This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 12/05/2011
On the occasion of Israel’s 63rd birthday (May 14), its parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin declared the state to be, a “Jewish democratic” entity, a “shining beacon in the Middle East”. His assumption is, of course, that the region is an “area of darkness”, to use an epithet wrongly applied to India many years ago by an expatriate writer.
Of course, Israel was never a “beacon” because it was born in the mortal sin of the Palestinian Nakba, the catastrophe that denied Palestinians their identity as a people, their right to live in their homeland, and eventually left half of them under harsh Israeli occupation and the other half exiles in nearby and distant lands. This is not a record to speak of with pride.
Israel was established by war. During this war, it occupied 78 per cent of Palestine, 23 per cent more than allocated to the Jewish state in the 1947 UN partition plan and more than half the 45 per cent allotted to the Arab state. Israel proceeded to carry out the ethnic cleansing of three-quarters of Palestinians.
Since its emergence in 1948, Israel has launched successive wars on its neighbours: in 1955 (Gaza), 1956 (Egypt), 1967 (Egypt, Jordan and Syria), 1968 (Egypt), 1978 (Lebanon), 1982 (Lebanon), 1996 (Lebanon), 2002-03 (the West Bank and Gaza), 2006 (Lebanon) and 2008-09 (Gaza). In 1973, Arabs initiated their sole military action against Israel, but thanks to a US airlift of weapons and spare parts, Israel was able to regain Egyptian and Syrian territories won back by Cairo and Damascus, and maintain control of occupied Palestinian land.
Throughout its existence, Israel has also carried out ground, air and sea-borne raids and assaults against neighbours and attacked targets in Iraq and Syria. In its conflicts, Israel has consistently violated the laws of war and committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Constant aggression hardly makes Israel a “beacon” to any but bullies and would-be aggressors.
Israel is essentially a “security state” with a government that justifies its crimes by saying it must ensure its security and the security of its citizens. Israel’s leaders, citizens and apologists claim that Jews have always been victims and argue that because of the Nazi holocaust, which killed six million Jews, Israel must be allowed to do anything and everything to provide security for its citizens and world Jewry. But its wars, raids, colonisation and aggressive policies have made Israel the chief enemy of Arabs and Muslims and are increasingly antagonising Westerners who formerly supported Israel without question.
Israel has never been a democracy for all its inhabitants because all are not Jews. Palestinian citizens of Israel are second class and can never become first class. Rivlin honestly stated in April 2010: “Many of them encounter racism and arrogance of Israel’s Jews” as well as “inequality in the allocation of state funds”. He also called for a full partnership between Jewish and Palestinian citizens, but has been able to do nothing to improve the lot of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
In violation of international law and international norms of behaviour, Israel has treated Palestinian citizens as badly as those living in the occupied territories. Both face never-ending land seizures and house demolitions.
Israel claims to be a “melting pot” - based on the imperfect US model - for Jews from the world over, but the Israeli society is fractured and Jews are classified according to their ethnic backgrounds, with white (European Ashkenazi) Jews being on top and black or brown (usually Oriental Sephardis) being at the bottom, just above Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Israel is also deeply divided between secular and religious Jews, left and right, Jews living in “Israel proper” and colonists dwelling in the occupied Palestinian territories. Since the right-wing Likud rose to power in the mid-1970s, hardline “nationalists”, expansionist colonists and assertive ultra-Orthodox groups have come to dominate the political agenda of the state, while leftist and moderate Jewish elements have been marginalised. Rightists are now attempting to curb freedom of association and speech in order to exclude those who do not subscribe to their views and political programmes.
One of the more recent measures passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was the Nakba denial law, which bans Israeli public funding to associations which stage Nakba events, removes mention of the Nakba from school texts, and aims at erasing mention of the Nakba in public discourse.
In spite of this trend, it is interesting that Rivlin admitted in the 2010 speech that “the establishment of Israel was accompanied by much pain and suffering and a real trauma for the Palestinians”, and expressed backing for the “one state solution”, which would involve the granting of Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians now living under Israeli occupation.
As a result of the Nakba, the globe’s 10 million Palestinians are divided into two groups, those living under occupation and exiles. Those residing in the 1967 occupied areas are subdivided by Israel into East Jerusalemites, West Bankers and Gazans. All are besieged to a certain extent, while Gazans are tightly besieged and blockaded.
Although Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat concluded what he believed was a land-for-peace deal in 1993, Israel did not withdraw from the land as expected and, instead, stepped up colonisation. Israel’s aim was to make withdrawal impossible and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. In consequence, the entire Palestinian people has been denied self-determination and Israel’s hardline policies have finished off moribund negotiations that US President Barack Obama, wrongly, believed could be revived and resolve the 130-year-old Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict.