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Michael Moszczynski's Weblog
Israel, apartheid, terrorism, genocide 08.XII.2008 11:06
In Israel and Palestine, terminology is a very difficult area. Are the men of Islamic Jihad terrorists causing chaos in Judea and Samaria, freedom fighters trying to liberate occupied Palestine, or simply militants operating in the West Bank? It's a difficult question, with no label, of course, being exact or even exclusive of the others, but there are three, when applied to Israel, that offer up interesting questions. The first, and most ridiculous, is the charge of genocide - one I include not because it is common but because it is part of a larger trend abusing a word that needs to be reserved for the most heinous of crimes against humanity. The second is the invocation of apartheid in South Africa, a parallel with some basis, but one that I believe is overstated and incorrect. The charge, however - does Israel engage in terrorism - must be answered with an unequivocal 'yes.'

First, genocide, a word invented only in the 20th century whose birth is very well described by Samantha Power's excellent book on the subject. Nowadays, this word is tossed about quite casually - I have heard the AIDS epidemic be described as a genocide for example, done to arouse a steadfastly indifferent public into shock at the magnitude of the tragedy. I'm not going to deny that AIDS, especially in Africa, is one of the great human catastrophes of our times - but to equate it to the deliberate extermination of a people is offensive. The word 'genocide' needed to be invented precisely because it is a crime and not a tragedy - and because it is a crime of action, not of indifference. No one can be a passive genocidaire, and because this crime is one that recurs in human history - in Armenia, in Europe, in Rwanda, in Darfur - we must be able to describe and confront it. The restrained use of this label is of paramount importance because our use of it imposes a responsibility to act - to stop the slaughter or be complicit in it - which is why the Clinton administration, in an act of appalling cowardice, would say that 'genocidal acts' had occurred in Rwanda, but not a genocide. One wonders how many 'genocidal acts' a genocide make.

Israel's colonisation and conquest of the Palestinian areas has seen its share of atrocities, from both sides of course, and it suffices to compare the ethnic makeup of the region before and after its creation to assert that ethnic cleansing has taken place, though not of quite the brutal kind that we saw in, say, Kosovo. Moreover, current Israeli settlement policies, including the use of bureaucracy to demolish Palestinian homes in the knowledge that they can never rebuild them, the aim being to make them completely Jewish, is a continuation of such a policy - Silwan and the Mount of Olives are being cleansed thus as we speak. Nevertheless, this cannot in any way be likened to a genocide, and it rarely evinces the kind of cruelty that is typical of other such efforts, such as the largely successful ethnic cleansing of Baghdad's neighbourhoods. To call this a genocide, to compare to the Holocaust or to Rwanda, is simply immoral and unreservedly to be condemned.

The second accusation, that Israel enforces a policy of apartheid on Arabs within the lands under its control, is particularly relevant now that a respected Israeli human rights organisation has itself used the term. Nevertheless, the comparison is misleading, and I believe ultimately incorrect. The Arabs in Israel proper, while forming an economic underclass shut out from much of the country's prosperity, do not suffer from anything like the institutionalised cruelty of South Africa's black population. Even in East Jerusalem, which is behind Israel's military barriers and has a separate bus system for Israelis and Arabs, Arabs are free to enter Jewish neighbourhoods and ride on the Jewish Egged bus system - though I imagine they get met with a fair bit of racism when they do, as they would on American airplanes. The most egregious Israeli policy on this front is the selective enforcing of building codes that results in the demolition of Palestinian homes to further the Judaicisation of the area. What these are are Jim Crow laws - laws not technically illegal (of course one needs building permits), but ones which are used in a way that is unrelated to the laws themselves. Just as the Southerners knew African-Americans would be unable to read, so the Israelis know Palestinians will be unable to pay the permit fees or building violations and their homes will be demolished, never to be rebuilt. This is disgusting, and it's discriminatory, but it is not, however, apartheid.

Whether apartheid exists in the West Bank is a thornier question. It is true that the Israelis maintain two separate road systems - a sparkling new one for the Jews, and the old one, lined with military blockades and checkpoints, for all the potential terrorists that form the Palestinian population. Of course, this looks like a classic phenomenon of an apartheid system, but I think the Israeli actions in Palestine need to be viewed from a different perspective - not as the model for a permanent state like South Africa, but rather as preparation for the separation of the Palestinian state that is now widely seen as inevitable. Essentially, what the Israelis are doing is colonising the West Bank and linking it with efficient transport systems so they can claim as much of it as possible as inherently Jewish land - there is even suspicion that the West Bank barrier is designed to keep sources of water largely on the Israeli side. Although one can't describe this as anything but immoral - it is, in fact, an intentional hindering of the peace process in the hopes that the Palestinians settle for anything they can get, as Arafat did at Oslo - it can't be called apartheid. In Israel, policies towards Arabs, while discriminatory, do not constitute a South African state of affairs, and in the West Bank, the situation is not apartheid but colonisation.

