David Baird’s Strategy Paper for Benedict DeDominicis
Israel has been engaging in a brutal military occupation of Palestinian territory since a war in 1967, which it claims was defensive. Even so, territorial gains from war are illegal under U.N. rules, whether the war was aggressive or defensive(jfj,13). Israel has not only occupied their land, but transferred 400,000 of its Jewish citizens onto it illegally. This has created on the West Bank and in the Gaza strip a network of settlements connected by Jewish-only bypass roads. They break up Palestinian society into islands which people can often not travel between, or only by submitting to lengthy and humiliating inspections at checkpoints. Personal and professional lives are very disrupted, if not destroyed, by this difficulty..
Torture of Palestinians was only made illegal in 1999. Now, they are merely subject to “moderate physical compulsion.”(The Nation) An example would be filling a bag with cow dung, putting a Palestinian detainee’s head in it and sealing it, then hanging him naked, by handcuffs, and torturing him with an alternation of scalding hot and freezing cold showers of water. Another popular example is putting a prisoner in a small box, where he has to be crunched up, and can’t move, for days. And of course the more extreme forms remain, such as torturing to death, despite the official denial. People have been tortured simply for raising flags or throwing stones. There have been no recorded cases of torture because of a “ticking bomb” scenario. The evil is justified because of extracting confessions about things that have always already happened(jfj,24).
David Ben-Gurion, a father of Israel, asked “Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country…we came here and stole their country. Why should they accept that?”(jfj,23)
Arafat has demanded that:
Israel withdraw its military and settlements from the illegally occupied territories, as per U.N. resolution 242.
Israel support the formation of a Palestinian state, using all of its power to help this project, including handing over the $420 million of tax revenues that it has been withholding, and reparations for the value of the property within Israel that Palestinians were forced off of during the 1948 formation of the Jewish state, and the right of return for refugees.
The Israeli government and people acknowledge what they have done to the Palestinian people, and turn over individuals accused of war crimes, such as torture, to the new International Criminal Court.
The United States cease its undemocratic practice of vetoing every anti-Israeli resolution which the U.N. Security Council creates, which it has done countless times.
“Israelis like to believe, and tell the world, that they are running an ‘enlightened’ or ‘benign’ occupation, qualitatively different from other military occupations the world has seen. The truth [is] radically different. Like all occupations, Israel’s [is] founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation and manipulation,” writes Israeli historian Benny Morris(jfj,33). Why would Israel let itself degenerate to its current moral level? Maybe it was never moral. “During the 1948 war, 750,000 Palestinians fled in terror or were actively expelled from their ancestral homeland and turned into refugees…This was the birth of the state of Israel”(jfj, 35).
The Israelis are criminal, and it turns out that Yasir Arafat is also a criminal. The Palestinians are trapped in between. Arafat is interested in only his own enrichment and survival, and the enrichment of his buddies and their families, as this paper will show. The rest of the Palestinains can burn in hell, as far as he’s concerned, if he bothered to think about them, which he probably doesn’t do often. As far as making the Palestinian situation better, Arafat is not motivated. The only thing that keeps Israel from eliminating him is America’s request, because such an act could cause trouble for the Arab allies needed in a war on Iraq. So although Arafat sided with Saddam during the first Gulf war, ironically the prospect of Iraq’s destruction is now keeping him from being assassinated or expelled by the Israelis.
Currently, to ensure his political survival, Arafat should continue his current strategy of oppressing his own people and appeasing the Israeli demands as far as possible. One more step in this direction, cooperating with Israel on security, would ensure his success for the near future, although he faces danger from militants if he goes too far. There is no way to stop Arafat and company from going on like they are now with business deals, human rights abuses, and incompetent negotiations. There is no alternative for them, because none is available when they are so weak compared to Israel, the other Arabs, and the United States, and because their personalities and organization allow no alternative. Arafat is in a groove he cannot get out of, and it suits the Great Powers perfectly. “Corruption, police brutality, and undemocratic life will therefore remain. Arafat refuses to sign either a constitution or even a basic law of the land.”(eopp,xvi)
The only power the Palestinians have is truth. Physically they are one of the weakest peoples on Earth. When confronted with the basic, foundational lie about Israel’s origin, that during the 1948 war, when the state of Israel was formed, 600,000 Palestinians chose to leave their homes, because their leaders convinced them that Israel would be defeated, enabling them to then return home, Arafat should attempt to communicate the reality to the actor who believes this:
This claim is a cheap lie…It is furthermore an utterly discredited lie, and one that Israeli officialdom no longer cares to repeat. Israeli and Jewish historians have exposed it time and again: Every Arab broadcasting station in the region, in 1947 as well as 1948, was monitored and recorded and transcribed by the BBC, and every Arab newspaper has been scoured, and not one instance of such “incitement,” in direct speech or reported speech, has ever come to light. The late historian and diplomat Erskine Childers issued an open challenge on the point as far back as the 1950s that was never taken up and never will be. And of course the lie is a Big Lie, because Expulsion-Denial lies at the root of the entire problem and helps poison the situation to this day.(Hitchens,2)
A nation based on an immense crime could, if its people were somehow made aware of the crime, come to atone for it. After all, the Israelis have extracted vast sums of money from the Germans for the Holocaust. One would think their long-suffering experience could teach them something about the suffering of other peoples. Unless suffering doesn’t increase your morality—Jews (or at least Jewish leaders) could be fundamentally as racist as the Nazis were.
