Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Laws of the Land?
Over the Shills and Far Away

In response to my latest article, a comment was posted by "Jack Shattuck" (probably a shill, but whatever) on OpEd News. Naturally, I replied.

Posted below is first his comment, followed by my own response. Enjoy.


Israeli right to settle in Palestine under international law

posted by Jack Shattuck

The San Remo Resolution of April 25, 1920, the Mandate for Palestine conferred on Britain by the Principal Allied Powers and confirmed by the League of Nations unanimously on July 24, 1922, the Franco-British Boundary Convention of December 23, 1920, and the Anglo-American Convention of December 3, 1924 respecting the Mandate for Palestine all authorized the entire area of Palestine as ripe for settlement as the Jewish National Home. The Mandate for Palestine was subsequently incorporated as still binding under Article 80 of the UN Charter.

The San Remo Resolution on Palestine became Article 95 of the Treaty of Sevres which was intended to end the war with Turkey, but though this treaty was never ratified by the Turkish National Government of Kemal Ataturk, the Resolution retained its validity as an independent act of international law when it was inserted into the Preamble of the Mandate for Palestine and confirmed by 52 states.

The phrase “in Palestine”, another expression found in the Balfour Declaration that generated much controversy, referred to the whole country, including both Cisjordan and Transjordan (today's state of Jordan). It was absurd to imagine that this phrase could be used to indicate that only a part of Palestine was reserved for the future Jewish National Home, since both were created simultaneously and used interchangeably, with the term “Palestine” pointing out the geographical location of the future independent Jewish state. Had “Palestine” meant a partitioned country with certain areas of it set aside for Jews and others for Arabs, that intention would have been stated explicitly at the time the Balfour Declaration was drafted and approved and later adopted by the Principal Allied Powers. No such allusion was ever made in the prolonged discussions that took place in fashioning the Declaration and ensuring it international approval.

The decisive moment of change came on May 14, 1948 when the representatives of the Jewish people in Palestine and of the Zionist Organization proclaimed the independence of a Jewish state whose military forces held only a small portion of the territory originally allocated for the Jewish National Home. The rest of the country was in the illegal possession of neighboring Arab states who had no sovereign rights over the areas they illegally occupied, that were historically a part of Palestine and the Land of Israel and were not meant for Arab independence or the creation of another Arab state. It is for this reason that Israel, which inherited the sovereign rights of the Jewish people over Palestine, has the legal right to keep all the lands it liberated in the Six Day War that were either included in the Jewish National Home during the time of the Mandate or formed integral parts of the Land of Israel that were illegally detached from the Jewish National Home when the boundaries of Palestine were fixed in 1920 and 1923. For the same reason, Israel cannot be accused by anyone of “occupying” lands under international law that were clearly part of the Jewish National Home or the Land of Israel. Thus the whole debate today that centers on the question of whether Israel must return “occupied territories” to their alleged Arab owners in order to obtain peace is one of the greatest falsehoods of international law and diplomacy.

In the Anglo-American Convention of 1924, the United States recognized all the rights granted to the Jewish people under the Mandate, in particular the right of Jewish settlement anywhere in Palestine or the Land of Israel. The 1924 Convention was ratified by the US Senate and proclaimed by President Calvin Coolidge on December 5, 1925. This convention has terminated, but not the rights granted under it to the Jewish people.

That above authentic international law has been replaced by an ersatz international law composed of illegal UN Resolutions. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907 are acts of genuine international law, but they have no direct application or relevance to the legal status of Judea, Samaria and Gaza which are integral territories of the Jewish National Home and the Land of Israel under the sovereignty of the State of Israel. These acts would apply only to the Arab occupation of Jewish territories, as occurred between 1948 and 1967, and not to the case of Israeli rule over the Jewish homeland. The hoax of the Palestinian people and their alleged rights to the Land of Israel as well as the farce that results from citing pseudo-international law to support their fabricated case must be exposed and brought to an end.

***** which I replied:

Your Unfortunate Decision to Get Involved

My dear Mr. Shattuck,

It's lovely to find supporters of colonialism are alive and well and posting comments on OpEd News. Whereas I could go point by point and dissect your bizarre "legal" justifications for the dispossession, displacement, and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people, I'm not going to waste my time.

What I will say, however, is that your legal justifications are based solely on the premise that European colonialism and mandate control in the Near and Middle East was legal, valid, and altogether a-okay. You reference declarations, conventions, and resolutions made by one group of people (European and American colonists and imperialists) on behalf of another group of people (Zionist Jews of Europe) to deny an indigenous third group of people (Palestinian Arabs) of their rights to self-determination and sovereignty. Your arcane political proclivities are far better suited for a century ago, in the company of such notable disciplines as eugenics and racial hygiene theory. My sincere condolences about time-travel not yet being possible.

You seem to argue that the European sectioning of foreign lands is somehow justified and legal - that native land can be given away with the flick of a quill in the British Parliament. You fail to mention anything about The Great Game, or even the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which effectively sought to slice up Arab land according to colonial whim and power sharing among European powers, namely Britain and France. Even by your inane standards of international law (which seem to be about as complex as holding a piece of paper signed by some white guy and shrugging your shoulders), the Sykes-Picot Agreement would be of vital importance.

