This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli
War, in which Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem
from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and
the Golan Heights from Syria. Since that time, Palestinians living
in the West Bank and Gaza have been living under Israeli military
occupation. Observers of the continued conflict in the occupied
territories of the West Bank and Gaza cannot help but shake their
heads, as a civil war between Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah
has broken out as a part of the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Roots of Hamas - Chickens Coming Home to Roost
In 2006, as a result of Palestinian frustration over the ineffectiveness
of the ruling Fatah government, Hamas won a victory in the Palestinian
parliamentary elections. Known for its suicide bombings and terrorist
group status on the one hand, and for its social programs, including
schools, clinics and mosques on the other hand, Hamas has capitalized
on Palestinian hopelessness and poverty amid an oppressive Occupation.
The Palestinian unity government failed, with Hamas taking control
of the Gaza, and Fatah under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
establishing an emergency government in the West Bank. The two
groups are at each other's throats, and now apparently refuse
to speak to each other, as a quagmire and humanitarian crisis
grows in Gaza, whose borders have been sealed by Israel.
Hamas is the democratic choice of the Palestinian people. From
the standpoint of Israel and the West, democracy sometimes poses
an inconvenience. The Palestinians voted for the wrong side,
the extremist side, and now the moderate Abbas must be supported.
But in keeping with the spirit of the Color of Law column, things
are not quite so simple, as there is a story behind this story.
The seeds of division among the Palestinians were planted years
ago with the help of the Israeli government in the founding of
Hamas. Numerous sources - including journalists Amy Goodman of Democracy
Now!, Robert Fisk, John Pilger, The Guardian, the
New York Press, UPI and others – have reported that the
Israeli government encouraged the formation of Hamas. Israel
provided financial support, and bolstered the group as a counterforce
against Yasser Arafat, in order to dilute and divide his secular
Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah, the largest component
of the P.L.O. The religious fundamentalist Hamas organization
clashed with the P.L.O., and opposed Palestinian nationalism.
The Hamas victory is what is referred to
in the intelligence community as blowback, the unintended consequences
operations, or, more colloquially, "chickens coming home
This is nothing new. The U.S. has helped to sow the seeds of
repression and terrorism throughout the world. In 1953, the U.S.
and the U.K. sponsored a coup to remove Iran's Prime Minister
Mohammed Mossadegh from power, and to consolidate the power of
their pawn, the Shah. The overthrow ensured continued Western
control of that nation's oil. Meanwhile, the Shah's ruthless,
pro-Western dictatorship led to the backlash that was the Iranian
revolution, replacing a repressive monarchy - with all of its
excess and corruption - with a traditionalist, regressive, authoritarian
The CIA gave funding, military training,
expertise and contacts to Osama bin Laden when his "freedom fighters" were
battling the Soviet-backed forces in Afghanistan. The tragically
deadly consequences of that misguided U.S. foreign policy decision
- 9/11 and the ever-elusive war on terror that has resulted -
America supported death squads in El Salvador
and sponsored the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s, providing
them with assassination
manuals in Spanish. In Haiti, Emmanuel "Toto" Constant
was once on the CIA payroll, and although his Front for the Advancement
and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) was deemed a terrorist organization,
the government allowed him to live and work in Queens, New York.
And Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega were on Uncle Sam's payroll
until they became a little too uppity and hard to control.
Consequences of a Harsh Israeli Policy
To be sure, bad policies have long term repercussions. The Mideast
is a hardhearted place where cold-blooded policy is promulgated,
driven by anger, fear, hatred and mistrust of the other side,
hopelessness, a lack of will, and a lack of leadership. Continued
division and bloodshed only serve to empower and embolden those
extreme elements on all sides who seek solutions to conflict
through the barrel of the gun. Unfortunately, short tempers often
control the debate, and no good can come from that.