If Arafat truly wants to foster a viable and vibrant society that can enter the world community as an equal, he must allow entities other than his Authority to flourish, and not be jealous of their growing importance. It is sad, but the Palestinian Authority has openly declared its animosity toward NGOs—research institutes, study centers, women’s and professional groups—which it considers rivals for financial support and for political influence. Since it was formed, the Authority has tried in many ways to destroy them, co-opt their budgets, and in general to cause trouble for them.(eopp,xvii) But it is fortunate that the NGOs continue to exist, as long as their funding and the commitment of their members persists. The Palestinians show this much courage while being repressed by two separate regimes. Imagine the patience and determination they could bring to bear on their cultural advancement if they were treated with justice.
Arafat needs some perspective. He needs to realize that these vast powers that he’s dealing with, Israel and the United States, have very complex motives, which have nothing to do with his own people’s well-being. A healthy political movement, among both the Palestinians under his authority, and the four million refugees, is going to take some sort of collective effort of the will. It will not come about by imposition from above. After Oslo, suddenly calling his entity autonomous didn’t magically bring it closer to true sovereignty. Some serious grass-roots work will need to be done, both within Palestinian society, and between Palestinians and Israelis, Americans, the whole world. Oslo was meant to depoliticize the Palestinians, to derail a possible long-range social movement and replace it with empty nationalism.(eopp,xix) Corporate globalization, with its supreme value being the market, and with society being secondary, was allowed to integrate Palestine into its scheme. “Frantz Fanon was right when he said to the Algerians in 1960 that just to substitute and Algerian policeman for a French one is not the goal of liberation: a change in consciousness is.”(eopp,xix) For Palestine to adopt the consciousness of global capitalism, an other consciousness has to be suppressed—that of a collective destiny, a kind of utopian vision, no matter how “unrealistic” it may seem now. Said says, “Unless the group spirit remains fixed on the attainment of real liberation and real self-determination—which themselves need to be clarified—we can quite easily drown in the global market with our flag proudly flying over us.”(eopp,xix)
But Palestinians still have hope. Even if the probability of justice obtaining is vanishingly small, or even non-existent, the option of rolling over and letting the Israelis stomp all over them is not one a people with dignity and dreams are likely to take. After all, what else is there to do, if your people are being tortured, but struggle for some kind of better future? To transcend the disasters of the past, and achieve a positive modernity, “a mission for getting beyond the horrors of the past into a new relationship with the whole world, not just with Israel and the Arabs, but with India, China, Japan, Africa, Latin America, and of course with Europe and North America.”(eopp,xx) Palestinians need to expand their horizons, to learn to be curious about all the peoples of the world and their histories. They need, in short, to become sophisticated intellectually. “Only this can enable Palestinians to transcend themselves as a small people and to enter the ranks of the human vanguard along with the modern South Africans, who did so with such effect because they linked their struggle for justice to the entire world.”(eopp,xx) Linking a struggle with the whole world will not be easy, given the fact that most of the links are controlled by corporations very sympathetic to the dominant propaganda about Israel. But Arabs do have publications. They do have friends and colleagues. And the free peoples of the world, such as Americans, who come to learn about the reality of the Palestinian disaster, also have communicational powers. There are other problems in the world, and most people have personal problems of their own to keep them busy. But I think for Americans especially, whose nation is based on the genocide of a native population, what’s happening in Israel should have special significance. Americans, and the rest of the world, can say, “This has happened before, too many times. We won’t let it happen again.” It’s ultimately a question of whether mere people can alter the course of States. But Israel is democratic—theoretically a mass movement could change its fate.
Arafat is in a delicate situation. His survival is at stake. And he’s ruining a whole people’s chances for freedom. Maybe he should acquire some common human decency, which would at least give his people a chance, if not himself. “Arafat’s model of rule is based entirely on coercion and personal gain: what he does not like or he thinks opposes him must be blotted out, made to disappear, put behind bars.”(eopp,53) A follower of Saddam Hussein, Arafat cannot see that the world is not that simple. If you don’t like things, and your only strategy is to try to destroy them, like he destroys people, actually tortures some to death, and destroys free information—censoring books (like all of Edward Said’s), you will eventually run into a limiting wall, at some point, when nature or people can stand your abuse no longer. Arafat’s is a very small and stupid view of what ‘the peace process’ is capable of being. But he is convinced that to survive, he must abuse his people, to the extent that their lives are worse now, after Oslo and under the Authority, then they were under direct Israeli rule
Most people believe what those in authority tell them. And why not? If no alternative sources of information exist, the public naturally comes to trust the info being fed to them day after day. But this has disastrous consequences for democracy, which depends on people knowing the truth and having rational opinions about it.