Documents from the British National Archives, later declassified, reveal certain intentions which you leave unmentioned. For example, it becomes clear that promises of Arab independence were made to Hussein bin Ali (Sharif of Mecca) with regards to Palestine, in particular, by British officials such as Lord Kitchener among others. For instance, the minutes of a December 5, 1918 Cabinet Eastern Committee meeting clearly discuss the issue of Palestine. In attendance at the meeting were Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon (chair), General Jan Smuts, Lord Robert Cecil, T. E. Lawrence, General Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and representatives of the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Admiralty, the Wax Office, the Treasury, and your beloved Lord Balfour.

(Lord Arthur James Balfour was, of course, a notorious anti-semite. Sponsor of the 1905 Aliens Act intended in part to restrict Jewish immigration to Great Britain, Balfour was widely maligned in the British Jewish community. In fact, Balfour's later pro-Zionist efforts were decried by a Jewish member of the Cabinet as "anti-semitic in result.")

Anyway, during the Cabinet meeting in 1918, Lord Curzon stated:
"The Palestine position is this. If we deal with our commitments, there is first the general pledge to Hussein in October 1915, under which Palestine was included in the areas as to which Great Britain pledged itself that they should be Arab and independent in the future...Great Britain and France - Italy subsequently agreeing - committed themselves to an international administration of Palestine in consultation with Russia, who was an ally at that time...A new feature was brought into the case in November 1917, when Mr Balfour, with the authority of the War Cabinet, issued his famous declaration to the Zionists that Palestine 'should be the national home of the Jewish people, but that nothing should be done - and this, of course, was a most important proviso - to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.' Those, as far as I know, are the only actual engagements into which we entered with regard to Palestine." [emphasis mine]
Furthermore, an appendix of a secret memorandum, prepared by the Political Intelligence Department of the British Foreign Office and used by the British delegation at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, clearly held:
"The whole of Palestine...lies within the limits which His Majesty's Government have pledged themselves to Sherif Husain [sic] that they will recognize and uphold the independence of the Arabs."

What you fail to mention in your dubious catalogue of decontextualized European and American accords of the early 20th Century is that, at the time of the Balfour Declaration – which is seen as some sort of legal victory and precedent for the legitimacy of Zionism by Israel apologists – the British government had absolutely no jurisdiction over the region in question. There was no Mandate, no international treaty or law granting the administrative auspices of Palestine to a member of the British government. The Balfour Declaration was not a binding agreement of any kind – it was merely a letter drafted by Lord Alfred Milner, sent to Lord Rothschild, expressing Balfour's pro-Zionist intentions at the bidding of future Israeli president Chaim Weizmann. On its own, it has no place in international law.

Not only this, but it directly contradicts (and does not take precedence over) the Anglo-French Declaration of November 1918, which pledged Great Britain's and France's commitment to "the complete and final liberation of the peoples who have for so long been oppressed" under the Ottoman rule and assistance in "the setting up of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the free exercise of the initiative and choice of the indigenous populations." The Declaration agreed "to further and assist in the establishment of indigenous Governments and administrations in Syria and Mesopotamia which have already been liberated by the Allies, as well as in those territories which they are engaged in securing and recognising these as soon as they are actually established."

The document continues:
"In pursuit of those intentions, France and Great Britain agree Far from wishing to impose on the populations of those regions any particular institutions they are only concerned to ensure by their support and by adequate assistance the regular working of Governments and administrations freely chosen by the populations themselves; to secure impartial and equal justice for all; to facilitate the economic development of the country by promoting and encouraging local initiative; to foster the spread of education..." [emphasis mine]
Your argument rests on the assumption that Zionism had the legal support required to disenfranchise an entire people, a native population, and transfer sovereignty rights over to newly-arrived European immigrants of Jewish descent. This is patently ridiculous as can easily be surmised by the above documentation. Self-determination for the Arab populations of the Near and Middle East were secured in legal documentation; the "Jewish National Home" was suggested in personal correspondence.

Even Balfour himself understood the problematic incongruity his own Declaration created. As he wrote to Lord Curzon:
"The contradiction between the letters of the Covenant [of the League of Nations] and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the 'independent nation' of Palestine than in that of the 'independent nation' of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose to even go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country though the American Commission is going through the form of asking what they are.

The Four Great Powers [Britain, France, Italy and the United States] are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, and future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion that is right." [emphasis mine]
Clearly, those who favor colonialism, racial supremacy, and ethnic cleansing can stand over there with Balfour, Jabotinsky, and Shattuck. I'll be over here with the supporters of self-determination, equality, and human rights such as Albert Einstein, Martin Buber, and Hannah Arendt.

