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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 of covert operations, or, more colloquially, "chickens coming home to roost."

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 theocracy.

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 - are clear.

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 in death.

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 20,000 wounded.

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 consensus."

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 law.

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.

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June 28, 2007
Issue 235

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