Israeli propaganda has achieved an important success. It has made opposition to its policies (including the closures, and military operations) seem tantamount to opposing peace; it has convinced the world that it is striving for peace, although of course it wages war; it has elevated itself and its four million citizens to the central focal point of the Arab and Muslim world, which comprise two hundred million and one billion respectively.(eopp54)
How can this work? A few million Jews more important than a billion Muslims? It has to do with the major media in the West, which utilizes simplifying techniques, in order to package “news”, or information content, into forms that people can easily digest in front of the TV or newspaper every day. As we know, real exploration of the world, real education about reality—real news-gathering is not a frictionless process, to be done unconsciously for you by a TV. Learning involves difficulty. But difficulty causes people to change channels, if they’re not used to it. If they’ve been programmed to avoid it. If they don’t know what it’s worth. It’s not that the truth wouldn’t sell. It’s that the media refuses to give it a chance to sell. And so we are left with cartoon caricatures of reality—“In five decades Israel has solidified its position as a peace-loving state surrounded by vicious enemies who want to exterminate the Jews. Israel never attacks; it ‘retaliates’ in ‘self-defense.’ Israel values human life; Israel is a Western country; Israel is necessary for the defense of Western values against fundamentalist, terrorist Islam.”(eopp,55)
Arafat is, to put it mildly, not who one would ideally want to have leading a people out of great suffering, into some sort of future that one would find desirable or at least minimally acceptable. Said talked to Yasir Abd Rabbo, Minister of Information and Minister of Culture, about what it’s like to deal with Arafat’s leadership. Apparently Arafat spends his days dealing with paperwork detailing every single decision-making possibility that the Authority faces. He is the ultimate power—nothing can happen without his stamp of approval, from an employee’s request for a vacation, to a decision about the maintenance of a car, to which two people should meet with the Israelis tomorrow. Arafat is “lost in the now”—he is obsessed with the puzzle of how to retain ultimate control today, and his sadly limited imagination cannot project itself into the future, cannot create a vision for where the Palestinian people need to be next year. Even for someone with an imagination, it would be hard to utilize it if one hundred percent of his time, every day, was spent controlling every single dollar spent by an entire government. But this is apparently what he has to do in order to remain the supreme dictator—delegating responsibility means sharing power, which means potentially allowing a situation in which he would lose power. And he doesn’t only control the authority—all Palestinian businesses must deal with him, and he is in business himself, and maintains monopoly control on every commodity where this is possible. Rabbo explains that he and the other ministers attempt to wake Arafat up to the horrible situation they are in, but it’s no use.
Oslo was a sad, tragic event for the Palestinians. Arafat and his team were not careful, to say the least, in their approach to getting anything positive from Israel. Said writes,
Here I can only give two or three examples of how the future of Palestine was negotiated. Bruck tells us that according to Arafat’s aides, the Palestinian leader probably never read the agreements, relying on his assistants (who gave him “a rosy picture” of its contents) or on a quick reading of the headings; Abu Mazen told Bruck that for several months after the Washington ceremonies Arafat did not realize that he was not getting a state, only autonomy. Furthermore, Arafat regularly intervened in the negotiations, making it easier for the Israelis to get concessions from him which his own people had already refused. (eopp,115)
Arafat and his team of negotiators are the largest reason their people are in as horrible a situation they are in. The Palestinians would be infinitely better off if their fate were in the hands of a non-despot, perhaps a democratically elected, competent, decent man or woman.
Said thinks that “Neither Israel not the United States has the slightest desire to foster a peace process that guarantees Palestinian self-determination or independent statehood.”(eopp,118) All the Palestinian struggle before Oslo, all the blood spilled, was for nothing but “an agreement which is designed specifically to keep Palestinians under the perpetual domination of the Israelis.”(eopp,118) And why should the Israelis act otherwise, if the Palestinians can’t do anything about it? Once police have you in handcuffs, they tend not to want to take them off. Unless some third party forces Israel to give the Palestinians justice, they won’t do it. Looking to America is not the answer. Said says that “To depend on the United States for anything more than wrestling further concessions out of us is, in my opinion, utter delusion.” (eopp,118)
Abbreviations: “jfj” = Jews for Justice. “eopp” = The End of the Peace Process
Hitchens, Christopher, “Wiesel Words”, The Nation, http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?I=20010219&s=hitchens , accessed 11.14.02.
Jews for Justice, “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict”, www.cactus48.com/truth.html, accessed 10.11.02
Said, Edward, The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After, Pantheon, New York, 2000.