Jack, you cite the precedent of the 1920 San Remo Conference and the resulting resolution, and yet you completely fail to actually look at the stipulations of said resolution, namely the specific references to the indigenous population of Palestine. The document agreed,
"To accept the terms of the Mandates Article...with reference to Palestine, on the understanding that there was inserted in the process-verbal an undertaking by the Mandatory Power that this would not involve the surrender of the rights hitherto enjoyed by the non-Jewish communities in Palestine..." [emphasis mine]
And also that:
"The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 8, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." [emphasis mine]

By no stretch of the imagination or the English language can these documents, arrogantly put forth by imperial and colonial powers in the attempt to divvy up the Near and Middle East between them, be regarded as the legal justification for denying the population of their own human, civil, and religious rights in deference to the Zionist project. Your clear misunderstanding, or deliberately selective reading, of these resolutions reveals your racist agenda and determination to falsify information in order to promote the ethnic cleansing, aggressive land grabs, and cultural supremacy essential to the Zionist cause. (This is clearly evident when you claim the 1920 Franco-British Boundary Agreement and subsequent 1923 caveats to be universally accepted and unchanged delineations of national borders – they are not. The boundaries established were based on colonial Mandate administration and have nothing to do with the recognized borders of future, independent states. Accordingly, you should always remember that the state of Israel was unilaterally declared independent in 1948 by a minority, immigrant population and still has no internationally recognized borders.)

Your prejudice is made even more obvious with your purposeful omission of the 1919 King-Crane Commission from your absurd analysis. The Commission, an officially US government-sponsored investigation into the desire of the indigenous Arab population of the Near East for self-determination and sovereignty following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, was conducted in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and what was then Anatolia. The Commission was created directly by President Woodrow Wilson, who was unsatisfied by the backroom dealings of the European powers. The resulting report concluded, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Arab majority preferred an American mandate (as opposed to British or French, due to the well-known hegemonic intentions and nefarious colonialism of those European powers) with a democratically elected constituent assembly. Those interviewed believed that, in order to achieve self-sufficiency and independence, the United States was their best bet given the circumstances. (Oh, how things have changed!)

The Commission, in hopes of finding the most equitable and moral solution to the Near Eastern power vacuum, found that securing egalitarian self-determination for the native populations of what it regarded as "Greater Syria" (namely, Syria, Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza in today's terms) was of utmost importance and based its recommendations with that in mind.

With specific regards to the Zionist enterprise, already well underway, the report candidly emphasized that the only possible way to establish a Jewish state – a colonial entity reliant on enforcing a political ideology of ethnic supremacy and cultural dominance – would be through violent and military means. As a result, the Commission dismissed the moral and peaceful viability of a Jewish state, stating clearly what everyone knows: that the Zionist project demanded and anticipated "a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants to Palestine".

To be clear, the Commission found nothing problematic with continued, or even increased, legal Jewish immigration to Palestine (as part of "Greater Syria") as long as the new immigrants would regard themselves as equal citizens living alongside the native population. Still, to avoid all misunderstanding, it warned that "the erection of such a Jewish State" could never "be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."

The European colonial powers heeded none of the warnings, recommendations, or desires of the indigenous populations it hoped to rule.

Consequently, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George – who later, in 1936, referred to Adolph Hitler as "the greatest living German" - and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, drafted the provisions of the San Remo Resolution and the Treaty of Sèvres, enabling Britain to seize mandated control over Palestine and Iraq, while "giving" Syria to France (which had already ruled Lebanon since 1918).

The findings of the King-Crane Commission were deliberately suppressed and kept from the public after its completion. In 1922, the United States Congress passed a joint resolution supporting the establishment of a "Jewish National Home" in Palestine, echoing the sentiment of the Balfour Declaration. Two months later, the Commission report was released.

At the time, Edward Mandell House, President Wilson's aid, in a letter that predicted the result of the pending implementation of the suggestions of the Balfour Declaration, wrote: "It is all bad and I told Balfour so. They [the British] are making [the Middle East] a breeding place for future war."

Balfour himself knew his Declaration didn't jive with the formal treaties and resolutions that followed. He even wrote to Curzon:
"What I have never been able to understand is how [the Balfour Declaration] can be harmonized with the [Anglo-French] declaration, the Covenant [of the League of Nations], or the instruction to the [King-Crane] Commission of Enquiry."
It should also be noted that, even though you claim the Balfour Declaration gave full settlement rights to Jewish immigrants in all of Cisjordan (Palestine) and Transjordan (modern day Jordan), you are wrong. The area East of the Jordan River had long been included in the area promised to Sharif Hussein as early as 1915. Whereas Palestine and Transjordan remained a single administrative unit under British control until 1946, this was a matter of administrative convenience for the Mandate and in no way indicated any recognition of Zionist claims to the East Bank of the Jordan. In 1922, Transjordan became an autonomous political entity, formalized by an new clause added to the governing charter of the Mandate of Palestine. It subsequently became independent in 1928.

Your willful and intentional distortion of the truth is even more apparent in your refusal to include the vital 1922 White Paper in your analysis. The Paper served to clarify the British view and interpretation of the Balfour Declaration. The results are perfectly clear to anyone who takes the time to read them. Among its findings, the Paper states:
"Unauthorized statements have been made to the effect that the purpose in view is to create a wholly Jewish Palestine. Phrases have been used such as that Palestine is to become "as Jewish as England is English." His Majesty's Government regard any such expectation as impracticable and have no such aim in view. They would draw attention to the fact that the terms of the Declaration referred to do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded 'in Palestine.' In this connection it has been observed with satisfaction that at a meeting of the Zionist Congress, the supreme governing body of the Zionist Organization, held at Carlsbad in September, 1921, a resolution was passed expressing as the official statement of Zionist aims 'the determination of the Jewish people to live with the Arab people on terms of unity and mutual respect, and together with them to make the common home into a flourishing community, the upbuilding of which may assure to each of its peoples an undisturbed national development.'" [emphasis mine]
Therefore, Jack, your assertion that it would be "absurd to imagine that this phrase could be used to indicate that only a part of Palestine was reserved for the future Jewish National Home" is wholly contrary to the British government's own determination.

