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Part 5. Ten Myths on Israel: Not how a “Democratic State” behave (by Ian Pappe)

No, Israel Is Not a Democracy

The Occupation Is Not Democratic

By lan Pappe

From Ten Myths About Israel, out now from Verso Books.

June 12, 2018 “Information Clearing House” –  Israel is not the only democracy in the Middle East. In fact, it’s not a democracy at all.

In the eyes of many Israelis and their supporters worldwide — even those who might criticize some of its policies — Israel is, at the end of the day, a benign democratic state, seeking peace with its neighbors, and guaranteeing equality to all its citizens.

Those who do criticize Israel assume that, if anything went wrong in this democracy, then it was due to the 1967 war.

The Occupation Is Not Democratic

Given Israel attitude towards two Palestinian groups — the refugees and the community in Israel — the Jewish state cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be assumed to be a democracy.

But the most obvious challenge to that assumption is the ruthless Israeli attitude towards a third Palestinian group: those who have lived under its direct and indirect rule since 1967, in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

From the legal infrastructure put in place at the outset of the war, through the unquestioned absolute power of the military inside the West Bank and outside the Gaza Strip, to the humiliation of millions of Palestinians as a daily routine, the “only democracy” in the Middle East behaves as a dictatorship of the worst kind.

The main Israeli response, diplomatic and academic, to the latter accusation is that all these measures are temporary — they will change if the Palestinians, wherever they are, behave “better.”

But if one researches, not to mention lives in, the occupied territories, one will understand how ridiculous these arguments are.

Israeli policy makers, as we have seen, are determined to keep the occupation alive for as long as the Jewish state remains intact.

It is part of what the Israeli political system regards as the status quo, which is always better than any change. Israel will control most of Palestine and, since it will always include a substantial Palestinian population, this can only be done by nondemocratic means.

In addition, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Israeli state claims that the occupation is an enlightened one.

The myth here is that Israel came with good intentions to conduct a benevolent occupation but was forced to take a tougher attitude because of the Palestinian violence.

In 1967, the government treated the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a natural part of “Eretz Israel,” the land of Israel, and this attitude has continued ever since.

When you look at the debate between the right- and left-wing parties in Israel on this issue, their disagreements have been about how to achieve this goal, not about its validity.

Among the wider public, however, there was a genuine debate between what one might call the “redeemers” and the “custodians.

The “redeemers” believed Israel had recovered the ancient heart of its homeland and could not survive in the future without it. In contrast, the “custodians” argued that the territories should be exchanged for peace with Jordan, in the case of the West Bank, and Egypt in the case of the Gaza Strip.

However, this public debate had little impact on the way the principal policy makers were figuring out how to rule the occupied territories.

The worst part of this supposed “enlightened occupation” has been the government’s methods for managing the territories. At first the area was divided into “Arab” and potential “Jewish” spaces. Those areas densely populated with Palestinians became autonomous, run by local collaborators under a military rule. This regime was only replaced with a civil administration in 1981.

The other areas, the “Jewish” spaces, were colonized with Jewish settlements and military bases. This policy was in the end to leave the population both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in disconnected enclaves with neither green spaces nor any possibility for urban expansion.

Things only got worse when, very soon after the occupation, Gush Emunim started settling in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, claiming to be following a biblical map of colonization rather than the governmental one. As they penetrated the densely populated Palestinian areas, the space left for the locals was shrunk even further.

What every colonization project primarily needs is land — in the occupied territories this was achieved only through the massive expropriation of land, deporting people from where they had lived for generations, and confining them in enclaves with difficult habitats.

When you fly over the West Bank, you can see clearly the cartographic results of this policy: belts of settlements that divide the land and carve the Palestinian communities into small, isolated, and disconnected communities.

The Judaization belts separate villages from villages, villages from towns, and sometime bisect a single village.

This is what scholars call a geography of disaster, not least since these policies turned out to be an ecological disaster as well: drying up water sources and ruining some of the most beautiful parts of the Palestinian landscape.

Moreover, the settlements became hotbeds in which Jewish extremism grew uncontrollably — the principal victims of which were the Palestinians.

Thus, the settlement at Efrat has ruined the world heritage site of the Wallajah Valley near Bethlehem, and the village of Jafneh near Ramallah, which was famous for its freshwater canals, lost its identity as a tourist attraction.

These are just two small examples out of hundreds of similar cases.


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