Monday, February 3, 2014

Inside Israel: Closer to the Brink

We have heard much in the past year about Secretary of State John Kerry’s push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bring about a two-state solution. But aside from the fact that no progress whatever has been made, the situation within Israel itself suggests that even were Kerry able to bring off a miracle, the growing power of the radical right inside Israel would never allow it (Israeli officials have recently severely criticized Kerry for warning Israel about increasing pressure from the BDS, or boycott movement). For while most of the world has been focused on the violations inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian territories under occupation, i.e., in the West Bank and Gaza, the plight of Palestinians inside Israel—Israeli citizens all—has been largely ignored. Max Blumenthal’s recent book, Goliath: Life and Loathing Inside Greater Israel, goes a long way towards correcting that omission. What Blumenthal demonstrates, with scores of recorded interviews with Israeli politicians and activists, is that the current Israeli Knesset is controlled by right-wing racists and proto-fascists whose announced aim is to reduce even further the “rights” of Palestinians in Israel, forcing them into ever narrower and more hostile places to live and work, and finally to force them out of Israel altogether. While this has been the aim of Zionism from its founding—as Blumenthal demonstrates with his accounts of early massacres and forced evictions of Palestinians from land Israel wanted for itself: “95 percent of new Jewish communities were established on ‘absentee’ [i.e. confiscated] Palestinian land”—it has gained virulent strength in recent years due to the immigration into Israel of Russian Jews and the concomitant rise of Russian Jewish leaders like Avigdor Lieberman. These are the immigrants who are induced to live in the illegal settlements that have been condemned by the international community and the UN, and which form such a bone of contention in all “peace” talks, and who form the shock troops of the Israeli demonstrations against Arabs that are becoming more and more common in Israeli cities like Tel Aviv and Jaffa. It is the latter that are so shockingly portrayed in Blumenthal’s book.
Here is what Blumenthal writes about Lieberman and his fellow immigrants:
As the home of the world’s largest population of racist skinheads, Russia exported its neo-Nazi plague to the Jewish state. Starting in 2007, mobs of Russian teens who received automatic citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return began spray-painting swastikas on synagogue walls and attacking Holocaust survivors, reportedly screaming “Heil Hitler!” during several attacks. (24)

This is almost too shocking to believe, but Blumenthal’s statement is confirmed by his interview with Zalman Gilichenski, identified as “a Russian immigrant teacher who ran a hotline for victims of neo-Nazi attacks in Israel.” According to Gilichenski, “They distribute cassettes and written material. They began with graffiti and then graduated to beatings” (24). In the city of Jaffa—itself largely cleared in 1948 of Palestinians, many of them orange farmers whose farms were expropriated to become the source of Israel’s famous “Jaffa oranges”—these shock troops of the Israeli right wing began to attack the remaining Palestinians, confined, since 1951, to the “ghetto of Ajami”. Blumenthal calls them part of the right-wing’s “building in the heart” campaign,
which aimed to create a bloc of settlements in the center of mixed Arab-Jewish cities that would be impossible to dislodge, and to use them as citadels for the incitement of ethnic conflict…In the event of a two-state “solution” requiring the evacuation of ideological settlements in the West Bank, many of the most hardline settlers planned to relocate to mixed cities like Jaffa and Acre..(49).