The White Paper also states that "the status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status." [emphasis mine] As such, when you claim that the state of Israel "inherited the sovereign rights of the Jewish people over Palestine," you are, quite simply, lying.

Using these arguments not only undermines your own ethnocentric motivation, but also reveals your supporting materials to be insufficient at best and totally disingenuous at worst.

(Incidentally, you should really try compiling your own research in the future, rather than cutting and pasting the bigoted writing of hacks like the laughably propagandistic Ariel Center for Policy Research's Howard Grief, who endorse racist policies in order to erase the well-established historical and cultural narratives of the Palestinian people in their ugly attempt to make reality disappear altogether so that Zionist apologists can feel less guilty about promoting and justifying ethnic cleansing and the aggressive, illegal, and immoral seizure of Eretz Yisrael. To pass off numerous paragraphs of Grief's unfortunate Policy Paper No. 147 as your own writing isn't just embarrassing, it's straight–up plagiarism. Cool it.)

Amazingly, you also attempt to use the Anglo-American Convention in defense of Zionist expansionism and land theft. Ratified by the US Senate and approved by President Calvin Coolidge, the Convention, you say, reaffirmed American support for the stipulations of the Mandate and encouraged Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Again, you fail to provide any sort of context for your documentation. The Convention was approved the year following the passing of the Immigration Act of 1924 which placed severe limitations on foreign immigration to America and established quotas based on national and ethnic origin. Widely regarded as legislation put forth due to the growing nativism, xenophobia, and anti-semitism in the US at the time, the Act was vehemently opposed by most American Jews. Do you not find it curious that the same administration that attempted to resist the increasing Jewish immigration to this country was more than happy to support immigration to a land it had absolutely no control over, half-way across the world? Your consistent use of citing racist legislation for your own propagandistic purposes is quite unimpressive.

Israel remains an unjust and expansionist remnant of aggressive colonialism in a largely post-colonial modern world. It is people like you, Mr. Shattuck, that stymie any advancement toward justice and actively seek to thwart the promotion of human rights and equality for all people. You spread lies and falsified historical references in order to proliferate disinformation and deflect reasonable criticism of the Zionist project and its horrific consequences.

Unfortunately for you and people like you, there are facts to back up the most basic truths in this world. And those facts will never be in your favor.

Hmm, I guess I did wind up dissecting your awful justifications. Go figure.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Grift That Keeps on Giving:
Netanyahu's 'Innocent' Gift to Obama

FULL DISCLOSURE: Before reading this particular post, please read this disclaimer.

When heads of state convene, gifts are exchanged. So far, despite distributing an iPod, a stack of DVDs, and a rare copy of the "Star-Spangled Banner," President Barack Obama has received a couple of old books from his counterparts.

On April 18th, during a meeting with South American leaders, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez presented Obama with a copy of Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. The book, first published in 1971, is a damning critique of the consequences of five centuries of European and US colonization and exploitation of Latin America, at one point stating, "Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others."

The book, considered a classic of anti-imperial criticism in South America and beyond, presents a forthright account of the perils and destructive nature of Empire and is a work any American would do well to pay attention to and learn from.

In stark contrast, where Chavez gives knowledge, Benyamin Netanyahu offers only farce. According to Ha'aretz, during their first meeting as elected leaders on Monday, the Israeli Prime Minister is expected to give Obama a copy of Mark Twain's "Pleasure Excursion to the Holy Land," an excerpt from his famous 1867 travelogue, The Innocents Abroad.

The gift is presumably meant to strengthen the Israeli argument for continued Jewish control of the Levant, as the book itself presents a bleak picture of Palestine under Arab control and describes Muslims as "a people by nature and training filthy, brutish, ignorant, unprogressive, superstitious," and whose "natural instinct do not permit them to be moral."

In his account, Twain, one of the most beloved and respected American literary voices, notes the seeming emptiness of the Holy Land when he describes Palestine as "A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds - a silent mournful expanse...A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action..." On the road to Jerusalem ("...more stupid hills beyond - more unsightly landscape - no Holy City"), Twain writes, "We never saw a human being on the whole route...hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country."

He also decries the environment as "monotonous and uninviting," "desolate and unlovely," and states that

"Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent...Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective - distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land."
Upon reaching the Holy City ("So small!"), which he describes as "the goal of our crusade," Twain writes, "Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village" and blames the decrepitude and dilapidation on its then-Arab authorities:
"It seems to me that all the races and colors and tongues of the earth must be represented among the fourteen thousand souls that dwell in Jerusalem. Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself, abound...Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary, and lifeless. I would not desire to live here."
Netanyahu's intention is obvious. Before the Jew's "reclaimed" their rightful land under the banner of Israel, the Holy Land was in shambles and had almost no population to speak of. Therefore, since the Zionist movement of the late nineteenth century (European colonization), the establishment of a Jewish State (ethnic cleansing), and the subsequent conquering of the rest of historical Palestine in 1967 (brutal, dehumanizing occupation), Netanyahu seems to argue, the splendor has been restored to the Levant a mere hundred years after Twain visited. In that time, in essence, the return of the Jews has turned an uncultivatable, Arab wasteland into a thriving oasis of Western culture.