But in the case of Arab-Israeli conflict, a military occupation
containing elements of a civil war and a struggle for decolonization,
the callousness does not occur in a vacuum. It was achieved,
in part, by harsh policies which have stunted the development
of Palestinian civil society and fragmented the Palestinian economy.
A lack of educational and employment opportunities - not to mention
an abundance of idle time - will drive young men to violence,
whether they be Philistines or Philadelphians. Living under military
occupation, with a separate and unequal apartheid scheme of travel
restrictions, checkpoints, separation walls that violate international
law and Israeli law (the Israeli Supreme Court has spoken on
the issue in 2004 and 2005), forced relocation and identity cards
cannot be nurturing for the soul or the community. Extreme hopelessness
and despair, watching the bulldozing of your house, or watching
your child being shot to death (or used as a human shield) by
a soldier, or not being able to feed your family will almost
certainly lead to extremism.
Meanwhile, blowing up oneself on a bus for the purpose of murdering
innocent bystanders is the sign of a powerless individual. And
the idolization of suicide bombers as celebrities or sports heroes
is the ultimate sign of a dysfunctional society where all hope
is lost, and people do not feel their life is of any value except
The human cost of the current Intifada (or uprising) is sobering.
According to B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, since
the second Intifada began in 2000, 704 Israeli citizens and 319
Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinians. 41 Palestinians
were killed by Israeli civilians. 4,119 Palestinians were killed
by Israeli security forces, half of them children, and more than
Meanwhile, the inequality of life between
Israelis and Palestinians is a reality. For example, Jerusalem's
Jewish population, about
70% of the city's 700,000 residents, enjoy the use of 1,000 public
parks, 36 public swimming pools and 26 libraries. However, the
estimated 260,000 Arabs living in the city's eastern section
have 45 parks, no public swimming pools and only two libraries. "Since
the annexation of Jerusalem, the municipality has built almost
no new schools, public buildings or medical clinics for Palestinians," according
to a report by B'Tselem. "The lion's share of investment
has been dedicated to the city's Jewish areas."
According to the UN, over 1 million Palestinians,
or one quarter of the inhabitants of the occupied territories,
are mired in
crushing poverty, as living standards plummet following the economic
boycott of the Palestinian Authority this past year, which just
ended in June. In 2006, an average of 1,069,200 Palestinians
lived in deep poverty, up from 650,800 the preceding year. And
Israeli security restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza have
led to "economic suffocation."
Further, Gaza and the West Bank, 30 miles apart and totally
cut off from each other, are very different places. As the Philadelphia
Inquirer recently reported, it is easier to travel from
Gaza to London than it is to travel to the West Bank, which is
only an hour away. Conferences sponsored by the Palestinian Authority
must be held in foreign countries in order to have participation
from both territories. Residents of one community cannot attend
college in the other community, the communities cannot conduct
business together, and it is very difficult for a resident of
Gaza to marry a resident of the West Bank. Moreover, Gaza's 1.5
million residents are poorer and less educated than the West
Bank's 2.5 million residents.
Some experts on the conflict contend that
Israel has no intentions of allowing a Palestinian state with
a right to self-determination.
The Israeli historian Dr. Ilan Pappé offers harsh words,
as he suggests that the Israeli government has been employing
genocidal policies in Gaza and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank.
Gazans have been reacting to the policy of "creating the
prison and throwing the key to the sea," Pappé contends. "Ethnic
cleansing is ineffective here. The earlier strategy in the Strip
was ghettoizing the Palestinians there, but this is not working.
The Jews know it best from their history. In the past, the next
stage against such communities was even more barbaric. It is
difficult to tell what does the future hold for the Gaza community:
ghettoized, quarantined, unwanted and demonized."