The final, and most important accusation, to examine is that of terrorism. This is a word that is used a lot these days, one which has become essentially synonymous with evil in the Western culture - the ultimate identifier of the Other against which We must fight. Let's make one thing clear however: terrorism is a tactic. It's not an ideology and it's not an identity; it's not something you can declare war on and it's not exclusive to any ethnic group or cause. Terrorism is, essentially, an attack on a civilian population in the hopes that it will move out of fear to effect some end desired by the terrorist party. This is what Islamic terrorists do - they bomb cafes in Israel in the hopes that Israeli voters will elect a government willing to give into their demands, or they bomb Madrid trains in the hope, proven fruitful, that it will cause Spain to withdraw from Iraq. It is an assault on non-combatants designed to make them attack the combatants when you cannot; one needs only to look at Israel's actions in the Gaza strip to see that this is exactly what it is doing.

In 2006, the population of the Palestinian Territories, essentially fed up with the corrupt and ineffectual politicians of Fatah, voted in a government led by Hamas, which does not recognise Israel and in fact has the destruction of the Jewish state as its raison d'etre. Israel and the West, for all our talk about promoting democracy in the Islamic world, didn't like the result and decided to change it. The problem is that there is no way to simply disregard the result of an election described as both 'free and fair' by the European Union without losing all credibility as promoters of democracy; the only way to change the results was to make the Palestinians change it themselves. And Israel has decided to do just that.

The strategy is this: to make life in the Gaza Strip so intolerable, and living conditions so inhuman, that the population becomes so desperate that it forces Hamas from power. To achieve this end, Israel has completely isolate the Gaza Strip - with, it must be said, spectacular success, at least when it comes to the intolerability and inhumanity. The economy has collapsed entirely, with the vast majority of private sector businesses destroyed. Hundreds of thousands are in need of food aid, and many are living without water. Electricity is on for roughly eight hours a day, as the power stations have no fuel. Israeli refuses to allow fuel, food and even most medical supplies - for 'security reasons,' of course, and no amount of human misery will change this policy. There is only one thing the Palestinian civilians can do to end the horror, and that is remove Hamas from power at whatever the cost - it moves no one for them to simply suffer and die as they are currently doing. The Israeli government, with the support of much of the West, has a single political go, and anyone living in the Gaza Strip is simply a means to achieving it. This is collective punishment, illegal under the Geneva Conventions. This is terrorism.

Lest we become shocked or appalled, let us remember just how common terrorism is, not just state-sponsored but state-implemented. When an American major declared after razing Ben Tre in Vietnam that 'it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it,' this was terrorism. American policy was to burn the countryside in which the National Liberation Front found refuge and support, so that its people would be forced to move to the cities where they would be free of communist influence; moreover, it was hoped, ridiculously, that the villagers would blame the Viet Cong for the descruction of their homes and not the country that sent the bombers and their napalm there in the first place. Needless to say, this did not succeed, and I find it amazing that Israel is repeating the exact same mistake with Hamas. When UN sanctions were implemented against Iraq, this was terrorism too, because they also stopped food, medical and other basic supplies being delivered, punishing the citizenry and not Saddam Hussein - this was supported by most Western countries, not just the United States. I think the populations were willing to go along with this because when they heard of 'economic' sanctions, they thought of the privileges our rich economies give us, in which we can take basics like food, water and shelter not as economic assets but as simple facts of life. Nevertheless, in allowing our government to pursue a policy that killed half a million Iraqi children (without removing Saddam Hussein), we were complicit in terrorism.

When someone says 'terrorist,' we think of a lone bearded man on an airplane, but the intentional injury and slaughter of civilians is no more moral for being validated with a parliamentary stamp. It is a tactic, and it is a highly immoral one; moreover, it is a sign of impotence, showing the utter inability to attack one's targets directly. It's obvious why the Palestinians cannot do this - direct attacks on the IDF would be largely doomed to failure - but Israel's immense military power gives it the ability to execute these tactics with much greater devastation. I don't think Israel is genocidal, and I don't think it is a country of apartheid. However, the tactics it currently uses directly target civilians in the knowledge that they will be harmed. The accusation of terrorism is not made for shock value, nor to satisfy a requirement of balance in discussions of the conflict. It is the only word applicable to Israel's current tactics in Gaza.

Wadi Musa, Jordan Jo

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