying about them. For example, public opinion in the US would strongly support the Saudi plan if people understood what it offers. This is why the media, especially in the US, has to be so biassed and limited in how it reports the Middle East – there’s a lot at stake. It also explains whose interest is served when conflict is moved from the arena of political debate to the arena of physical force, in which the state is incomparably stronger than we are. Remember that when you read the dire predictions about the G8 summit demonstrations – how the police are arming themselves with rubber bullets and teargas.

As for the event itself: setting aside the adulation, it was very encouraging to see the McEwan hall filled – twice in one day! – with people who appreciate and share a left-wing (read: humane and rational) view of international relations. And although some people criticise Chomsky’s upbeat approach as facile, I appreciate the encouragement he gives. Asked what we should be doing, he answered “Whatever you like! People in the West have more freedom than ever before in deciding how to act”. The triumph of their propaganda has been to convince us that we are helpless.

Sasson report on illegal outposts published

The Sasson Report on the Unauthorized Outposts has been published. This official Israeli government report will shed some light on the process by which most of the settlements have been started. I will write more about it soon. For the moment, here are a couple of sentences, chosen by me at random from page 34 (out of 108):

The Ministry of Construction & Housing financed the establishment of unauthorized outposts, but never examined the interests (title) in the lands upon which the outposts were built. Some of the outposts built with the Ministry’s aid were located on private Palestinian property and on survey land. The Housing Ministry claims it was not aware of this fact. There is no dispute it never bothered to check it out.

A good overall comment on the idea of an “outposts” report is provided by Dror Etkes, head of the Settlement Monitoring Unit of Peace Now (He came to speak late last year at the Scottish Parliament). He asks

what is the point of distinguishing between a discussion of outposts and a discussion of the entire settlement enterprise? Clearly the outposts are nothing less than new or expanded settlements, established in recent years.

Elias Chacour talk

Abuna Elias Chacour spoke on Thursday at the Edinburgh International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality. I didn’t really know what to expect, given that he is a priest in the Melkite Church, an obscure (to me) Byzantine church in communion with Rome. In fact he spoke very well, with a lot of humour and sympathy for all sides of the community in Israel. You should definitely hear him if you get the chance.

The natives’ time is cheap

Amira Hass writes about transportation in the West Bank:

There is one system of roads for the natives, and it is winding, narrow, long, bumpy, sown with military checkpoints and frequently closed. And there is the system of road for “Whites,” that is, Israelis, or all kinds of people who have been whitened – diplomats, VIPs, wealthy people with permits, merchants, journalists.

Stolen land can be returned, but time is lost for ever:

Time that is robbed while waiting at checkpoints, or waiting for permits, cannot ever be returned. The loss of time, which Israel is stealing every day from 3.5 million people, is evident everywhere: in the damage it causes to their ability to earn a living; in their economic, family and cultural activity; in the leisure hours, in studies and in creativity; and in the shrinking of the space in which every individual lives and therefore the narrowing of their horizon and their expectations.

Full story, from Ha’aretz

The truth about what’s happening in Hebron

“Hebron Horrors” won’t surprise anyone who has been following what happens there. What’s interesting about it is that it appeared in the very pro-settlement Israel Insider, and is written by the director of a Washington “pro-Israel think-tank” and former AIPAC staffer, so it can’t be dismissed as the usual left-wing propaganda. Don’t read the comments that follow the article, though, unless you want to be really depressed.

New Israel Fund campaign launch 2005

The New Israel Fund campaign launch for 2005 last night was quite a smart affair, set in the rather grand surroundings of the Royal Aeronautical Society. It kicked off with their campaign film, which showed the good work being done by many NIF partners. The film was impressive and reinforced my belief that NIF does a vital job in getting funds to grassroots and community-based organisations working to improve social and economic conditions in Israel. According to the website

NIF works in three areas: fighting for civil and human rights, promoting religious tolerance and pluralism, and closing the social and economic gaps in Israeli society

and they focus on self-help organisations to take the fight forward in these three areas. So that was good, and I think everyone should consider supporting them.