"Since the mid-1970s, there's been an international consensus
for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict….It's called
a two-state settlement, and a two-state settlement is pretty
straightforward, uncomplicated. Israel has to fully withdraw
from the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem, in accordance with
the fundamental principle of international law…that it's
inadmissible to acquire territory by war….They have to
be returned." said Norman Finkelstein, professor of political
science at DePaul University in Chicago, during a February 14,
2006 interview by Amy Goodman on the Democracy Now! Program. "On
the Palestinian side and also the side of the neighboring Arab
states, they have to recognize Israel's right to live in peace
and security with its neighbors. That was the quid pro quo: recognition
of Israel, Palestinian right to self-determination in the West
Bank and Gaza with its capital in Jerusalem. That's the international
Finkelstein added, "It's not complicated.
It's also not controversial. You see it voted on every year
in the United Nations.
The votes typically something like 160 nations on one side, the
United States, Israel and Naru, Palau, Tuvalu, Micronesia and
the Marshall Islands on the other side. That's it. Now, the Israeli
government was fully aware that this was the international consensus,
but they were opposed to a full withdrawal from the West Bank
and Gaza and Jerusalem, of course, and they were opposed to creating
a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories."
Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and one of the world's most prominent
critics of Israeli foreign policy, takes it a step further. He
argues that Israel's policy of disengagement from the Gaza Strip
includes plans for a greater Israeli presence in the West Bank,
with millions of dollars of investments in new settlements.
In a November 29, 2005 debate with Harvard
law professor Alan Dershowitz, Chomsky made the point that "Gazans are virtually
sealed within the Strip, while West Bankers, their lands dismembered
by relentless Israeli settlement, will continue to be penned
into fragmented geographic spaces, isolated behind and between
walls and barriers." Israel's leading specialist on the
West Bank, Meron Benvenisti, writes, "the separation walls
snaking through the West Bank will create three Bantustans (his
words): north, central and south, all virtually separated from
East Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian commercial, cultural
and political life." And he adds that this, what he calls, "the
soft transfer from Jerusalem," that is an unavoidable result
of the separation wall, might achieve its goal. Quoting still, "the
goal of disintegration of the Palestinian community, after many
earlier attempts, has failed. The human disaster being planned…will
turn hundreds of thousands of people into a sullen community,
hostile, and nurturing a desire for revenge."
Chomsky added: "A European Union report concludes that
U.S.-backed Israeli programs will virtually end the prospects
for a viable Palestinian state by the cantonization and by breaking
the organic links between East Jerusalem and the West Bank… Israel
is able to do these things, to dismantle and destroy the West
Bank, to disintegrate the community, because the United States
gives it massive aid, unparalleled in international affairs,
not only militarily and economically, but also diplomatically…for
the last 30 years, unilaterally blocking the two-state settlement,
which Israel also totally rejected, alone, the two of them, and
as long as you, the American taxpayer, goes on supporting this,
yes, it will continue, and it'll lead to exactly what the Bantustan-style
solution that Benvenisti and others describe, right on the ground…"
Solutions from the Israeli Peace Movement
The solution to the problem ultimately will come not from more
rifles, missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, suicide bombings or
assassinations, but rather from Israel's burgeoning peace movement.
The policymakers must listen to these people. Many Americans
never hear about the thousands of Israelis who march in the streets
of Tel Aviv demanding and end to the Occupation, and self determination
for the Palestinians, with an independent state. This speaks
not only to the deficient and slanted reporting of the U.S. media,
but to the monopoly that hawks have on the Mideast debate in
America. Organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), and the American Jewish Committee grab the
headlines and dominate the conversation. Therefore, it is difficult
for progressive Jewish voices to be heard. Discussion of the
Occupation, with all of its complexities, is bypassed in favor
of talk about Israel's war against terrorism, and - parroting
the U.S. stance toward prisoners in Guantanamo, Iraq, and secret
detention camps throughout the world - justification for the
use of torture against Palestinians in violation of international
Indeed, there are various groups within Israel fighting for
peace. Collectively, they are called the Israeli Peace Camp.
