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June 04, 2001
"Viewpoint" Articles on Israel



Editor's Note:
Viewpoint is growing by leaps and bounds and I want to thank all of you who share these issues with friends and family. Next week, if space is available, we will include some reader feedback. Today's selections are thought-provoking pieces that should leave you thinking long after you are done reading.

Israel's Psychological Warfare
by Richard Falk

It is almost inescapable to understand the essential character of Israeli oppression in the Occupied Territories if you are confronted with the reality directly. I was a member of the three-person United Nations commission of inquiry that visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in late February. The circumstances of the Palestinians are worse than my moral imagination is capable of depicting. The present modalities of Israeli occupation impose on every Palestinian a daily ordeal, whether closures, checkpoints, incursions, or random attacks. Israel's larger design includes a desire to break the will of Palestinians to resist and to fasten a permanent structure of dominance onto the territories. The Israeli public, with some notable exceptions, lacks any real understanding of the Palestinians' daily suffering. Interaction between Palestinians and Israelis looks more and more like a war of attrition and less like an Intifada. Beyond the overwhelming military power it uses, Israel also exerts what can be called "information hegemony." It constructs the reality about the conflict that [most] Americans accept, one that not only shifts responsibility to the victims but also shapes public understanding of a fair solution based on Israel's starting point. Israel's baselines include regarding pre-1967 Israel (78 percent of historic Palestine) as belong- ing definitively to Israel and accepting the existence of 190 illegal Israeli settlements.

Most of the violence in the early portions of the Intifada related to the defense of these settlements and the roads leading to them; almost no Israeli casualties resulted from violence during demonstrations. Despite the settlements' prominent role in the conflict, their expansion has not been adequately understood at the international level. Their expansion is part of a psychological war being waged against the Palestinians and on behalf of a Greater Israel. That these settlements are continuously expanding in space, population, number, and road infrastructure casts doubt as to whether Israel ever intends to withdraw from the Occupied Territories.

The settlement dynamic should be viewed as disclosing a fundamental ambivalence of the Israeli mainstream about whether it is possible or desirable to seek a negotiated out- come of the conflict. The settlements could allow Israel to make the conflict permanently irreconcilable while purporting to seek "peace" on the basis of a bargain that the Palestinians will have to reject. They will thus be blamed for the failure to reach a peaceful solution.

Palestinians are left further psychologically battered by Israeli political assassinations, with their seemingly random hit list. These assassinations appear designed to make Palestinians feel that no matter who they are or what they do, Israel has the capacity to kill them at its discretion and without any obligation to come forward with evidence or justification. It appears every adult Palestinian is a potential target. An acute level of anxiety among Palestinians is evident.

Destruction of Palestinian property beside settler roads by Israelis is also notable in its cruelty in concept and execution. The bulldozers typically arrive between midnight and 2:00 a.m., soldiers give inhabitants seven minutes to vacate their home, and then they proceed to destroy it as well as trees, wells, and farm buildings. There appears to be no genuine security justification, and even if there were, Israel could proceed in a far less inhumane manner: giving notice, providing alternative housing, offering compensation, and making a demonstration of security needs. House demolitions are a microcosm of Israel's general approach to the Palestinian population. Palestinians are not treated as "protected persons," as legally required by the Geneva Conventions, or even with a minimal respect due to all human beings. It is traumatic in the extreme to lose a home and livelihood as a result of a midnight action of this sort, especially considering that those so victimized have not been accused of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

The Refugees: Israel's treatment of the refugees is an intensified version of the state's violation of fundamental Palestinian economic and social rights. Palestinian refugees are vulnerable in a manner that other refugee communities around the world are not. They were supposed to be protected by the UN Conciliation Commission established in 1948 as a supplement to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)'s role in providing material humanitarian assistance. Because the protection role assigned to the Commission never became operational, however-it has no budget and no operating role, Palestinians have been left in the cold for decades. If a protective regime does not operate as intended, then the refugee community in question is supposed to be reassigned to the UN High Commission on Refugees. But this has not happened in the Palestinian case, so they have not qualified for standard forms of protection normally granted to refugees.

The conclusions reached, summarized briefly here, are some- what self-evident, following directly from Israel's approach since the onset of the Intifada. Israeli police units have relied on excessive and disproportionate use of force, shooting unarmed demonstrators, deliberately shooting to kill, and deploying snipers at the scene of demonstrations. It is worth stressing that during the early phases of this second Intifada, there was no Palestinian gunfire. In these circum- stances, there was no pretext for using snipers. Their active role since the very beginning of the Intifada was itself shocking. The first and most major conclusion of the commission was that Israeli use of force was excessive and in violation of international law.