Hopefully, Barack Obama is not an uninformed dullard (though, so far, there is scant evidence to the contrary) and will view the Israeli Prime Minister's gift with a critical eye and some insight into both its giver and its author.

Netanyahu's right-wing government is intent on maintaining the Israeli stranglehold of occupation and bantustanization in the West Bank and the humanitarian devastation and bombing of civilians in Gaza. In addition to constantly advocating for a US-supported Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear enrichment research facilities (along with requisite collateral civilian damage), Middle East expert Juan Cole adds that Netanyahu "absolutely does not under any circumstances want a Palestinian state or to be forced to withdraw Israeli squatters from the Palestinian territories that they have been colonizing since 1967."

The recognition of Israel as a "Jewish" state is of paramount importance to Netanyahu. Not only would this affirm the ethnic superiority of Jewish citizens of Israel over all others, but it would also destroy the dreams of Palestinian refugees who still hold out hope that they will someday be permitted to return to the land of their ancestry, if not birth. In seeking to confirm Jewish Israeli hegemony over Palestine (including the opposition to Palestinian sovereignty in any future independent nation of their own), Netanyahu has chosen to use familiar Zionist propaganda to make his case to the American president.

The promotion of Twain's "Pleasure Excursion to the Holy Land" by Netanyahu as a demographic survey - arguing against an established population of indigenous people in Palestine before the Zionist invasion - recalls long-debunked methods of Israeli apologia for Jewish colonialization of the Holy Land. John Kearney writes on Mondoweiss:
In 1984 Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial was published, and Twain's satire, The Innocents Abroad was thus canonized in the Zionist effort to erase the history of Arabs in Palestine. Peters argued that Palestine was effectively empty until Jewish Zionists came on the scene in the late 19th century, and that Arabs then emigrated from surrounding lands to take advantage of economic opportunities provided by the Zionists. Hence, the Arabs are "arrivistes," have no legitimate claim to be refugees.
What seems to be completely misunderstood by fraudulent "historians" such as Peters and uninspired plagiarists like Alan Dershowitz, who use Twain's travel writing as some sort of justification for the Zionist enterprise, is that Mark Twain was a satirist. He wrote satire. Employing all manner of sarcasm and exaggeration, Twain dissected his subjects and exposed the many shortcomings, contradictions, and failings of humanity. Twain's The Innocents Abroad is not supposed to be an educational travelogue; it is instead one of the first expositions of the "ugly American tourist" and how those ignorant of the world outside their windows impose their own skewed and bigoted view on new, exciting experiences. As such, Twain describes his "pleasure trip" across Europe and Near East among dull middle-aged Americans as "a funeral excursion without a corpse."

The real focus of Twain's traveling narrator is on revealing the annoyance, arrogance, and sanctimony of the American "pilgrim" in the Holy Land, rather than lambasting the land itself, or the people who dwell there. This pilgrim - the now-stereotypical American tourist - is described as rude, ill-mannered, and always talking "very loudly and coarsely." The narrator's own stubbornness and nescience is apparent when he makes a mistake in identifying "the spot where David and Goliah used to sit and judge the people," equivocating and eschewing responsibility for the error by claiming that "a pilgrim informs me that it was not David and Goliah, but David and Saul. I stick to my own statement - the guide told me, and he ought to know." It is with this in mind that Twain leads us on an exploratory expedition to lands largely unknown to his American readership at the time.

When Peters, Dershowitz, or Netanyahu rely on, as Kearney says, "Twain's savaging portrayal of the Holy Land as a filthy, backwards, empty place" in order to justify Zionist colonization and domination, they totally misinterpret the purpose of the book and wind up proving Twain hypothesis of the baffling ignorance of the Western mind in the process. "Peters makes no effort," Kearney explains, "to contextualize Twain's remarks: namely, that he was skewering nineteenth century America's sacred cows about the glories of Europe and the sacredness of the Holy Land."

Yes, Twain's narrator at times describes Palestine as an empty place, devoid of life or civility, but he also describes Greece and Syria that way. It seems to Twain that, by American standards of the late nineteenth century, Americans would regard anything other than a bustling New England seaport as an arid and savage frontier. Of Greece, Twain writes:
"From Athens all through the islands of the Grecian Archipelago, we saw little but forbidden sea-walls and barren hills, sometimes surmounted by three or four graceful columns of some ancient temples, lonely and deserted---a fitting symbol of desolation that has come upon all Greece in these latter ages. We saw no plowed fields, very few villages, no trees or grass or vegetation of any kind, scarcely, and hardly ever an isolated house. Greece is a bleak, unsmiling desert, without agriculture, manufactures, or commerce, apparently."
He describes the lush vegetation of Damascus as a startling contrast to the otherwise ubiquitous "God-forsaken barrenness and desolation of Syria." Obviously, exaggeration plays a big role in Twain's travel descriptions; to call Greece, Syria, and Palestine empty and desolate is hyperbole, not historical fact. So much for "a land without a people."