In one Jaffa incident in 2010, Blumenthal tells us, these thugs entered the yard of Zeinab Rechayel, a local Palestinian woman, chanting “This is our land!” and “Yafo is just for Jews.” Not long after, another group attacked the Al Nozha Mosque with rocks, shouting “Death to Arabs!” Police standing by did nothing. Similar violence against Israeli Arabs followed the Mavi Marmara massacre, wherein Israeli commandos had boarded a ship from Turkey bringing relief supplies to the Gaza strip, killing nine unarmed peace activists. When Israeli peace activists demonstrated to protest the killings, the government-linked student group Im Tirtzu organized a counter-demonstration, with right-wing students screaming that peace demonstrators were terrorist lovers, Nazis, or smolinim (leftists.) At the same demonstration, another group of Im Tirtzu supporters attempted to drag famed Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery from his taxi. Moreover, the chant “Death to the Arabs!”, according to Ben Gurion professor of behavioral sciences and leading expert on racism in Israel, Amir Ben-Porat, “has become a common chant in almost every football stadium in Israel” and throughout the culture (247).
All this plays into the hands of, and is an expression of the right-wing politics that has taken over Israel and the Knesset under Benjamin Netanyahu. Laws, such as the Nakba Law, subject anyone (i.e. a Palestinian) participating in commemorating what Palestinians refer to as the Naqba or catastrophe (the 1948 founding of Israel and the resultant forcing of Palestinians out of their villages, lands, and homes) to criminal fines and imprisonment for up to three years. The law was meant to be part of Avigdor Lieberman’s larger program, “No loyalty, no citizenship.” In other words, if Arabs want to commemorate their catastrophe instead of what Israelis call Independence Day, according to Lieberman, then they are disloyal and should not have Israeli citizenship. According to his plan for ending the conflict,
Israel would unilaterally establish permanent borders along demographic lines, bringing the major settlement blocs into “Israel proper” while leaving remote settlements out…In turn, at least twenty-five thousand Arabs would be stripped of their citizenship and transferred into the hands of the Palestinian Authority (25).

Everything is being done to convince and coerce Israeli Palestinians into believing that this would be best for them. We have all heard of the bulldozing of Palestinian homes in the West Bank—indeed, since 1967, Israeli bulldozers have destroyed well over 26,000 Palestinian homes (and killed at least one American, activist Rachel Corrie). But now, with a state campaign of “Judaization,” such demolitions are taking place within Israel proper, for example, in the Lod ghetto 15 minutes to the east of Tel Aviv. There, on December 13, 2010, a 17-year-old named Hamza Abu Eid was told by his principal that bulldozers were destroying his home. He rushed home but was only in time to see that Israeli bulldozers had already demolished all seven homes belonging to his extended family, with 74 people, including 54 children, left homeless. The family—Israeli citizens all—had been trying for years to get permits to improve their land, but the state rejected all of them. It now plans to build a road through the one-time Lod ghetto, and add a yeshiva for good measure. And to deal with other communities where Israeli Arabs might want to live, the Knesset recently passed the “Acceptance to Communities Act.” This legally authorizes Israeli towns to reject Palestinian Israelis as residents for alleged “social unsuitability.” Does no one there remember? Well, there’s memory and there’s memory, or so one Rabbi Aviner would have us believe: according to the good rabbi, Israel is called “to be holy, not moral, and the general principles of morality, customary for all mankind, do not bind the people of Israel, because it has been chosen to be above them” (230). Very convenient.
There is much more in this shocking book, but it might best be summarized in the words of Lia Tarachansky, a Russian Israeli born in the (illegal) settlement of Ariel, and then educated in Canada. Blumenthal’s interview with this peace activist and reporter elicited this:
"To explain the fascism in Israel, it’s not that easy, because honestly I don’t let myself think about it that much. It’s so depressing and so terrifying that I usually repress my thoughts about it. But if you really want me to define it, then I’d tell you that it’s not just the anti-democratic laws, it’s not the consensus for occupation, it’s not the massive right-wing coalition government, it’s not watching the people who ask questions and think critically being interrogated by the Shabak [Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police]. What it really is, is a feeling that you have sitting on a bus being afraid to speak Arabic with your Palestinian friends. It’s a feeling when you are sitting there having dinner—what you feel when you’re alive here. It’s the essence of what this society is. And the closer we get to the brink—and everyone is feeling that we’re getting to the breaking point—the worse it gets." (120). 

In sum, we have a state claiming to be a democracy while it methodically bulldozes its way to racial/religious purity. Now haven’t we heard of that somewhere before?

Lawrence DiStasi