For example, Peace Now, which describes itself as Israel's largest
and oldest peace movement, has a project called Settlement Watch,
which monitors and protests the building of settlements in the
Palestinian territories, and brings attention to this expansion
as an obstacle to peace.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is a
non-violent, direct-action group that was formed to resist the
Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories.
In light of the brutality of the Occupation, the group has expanded
to include issues such as land expropriation and settlement expansion.
Combatants for Peace was formed by former
Israeli soldiers who refused to take up arms and participate
in attack missions on
Palestinians, and former Palestinian fighters, in an effort to
create dialogue and end tensions in the region. "We have
so-called democracy for Jewish people or for Palestinians who
are living within the 1967 border. But if you live in the Occupied
Territories, it's completely apartheid." says Yonathan Shapira,
cofounder of Combatants for Peace, and a former Captain in the
Israeli Air Force Reserves. "It's us Jewish people and Israelis
and former fighters, former combatants that took part in these
wars, to lead these demonstrations who call for international
pressure, who call for sanctions against the Israeli government
who is doing these cruel things and brutal things in Lebanon.
It will harm us Israelis, it will harm us Jewish people, if you
will not wake up now, because it will not continue forever, and
someone has to put an end to this."
Refusal to serve in the military is a significant
act in Israel, where there is compulsory military service.
Yesh Gvul ("There
is a limit!"), formed after the 1982 Israeli invasion of
Lebanon, is a controversial group that supports soldiers who
refuse to serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Meanwhile,
Courage to Refuse consists of reservists who refuse to serve
in the territories and prolong the Occupation, on the grounds
that the Occupation is a threat to Israel's security.
Ta'ayush (Arabic for "life in common") is a grassroots
group of young Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel who are working
to break down the walls of segregation, racism and discrimination
by forming an Arab-Israeli partnership. Bat Shalom ("Daughters
of Peace") is a grassroots feminist organization consisting
of Jewish and Palestinian Israeli women who believe in a just
resolution to the conflict, respect for human rights, and an
equal voice for Jewish and Arab women is Israeli society. Often
described as "militant" and "radical," Gush-Shalom
("Peace Bloc") sees itself as unwavering in its positions,
which include an end to the Occupation, a right of return of
Palestinian refugees, a sovereign Palestinian state, Jerusalem
as the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state, and a
union between Israel and the Arab nations.
Organizations in the United States are a part of the peace movement
as well. For example, Americans for Peace Now was founded in
1981 to support Peace Now in Israel. Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, is a pro-Israel, pro-peace
organization which lobbies Congress and educates and mobilizes
Jewish-Americans in support of a two-state solution. Jewish Voices
for Peace is a group of American Jews seeking an end to the Occupation,
changes to U.S. foreign policy based on human rights, peace,
democracy and respect, an end to violence against civilians,
and an equitable resolution, consistent with international law,
to the Palestinian refugee problem. And employing the principles
of nonviolence, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
(SCLC), Dr. King's organization, has established a conflict resolution
center in Dimona, Israel , in order to help diffuse tensions.
It only makes sense that such groups would strive to seek linkages
across borders, as all of our struggles as human beings are the
same, and there is much information to share. In the Mideast
and elsewhere, people of goodwill must continue to network, compare
notes, and strategize on nonviolent solutions in parts of the
world that have been abandoned by sanity. We must demand policies
that stem from good intentions, laws which acknowledge and uphold
the human rights of all and preserve their dignity, rather than
regard whole communities as enemy combatants and criminals, or
relegate some groups to second- or third-class citizenship, if
not outright servitude.
BC Columnist David A. Love is an attorney
based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive
Media Project and McClatchy-Tribune
News Service. He contributed to the book, States of
Confinement: Policing, Detention and Prisons (St. Martin's
Press, 2000). Love is a former spokesperson for the Amnesty
International UK National Speakers Tour, and organized the
first national police brutality conference as a staff member
with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. He
served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. Click
here to contact Mr. Love.