The speaker was a disappointment, though. They put up David Horowitz, the new editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. British by birth and obviously very bright, he was described to me by NIF people before the meeting as a new broom at the JP, which under Conrad Black has swung far far to the right. Now with Black disgraced and the JP under new ownership, there’s a chance to remake its image. Unfortunately, to judge by Horowitz’s talk the change is unlikely to be very exciting. Although he didn’t come over as a party loyalist, his politics seemed to be firmly in the Israeli centre-right. For me, the key to his talk was his observation that the root of the problem is terrorism. I don’t expect much useful insight from someone who starts from that point, and I didn’t get it. Well, maybe one useful point: that a key element of stiffening Israeli opinion in the second intifada has been the attacks against civilians inside the 1948 borders. The attack on Maxim’s, the Haifa restaurant that was such an great example of coexistence in action, seems to carry a message to Israelis that the attackers consider everyone in Israel a combatant to be defeated. But condemning attacks like that is far from the same as saying that terrorism is the starting-point for understanding the conflict.

More interesting than the speaker was the response from the audience, which wasn’t sympathetic to his viewpoint. Most interesting of all were the ex-IDF people who often appear at meetings like this. If they have served in the Territories, what they usually say is how dehumanising they found it, and how damaging is the situation of power that teenage soldiers have over all aspects of the life of ordinary Palestinians. That’s what the ex-soldiers in the audience said last night.

Debate at LSE on Boycotting Academia

I’m in London this week, so last night I went to a debate entitled “Boycotting Israeli Academia: Right or Wrong?” at the LSE, between Steven Rose and Geoffrey Alderman. I had never heard either speaker before, so it was quite interesting on that account, but I can’t say that I came out greatly enlightened on the issue of the boycott.

Steven Rose motivated the boycott by a critique of Israel’s policies in general, and by pointing out the huge imbalance in the quality of academic life and freedoms between Israel (where almost all academics are Jewish) and occupied Palestine. He observed that most Israeli academics acquiesce in the injustice of the occupation, from which they benefit, but suggested that a boycott could make exceptions of those who have resisted it or worked with Palestinian colleagues.

Geoffrey Alderman replied with some examples of other (especially Arab) countries in which academic freedom is also sharply restricted, to raise the question of why Israel should be singled out for a boycott. He maintained that by killing dialogue, a boycott would harden established divisions and make positive progress more rather than less difficult.

Contributions from the floor weren’t confined to the question of the boycott – they hardly could be, since Geoffrey Alderman’s position was both to resist a boycott and also to resist most of the criticism of Israel. On the specific boycott issue, though, some speakers questioned whether this was the best use of energy – perhaps we should be focussing first of all on supporting Bir-Zeit and sympathetic Israeli academics, and giving less importance to punishing unsympathetic ones. The discussion was deeply disrupted by a heckler who called Alderman a “Nazi” and refused to retract or apologise. Only when the chairman of the meeting (Lord Desai the economist) had temporarily left in protest, was the heckler persuaded to leave by popular pressure from the rest of the audience (who were on the whole very sympathetic to Steven Rose’s arguments).

Overall, it was the wrong line-up for this debate – we should have had two speakers who both opposed Israel’s policies but differed on the merits of a boycott. Then we could have discussed the issue at hand, instead of having a general discussion about how bad Israel’s behaviour really is, and whether it deserves all the attention we give it.

JNF subsidiary company has been buying land in the OT

According to its official policy, the JNF does not purchase lands beyond the Green Line, so you can be sure that your donations are not going to help set up illegal settlements. Clear? Well, not quite. JNF has a subsidiary company called Himnuta, which operates in great secrecy. The man who until recently was head of the lands division in the JNF and was the inspiration behind Himnuta’s activity, says “The Green Line is not a border line; the `border’ can take on a different shape, changes can be made”. So what exactly are your donations being used for?

Full story, from Ha’aretz

IDF panel recommends ending policy of house demolitions

A military committee appointed by the IDF Chief of Staff has recommended stopping the policy of punitive house demolitions.

This is more than three years after the start of the second intifada, and after hundreds of house demolitions – all representing collective punishment, all contrary to the Geneva Convention, and all known to be ineffective. More than a year ago an internal army study summing up the first 1,000 days of the conflict, said that not only was there no proof of the effectiveness of house demolitions as a deterrent, but that they even appeared to be counter-productive. And still it took another year for the IDF to “examine the policy”.

Note also that in 2004, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 184 houses were demolished for punitive reasons, while 1609 were demolished either for permit violations or for “military purposes”, which generally means to clear space for settlements, bypass roads or army outposts. The announced change applies only to punitive demolitions.