Moreover, Twain contradicts his own characterization many times in the text. For example, Chapter 52 begins, "The narrow canon in which Nablous, or Shechem, is situated, is under high cultivation, and the soil is exceedingly black and fertile. It is well watered, and its affluent vegetation gains effect by contrast with the barren hills that tower on either side," while, at other points, Twain writes of "luxuriant orchards of figs, apricots, pomegranates," as well as Jaffa's "noble grove of orange-trees."

And yet, selectively reading Twain's text as both environmental, anthropological and demographic reportage has been a favorite Zionist tactic, used in order to support a colonial and supremacist ideology for over 125 years. The conceptualization of Palestine as barren and uncultured, and its inhabitants unsuited to civilization, has served to justify the integral ethnocentrism and institutionalized racism of the Zionist project. It supposedly confirms, first hand by a renowned American scribe, the barbarity (or mere non-existence) of a native Palestinian population. It also acts to legitimize the ethnic superiority, Jewish exceptionalism, and forced sovereignty present in the unilateral Israeli Proclamation of Independence, adopted over eighty years after Twain's book was published, and which says of the thousands of illegal Jewish immigrants flooding into Palestine over that period: "Pioneers… and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood. [emphasis mine]."

Furthermore, Twain exposes the common racism of American thought and the conception of Middle Easterners as both despicable and disposable when he writes, "I never dislike a Chinaman as I do these Turks and Arabs, and, when Russia is ready to war with them again, I hope England and France will not find it good breeding or good judgment to interfere."

Twain's narrator later describes a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There, he is in awe of the sword of Godfrey of Bulloigne, which he sees as the most impressive representation of crusading chivalry and legendary heroism. "It stirs within a man every memory of the Holy Wars that has been sleeping in his brain for years, and peoples his thoughts with mail-clad images, with marching armies, with battles and with sieges," Twain writes. The sword's power is described as almost omniscient; it can tell Christian from Muslim, always protecting the former and eager to slay the latter. He even goes so far as to let his imagination get carried away, as he wields the sword himself: "I tried it on a Moslem, and clove him in twain like a doughnut...if I had had a graveyard I would have destroyed all the infidels in Jerusalem."

I wonder if these words will remind Obama of the Jewish Rabbinate who, during the recent Gaza attacks, indoctrinated young Israeli troops with pamphlets claiming that they were holy warriors fighting to expel the "murderers" (Palestinians) who are "interfering with our conquest of this holy land." The rabbis preached that "when you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral."

While it's obvious that a war-monger and ethnosupremacist like Netanyahu revels in Twain's satirical violence, hopefully Obama will be a bit more discerning in his own literary analysis and, perhaps, pay attention to the descriptions of various Palestinian towns, alive with energy and agriculture. He writes that the land around Nablus is highly cultivated, fertile, well watered, and that "its affluent vegetation gains effect by contrast with the barren hills that tower on either side." He marvels at "the noble grove of orange-trees in which the Oriental city of Jaffa lies buried." Luckily for Twain, he was able to visit these sites before they were ethnically cleansed of their native populations by Zionist militias and Israeli policy.

One wonders if Netanyahu has read the text himself or if he found it buried in the bibliography of some ridiculous Dershowitz tome. If he has read it, how must he feel about the following passage:
"One can not see such things at an instant glance - one frequently only finds out how really beautiful a really beautiful woman is after considerable acquaintance with her; and the rule applies to Niagara Falls, to majestic mountains and to mosques - especially to mosques."
If Netanyahu's gift is supposed to inspire Obama continued and unquestioning support of America's "special relationship" and Israel's lethal aggression, how can this sentiment be reconciled with the Israeli bombing of numerous mosques in Gaza during its winter massacre? When Israel destroyed the Beit Lahiya mosque in northern Gaza around prayer time, killing twelve people, six of whom were children.

Perhaps, Netanyahu is slyly likening Obama to the ignorant American tourist depicted in the pages of The Innocents Abroad, an inexperienced traveler distraught to find that the Holy Land of legend is not that of reality. Is the Israeli Prime Minister suggesting that Obama discard his romantic visions of peace and coexistence once he discovers that there are no "picturesque Arabs" solemnly smoking from "long-stemmed chibouks" as seen in "a grand Oriental picture" but that instead there are only blood-thirsty, anti-semitic terrorists and barbarians lurking in bombed out schools and refugee camp eager to destroy a righteous and long-victimized Israel with non-existent Iranian nukes?

One wonders if Obama will see any connection between the Israeli Prime Minister and Twain's Wandering Jew, who, with shaken confidence, "has carried on a kind of desultory toying with the most promising of the aids and implements of destruction, but with small hope, as a general thing. He has speculated some in cholera and railroads, and has taken almost a lively interest in infernal machines and patent medicines. He is old, now, and grave, as becomes an age like his; he indulges in no light amusements save that he goes sometimes to executions, and is fond of funerals."

It has been said that "in satire, irony is militant". It appears, through using the writings of Mark Twain to argue for continued Israeli hegemony of the Holy Land, Benyamin Netanyahu has revealed himself to understand only the militant part, and none of the irony.

Twain wrote, "Palestine is no more of this work-day world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition - it is dream-land." However, if Obama follows Netanyahu's lead, that dream-land will continue to be a nightmarish reality of checkpoints, starvation, air-raids, walls and watchtowers for the millions of Palestinians who have called, and will always call, that land their home.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stop The Press!
This is What Israeli Democracy Looks Like

©Khalil Bendib

Telling the truth can be dangerous business.
Honest and popular don't go hand in hand.