A second conclusion involves a legal condemnation of extra- judicial assassinations by Israel that have been officially proclaimed by high military and political officers of the Israeli government. Such assassinations are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 147, and of inter- national humanitarian law. The Commission also concluded that the settlements and their extension are both intimately connected to the violence of recent months, and a source of continuous provocations. This pattern violates directly the Fourth Geneva Convention, which makes the settlements per se illegal. Our further conclusion was that the Israeli reliance on closures, curfews, and the destruction of property of civilian Palestinians violates fundamental economic and social rights and is, as I suggested earlier, a severe form of collective punishment. And finally, we found that the treatment of Palestinian refugees is an intensified version of this violation of fundamental economic and social rights.

In conclusion, the sorts of things that the Commission recom- mended follow directly from our findings and are rather obvious. There is, first of all, a strong recommendation to establish an international protective presence in the Palestinian territories along the lines unanimously supported in the Security Council, but failed to be acted upon because of a veto by the United States. A second recommendation calls upon the parties to the Geneva Convention to take urgent steps to secure the implementation of its provisions. Third, steps need to be taken to secure credible protection for Palestinian refugees living in Gaza and the West Bank. Fourth, a clear expression must be made that settlement activity is illegal and should be stopped and reversed at once. A final recommendation mandates an end to the violations of international humanitarian law, such as assassinations and the destruction of property.

Richard Falk is Professor of International Law and Practice at Princeton University. The above text, based on a presentation at an April 20, 2001 Jerusalem Fund symposium titled, "The Israel/Palestine Predicament: How to End an Occupation"

The Moral Question: An Israeli Reckoning
By Jaffer Ali

The uprising against Israeli Occupation has fundamentally changed the nature of Middle East discourse in the United States. For years, Israel had enjoyed a public relations advantage in the media. This advantage translated into controlling the actual topics to be discussed. Historically, this usually meant that "Palestinian violence" was the preferred discussion point, rather than the fundamental legitimacy of Israeli Occupation.

In fact, Israeli propaganda was so successful that few people in the US were even aware that Israel was illegally occupying the West Bank and Gaza. The word "Occupation" was not a term used by the mainstream press. But today we find Israel's public relations machinery running into the cruel reality of Israeli brutality. Trying to crush a popular uprising using F-16s has not helped Israel's image. Israel can no longer control the fundamental framework of discourse.

In short, the basic question of Occupation's morality can no longer be put off. In the first eight months of this uprising, Israeli Occupation Forces have injured over 17,000 Palestinians, 31% under the age of fifteen. Supporters of Israel are uncharacteristically befuddled. As long as they controlled the parameters of debate, they were comfortable. But now they find themselves trying to defend policies of collective punishment, where entire Palestinian villages are under siege. They must defend apartheid policies that give economic and social preferences to one ethnic group over another. They must defend using F-16 planes against a civ- ilian population. They must defend expropriating more land to build more colonial settlements that are internationally recognized as illegal. These are the realities of Occupation.

How do Israelis and their supporters defend these actions? The morality of Occupation is not defended. In fact it is not discussed by apologists. How often have you seen an editorial by an Israeli or Israeli supporter defend the right to defy international law and Occupy the West Bank and Gaza? Rather than discuss the merits of Occupation, Israeli sup- porters want to move the discussion from Occupation to the tactics of resistance. Israeli apologists want to speak about Palestinian violence. But as long as ten Palestinians are killed for every Israeli, as long as there are fifty Palestinians injured for every Israeli, this public relations ploy will no longer be effect- ive. The underlying morality of Occupation is the question of the day and this is tantamount to the "reckoning" for Israel. Try as they may, they are boxed in by the existential problem they have managed to previously avoid. Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is immoral.

One can see the desperation in the "Letters to the editors" pages in newspapers across the country. Israeli apologists are now pleading for editorial pages to "report both sides". To the apologists, they attempt the age-old practice of blam- ing the victim…blame those who suffer under the oppression. This is because the oppression itself is rarely to be acknowledged. But what these apologists want is not a discus- sion of the fundamental issue, but to change the issue itself. Liberal Zionists try the "reasonable" approach by acknowledging "Israeli mistakes" but immediately segueing to "Palestinian mistakes", as if the mistakes are somehow equivalent.

This particular tactic once again attempts to skirt around the fundamental issue of Occupation by diverting discussion to the tactics of Occupation and the tactics of resistance. Can anyone defend Israeli Occupation (and here I exempt the fringe who make some sort of Biblical claim.)

Israel and its supporters will be no more successful in justifying Occupation than Afrikaners were in justifying apartheid…as Southern slaveholders were in justifying slavery…as Japan was in occupying China. It cannot be done with credibility. There are not two moral sides to every issue.

Jaffer Ali is a Palestinian businessman who writes on business ethics, management theory and political topics.

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