Full story, from Ha’aretz
Commentary from Jewish Voice for Peace
ICAHD commentary – “a small but welcome step”

Brian Klug speaking in Edinburgh and Glasgow, 27th/28th February

Brian Klug is coming to Scotland next weekend to speak in Edinburgh and Glasgow. He will be talking to the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society on Sunday 27th February on “The Other Balfour: Recalling the 1905 Aliens Act”. See the Lit website for details. On Monday 28th at 7.30pm he will be speaking at the Glasgow New Synagogue on “Flying Pigs – Is Labour’s election campaign Anti-Semitic or anti Tory?”

Brian is a really excellent speaker. You should try your hardest to make (at least!) one of these events.

MI5 to open new station in Glasgow

The Scotsman reports that MI5 is to open its first official Scottish station in Glasgow, part of a huge expansion in their activity since September 11.

A major cause for concern is that the extra spies will bring a 50 per cent increase in the numbers actively engaged in Britain’s war against terror – more than at any time since the Second World War. Nobody is denying that the vast majority of the extra recruits will be ranged against Islamic extremist groups operating in the UK. Although many of the MI5 recruits will be linguists, desk officers and specialist advisors who will teach businesses how to tackle potential threats, others will be surveillance experts and undercover agents.

Among Glasgow’s 80,000 strong Asian population, the message from MI5’s vast headquarters on Vauxhall Bridge in London couldn’t be clearer: “We are watching you.”

Full story

Jeff Halper Meeting

Jeff was terrific – I was completely absorbed as he spoke for over an hour and a half, logically and patiently explaining the situation in Israel-Palestine in terms anyone could understand. Even this long post hardly begins to capture what he said. For more, see his many articles on the Internet and on the ICAHD website.

He started off by talking about “framing” the conflict. This is the idea often talked about as the different “narratives” of the two sides, but I found his explanation much clearer than any I have heard before. If your starting point is Israel’s current security needs, then everything will fit into this view of the conflict – the post-9/11 “war on terror”, the rejection of the “generous offer”, the need for the Wall, and so on. Jeff pointed out that the one who frames a debate generally wins it – the opposition is reduced to rebutting individual points. In the security framing, there is no occupation – it simply doesn’t appear and you can only raise it as a tangential point. The alternative framing, of course, actually starts from the occupation as the central feature of the situation.

He talked about the exclusivity of the dominant Israeli framing, which assumes that the land of Israel belongs exclusively to the the Jewish people and tolerates “Arabs” (as individuals, not a collective successessay entity of the Palestinian people) only on sufferance. He counterposed a “Human Rights” framing, which would have as its starting point the existence of two peoples in Israel-Palestine and the fact that one has occupied the land of the other. In the security framing a number of subtexts are taken for granted:

  • the conflict is existential: one side will win, one will lose
  • everything that Israel does is for security
  • “the Arabs” don’t want peace – all of them are our enemies, for ever
  • the problem is terrorism
  • most importantly, there is no occupation

He went on to talk about his well-known idea of the “Matrix of Control”, which is a combination of overlapping strategies that the occupation uses to effectively paralyse Palestinian life in the OT. These strategies include:

  • physical control of the key nodes in the matrix – checkpoints first and foremost, but also settlements, highways, by-pass roads (including wide “sanitary” margins), army bases, closed military areas, “nature preserves”, border crossings, holy places in key locations, and so on
  • the closures of the OT, through both internal and border checkpoints
  • the Jewish-only highways infrastructure. Jeff has a very illuminating map which he didn’t show on this occasion, in which he uses the new roads and settlements to illustrate the way in which Israel-Palestine has changed from being two countries with parallel north-south structures into one integrated country with predominantly east-west communication lines. Jerusalem is the centre of this country.
  • settlement blocs – Jeff points out repeatedly that the amount of land the settlements takes is not nearly so important as their strategic significance. That’s why the figures of 80 or 90% quoted for Barak’s “generous offer” are so meaningless (see Gush Shalom’s analysis and maps. In this context, watch out for what happens to the settlement blocs of Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim – these are crucial for the project of effectively cutting the OT into separate areas. Bush has called for “contiguous territory” (ie joined-up) for the Palestinian state, but the Gush map shows an outline for a Palestinian state which is joined, has the majority of the land area of the OT, but is clearly not intended to be viable.
  • the Wall, which marks a political border (a military barrier would follow the 1967 border)

He ended by expanding on the alternative “Human Rights” framing for the conflict. Its central points would be :

  • the occupation is central. It continues to evolve and proactively change the situation
  • Israel is the strong party (4th nuclear power in the world, 3rd largest arms producer, 4th strongest army, etc, etc) and the occupying power
  • the conflict is not existential. Palestinians and the wider Arab world have repeatedly over recent years shown their willingness to make a comprehensive peace with an Israel defined within the 1967 borders
  • as the strong party and the occupying power, Israel is accountable for her actions within the OT
  • there are two parties to the dispute, each with legitimate claims and inherent rights.