- Lyle Rogers and Chuck "The Hawk" Clarke, Ishtar (1987)

Last Tuesday, prominent Israeli journalist Amira Hass was arrested by Israeli authorities upon entering Israel from Gaza. Hass, a correspondent for the daily Ha'aretz, had been living and working in Gaza for months, reporting on the lives of Palestinians and revealing many devastating truths about the brutalized and besieged community.

Journalists are forbidden to enter Gaza, upon orders from the Israeli military. Clearly, where there are reporters, there may be reports. Where there are reports, there may be knowledge. And when there is knowledge, especially about the Israeli policy of constant aggressive oppression of the Palestinian people, there is sure to be outrage. Truth and dissent are the eternal enemies of history's oppressors, therefore it is no surprise that Israel wishes to suppress knowledge and publicity of its own indefensible actions.

International press organizations have long condemned Israel's media ban. Recently, in November 2008, journalists were prevented from acquiring travel visas required to cross into Gaza at the Erez checkpoint - the only entrance to the territory from Israel. Steve Gutkin, the Associated Press bureau chief in Jerusalem and head of the Foreign Press Association, said that the length of the media ban was unprecedented and that there was no "plausible or acceptable" explanation for the ban.

The Foreign Press Association condemned the closure, saying: "We regard this as an unconscionable breach of the Israeli Government's responsibility to allow journalists to do their jobs in this region," further explaining that "the international media serve as the world's window into Gaza providing vital coverage of all aspects of Gazan life to news consumers around the world."

At a time when Israel had sealed off almost all commercial and humanitarian crossing into the Gaza Strip, the reason was perfectly clear:

"This is Israel's policy, to not show what's going on in Gaza," said Conny Mus, a reporter for Dutch television.

Once the Israeli military began dropping bombs on the residents of Gaza in late December 2008, the freedom of the press to its job was even further curtailed as Israel instituted a complete media blackout. In its attempt to prevent reporters from telling the truth about the massacre in Gaza, the Israeli military defied a ruling from its own Supreme Court that would allow reporters access to the Strip. John Ging, Gaza operations director for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, agreed: "For the truth to get out, journalists have to get in."

In defense of limiting press freedoms, Former spokesman for the Israeli army, Nachman Shai, claimed that full news coverage helps "the enemy," confuses and "destabilizes" the Israeli public. "Today, Israel is trying to control the information much more closely," he told The New York Times. Israel was intent on controlling public opinion based on its own propaganda, a decision made clear by Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who told the Times during the winter bombardment, "We are trying to coordinate everything that has to do with the image and content of what we are doing...We have talking points and we try to disseminate our ideas and message."

The Foreign Press Association released another statement, as the Palestinian death toll in Gaza increased horrifically, condemning Israel's restriction of the press: "The unprecedented denial of access to Gaza for the world’s media amounts to a severe violation of press freedom and puts the state of Israel in the company of a handful of regimes around the world which regularly keep journalists from doing their jobs."

Controlling the message is vital for Israel and its apologists because truth, morality, and justice are inherently anathema to Zionism. It is through this control that, for decades now, the word Palestinian has been nearly synonymous with the word terrorist, and therefore any resistance to colonialism, imperialism, military occupation, and economic hegemony is deemed irrational, unprovoked, inhuman terrorism. By controlling this message, the Zionist propagandists are able to pull off an astounding slight of hand on reality: the oppressed becomes the oppressor, the culprit becomes the victim, illegal colonization is cultural liberation, aggressive expansion is righteous reclamation, genocide is self-defense, apartheid is security, and ethnic cleansing is peace.

Zionism must rewrite the past in order to somehow gain legitimacy as anything but a wholly racist ideology. In so doing, the Bible becomes a land deed and the displacement, dispossession, and disenfranchisement of an indigenous population becomes the unhappy, though inevitable, consequence of religious nationalism. Without erasing or ignoring the historical and cultural narratives of Palestinians, Israel cannot hide from the painful truth about its ugly past.

This is precisely why, last month, Itamar Shapira, a docent at Yad Vashem, was fired for making reference to the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre and the subsequent Palestinian Nakba during his guided tours. He had pointed out the ruins of the Palestinian village, which can be seen from the grounds of the Holocaust memorial, to a school group. The group's teacher complained to his superiors and his job was terminated. Shapira, a tour guide for three and a half years, told Ha'aretz, "Yad Vashem talks about the Holocaust survivors' arrival in Israel and about creating a refuge here for the world's Jews. I said there were people who lived on this land and mentioned that there are other traumas that provide other nations with motivation...The Holocaust moved us to establish a Jewish state and the Palestinian nation's trauma is moving it to seek self-determination, identity, land and dignity, just as Zionism sought these things."

Officials at Yad Vashem, called the "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority," claim that Shapira was acting unprofessionally by relating the Holocaust to other historical events. It is the policy of Yad Vashem to classify the Holocaust as a singular and unprecedented occurrence in human history, never to be compared to anything else ever, thereby classifying Jewish suffering as unique and unlike anything any other group of people has ever, or will ever, endure. By promoting this "superiority of suffering," Yad Vashem is able to deflect all criticism or even acknowledgment of the injustice of Israeli national history and, as a result, the truth of Palestinian history - both past and present - is not only ignored, but denied.