He didn’t attempt to minimise the enormous difficulties in the way of achieving a settlement based on human rights, but talked about the ideas in the article I linked to in my last post. There is really something to think about here which takes us forward from the sterile one-state/two-state argument.

Jeff Halper – meeting and article

Jeff Halper, co-ordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) , is speaking in Edinburgh on Saturday morning. ICAHD do great work in exposing the use of house demolitions in controlling the Palestinian population, especially in they way that they are used to enforce highly unfair planning rules. Jeff is an excellent speaker, and well worth hearing. To get a taste of what he will say, see this very interesting article proposing a confederational “Two-State Plus” solution, combining positive aspects of both the one-state and two-state solutions.

Blood on their hands

From Ha’aretz:

Israel says it cannot release political prisoners who “have blood on their hands.” The IDF officer who shot in cold blood Iman al-Hamas, a 13-year-old girl, has recently been exonerated and returned to the same unit.

Full story, a powerful piece by Amira Hass.
Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Jewish Chronicle on 3rd December last year about the killing of Iman al-Hamas

Attorney General overrules Sharansky on theft of E. Jerusalem land

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has overruled a decision by the Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem Affairs – which Sharansky chairs – that the Absentee Property Law should apply to East Jerusalem. What’s that about, you may ask. If you haven’t heard of the Absentee Property Law, you should have. To quote from Ha’aretz

The Absentee Property Law (sometimes known as the Abandoned Property Law) was enacted in 1950. It defines an “absentee” as a person who “at any time” in the period between November 29, 1947, and September 1, 1948, “was in any part of the Land of Israel that is outside the territory of Israel” (meaning the West Bank or the Gaza Strip) or in other Arab states. The law stipulates that the property of such an absentee would be transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property, with no possibility of appeal or compensation. From there, by means of another law, the property was moved along, so that effectively the assets that were left behind by Palestinian refugees in 1948 (and also some of the property of Palestinians who were now citizens of Israel, the famous “present absentees”) were “transferred” to the State of Israel.

Did you get that? Anyone who was outside the Green Line at any time during a nine-month period in 1947-48 automatically forfeited all their property even if they became a citizen of Israel. 150,000 current citizens of Israel had their land stolen in this way.

Sharansky’s brainwave was to secretly backdate this law to apply to East Jerusalem, on the grounds that it had always been Israeli territory.

Ha’aretz article, by Meron Rapaport, which uncovered this scheme
Sharansky’s reaction

Israeli attorney-general rules that JNF is discriminatory

The Forward reports that Israel’s attorney general ruled last week that one of the fundamental tenets upon which the Jewish state was built – acquiring and reserving land for Jews to live on – is discriminatory and should not continue with state assistance.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was responding to a Supreme Court case involving Jewish National Fund, an organization that helped build the Jewish state by purchasing land for Jewish settlement – largely with funds donated by Jews in America. Land owned by the fund is designated as public land and leased by the government to homeowners. In his January 26 ruling, Mazuz said that the government may no longer market the land if the fund allows only Jewish tenants.

JNF owns 13% of Israel’s land, home to 70% of the population. Through a 1962 agreement with the government, it has leased that land to Jews through the government’s Israel Land Authority. The attorney general’s decision throws that historic role into flux.

The chairman of JNF told the Forward that his organization is in talks to sever its official relationship with the state in order to preserve its mission of protecting the land for Jews. “The state is obliged to treat all its citizens equally,” Chairman Yehiel Leket said, “but we are not the state.”

Full story
Uri Avnery comments – a great piece summarising the history of the JNF and how it came by the land it holds

Tali Fahima to be kept in prison

Yesterday evening (Sun. Jan. 30) Israeli Supreme Court judge Elyakim Rubinstein has published his decision to accept the state’s appeal to overturn the District Court Justice Zvi Gurfinkel’s ruling that Tali Fahima be “released” from prison and placed under house arrest until the end of legal proceedings in her trial. Her next hearing is on Sunday, Feb 6th.