Shapira identified this policy of selective education at Yad Vashem, saying, "It is being hypocritical. I only tried to expose the visitors to the facts, not to political conclusions. If Yad Vashem chooses to ignore the facts, for example the massacre at Deir Yassin, or the Nakba, it means that it's afraid of something and that its historic approach is flawed."

Obviously, ignoring facts is the age-old modus operandi of the Zionist enterprise, as evidenced by the "land without a people for a people without a land" propaganda put forth by Zionism's very first advocates. The whitewashing of historical truths continues to threaten the validity of the Palestinian cultural narrative as newly proposed legislation by Israel's far-right, ultranationalist party clearly proves. Yisrael Beitenu, the party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is attempting to ban any commemoration of the 1948 Nakba by Israel's Arab citizens, which make up about 20% of the Israeli population. In its effort to promote ethnosupremacism, the party wishes to punish those that mark the anniversary of Palestinian displacement - when over 700,000 Palestinians were forced from or fled their homes during the Zionist effort to establish a Jewish state on Palestinian land - with jail terms of up to three years.

"The draft law is intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel and to ban marking Independence Day as a day of mourning," party spokesman Tal Nahum told Ha'aretz. This type of mandatory unity is deliberately undemocratic and unrepresentative of the whole Israeli population - an unsurprising proposal from a political party that has suggested loyalty oaths for Arab citizens, has specifically denied support for Palestinian self-determination and national sovereignty by not endorsing efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state, and which has been described by many as fascist.

In other undemocratic news, the homes of Israeli peace activists working with the anti-militarist organization New Profile were raided by police, resulting the confiscation of computers and numerous arrests on suspicion of incitement and assisting draft dodgers. Gideon Levy, a stalwart voice for justice and truth in Israel, wrote in Ha'aretz,
The public reacted to the raid with typical indifference; it came just as we were busy enjoying the cheesy Independence Day holiday, complete with songs of self-praise about Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East. But a democracy that raids the homes of political activists is no democracy. Democracies are tested by how they treat the fringes of society.

Locking up three and a half million Palestinians in the occupied territories and denying them basic human rights has already undermined Israel's pretensions of democracy, but now dangerous cracks are appearing in our Jews-only democracy.
These so-called cracks include, not only the attempt to silence any and all dissent from Israeli peaceniks, but also the (sometimes fatal) shooting of Palestinian and international activists who dare protest the illegal Apartheid Wall that serves to annex even more land in the West Bank. Levy exposes the double standard of the Israeli authorities when it comes to the treatment of peace activists versus that of settlers: "Israel Defense Forces has never shot and killed settlers during a protest, even though they are much more violent than anti-fence protesters."

Reporter Amira Hass' arrest came right after her publication of a new article describing why the Israeli government is intent not to promote peace and justice - citing the socio-economic benefits of continued Israeli occupation, land theft, and control over natural resources.

According to Ha'aretz, "Hass was arrested and taken in for questioning immediately after crossing the [Gaza] border, for violating a law which forbids residence in an enemy state." This explanation can only be followed with a question: How long will it be until Avigdor Lieberman, who dwells in the illegal West Bank settlement of Nokdim, will be arrested on similar charges? Once again, the oxymoronic paradox of Israeli democracy is clear. Colonial expansion is encouraged; reporting the truth is criminal.

Fittingly, Hass' arrest occurred a mere two days after Freedom House, a US-based NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights, downgraded Israel's press status from "free" to "partly free." The organization, co-founded in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt, justified its reclassification by citing the Israeli government's actions during the recent Gaza attacks, "including the barring of foreign and local journalists from Gaza, alleged attempt to influence media coverage within Israel and alleged heightened self-censorship by local media outlets."

Government Press Office head Daniel Seamans, who described Freedom House as a "useless and ridiculous" organization, said that the Israeli government's decision to prohibit journalists from covering Operation Cast Lead in person was a strategic move. Had the foreign press been allowed into Gaza, he said, "their reports would have had a harsh effect on world public opinion and endangered our ability to meet our goals." Limiting press freedoms in order to strategically control the message and public opinion? That's called propaganda.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs' own website has this to say:
Israel is still a young, developing democracy. Although some members of the public question the motives of the press in criticizing the state during wartime, in general, Israeli society comprehends that a free, robust press is crucial to the existence of a strong democracy and a value worth fighting for. Instilling recognition of the dangers of trying to place restrictions on the press, and an understanding by the public of the role played by the Israeli media even under trying conditions, are part of Israel's challenge in meeting its vision to become a true democratic nation.
Clearly, this is a challenge Israel has yet to overcome and, as such, is not even considered a truly democratic nation by its own government.

George Orwell famously wrote, "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." When journalists and human rights activists face imprisonment - or worse - for doing their jobs, but still do it anyway, we know, not only that Orwell was right, but how vital and necessary it is for the truth to be told in order to fight the forces of repression and silence. Yes, the risks of retribution or fear of intimidation and marginalization for opposing injustice may be great - journalists, historians, and critics in Israel have been arrested, deported, and even violently attacked - but truth will prevail and, in the meantime, in the immortal words of Ishtar's Rogers and Clarke, "being human, we can live with the pain."