Al-Shabaka Policy Brief
Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza calls for redoubled efforts to shake off its carefully constructed system of control of Palestinian lives throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and secure Palestinian rights. A necessary first step must be to address the donor-supported creation of Palestinian security forces that primarily serve Israel’s colonial ambitions. This is increasingly urgent with the PA set to move back into Gaza in the wake of the unity deal.
Al-Shabaka Policy Member Sabrien Amrov and Program Director Alaa Tartir tackle these issues by examining the state of the security sector today, its origins and purposes, and the fast-growing authoritarianism that is turning “Palestine” into a security state. While touching on the Gaza security sector, they focus primarily on its development in the West Bank. They urge that the foundations of security sector reform be challenged as a key step towards setting the Palestinian quest for freedom, justice, equality, and self-determination back on track.
A Burgeoning Sector
Over the past decade the security sector has grown faster than any other part of the Palestinian Authority (PA). More public servants are now employed in the security sector than in any other sector – 44% of a total of 145,000 civil servants. A growing number of “security science” schools and university programs have been created, including the Palestinian Center for Security Sector Studies in Jericho, considered the most prestigious in the West Bank, and thousands of Palestinians students travel abroad to receive “world class” security training.
Security eats up a sizeable proportion of the PA budget, accounting for almost $1 billion (26%) of the 2013 budget, compared to only 16% for education, 9% for health, and a staggeringly low 1% for agriculture, traditionally one of the main sources of livelihood for Palestinians. The security sector is also the recipient of considerable international aid: the United States, the European Union, and Canada pumped millions of dollars into what is euphemistically termed Security Sector Reform (SSR) in 2013 alone. In fact, there is now one security person for every 52 Palestinian residents compared to one educator for every 75 residents. Daily newspapers frequently carry announcements of bids for more PA prisons – there are already 52 new prisons and eight new security compounds – as well as riot control gear.
An important indicator of the growing importance of the security sector has been the appointment of security personnel to leading positions or in municipalities, governorates, and politically sensitive positions. For example, Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian Intelligence, was on the Palestinian negotiating team in the most recent negotiations with Israel. Although security force heads like Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan have been powerful in the past (and may be again in future), what is different now is that this is being presented as part of a modern state-building package.
Needless to say, far from providing for Palestinian security, the rapidly mushrooming sector has, as Israel intended from the start, served as an instrument of control and pacification of the Palestinian population in the area directly under the PA’s authority (Area A, according to the Oslo Accords) as well as the area controlled jointly with Israel (Area B). In these areas, Palestinian security forces have curbed demonstrations, arrested activists, violently disarmed the military wings of political parties, and tortured militants as well as political activists. At the same time, security collaboration with Israel has reached unprecedented levels, as will be discussed further below. Meanwhile, Israel has a free hand in Area C, some 60% of the West Bank, which is under its military control.
The Evolution of the Security Sector
Today’s PA security sector has its origins in the Oslo Declaration of Principles in 1993, in which Article VIII envisages a “strong police force” for the Palestinians while Israel maintains responsibility for “external threats” as well as the “overall security of Israelis.” This was further spelled out in Annex I of the Interim Agreement (Oslo II) in 1995 with a protocol on joint Israeli-Palestinian security operations, as were Israeli specifications of the size of the force and the number and type of weapons with the procedures for registering them. In other words, the PA playing the role of sub-contractor to Israel was foreseen in the Oslo Accords.
Ironically, the “strong police force” led in part to the violent intensification of the 2nd Intifada and to Israel cracking down on the Palestinian police as well as on other government institutions. It was in 2002, at the height of the 2nd Intifada and Israel’s invasion of Palestinian cities, that both former US President George W. Bush and the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon highlighted the security elements of the Road Map for Peace later launched in 2003 by the Quartet. As Bush declared in 2002, “The United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure. This will require an externally supervised effort to rebuild and reform the Palestinian security services.” Thus, self-determination for the Palestinians went from being a right to a privilege that the PA had to demonstrate it deserved.
The Road Map further consolidated the PA’s shift of its statehood strategy from a struggle for self-determination to acquiring a security sector that would in theory be governed by the “principles of democratic governance and rule of law” but in fact serves Israel. Indeed, Phase I of the Road Map demanded that the PA undertake “visible efforts” to arrest individuals and groups “conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.” The conditions on the Palestinian security sector included: Combat terrorism; apprehend suspects; outlaw incitement; collect all illegal weapons; provide Israel with a list of Palestinian police recruits; and report progress to the United States. Thus the evolution of the Palestinian security sector has been “an externally-controlled process” that is clearly “driven by the national security interests of Israel and the United States.”1
At the same time, it is important to note that the PA under Abbas, first as prime minister and then as president since 2005, had its own reasons to adopt this framework. Abbas wished to establish a monopoly over the use of force and to cement his leadership after he took over the reins from the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as well as to protect PA elites, as our colleague Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Tariq Dana noted in a recent piece. Furthermore, the PA had a vested interest in cracking down on Islamist as well as other opposition parties in the West Bank, particularly in the wake of the Hamas victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and the Fatah-Hamas schism since 2007. The development industry’s efforts to reinvent the Palestinian security forces gained momentum after Salam Fayyad became prime minister in 2007, all in the name of a state-building enterprise.
Despite clear and growing PA violations of the rule of law, international donors and the PA itself have continued to sell SSR as having the purpose of providing efficient and impartial justice and safeguarding human rights.2 Rule of law in the context of prolonged military occupation, however, is a non-starter, to put it politely. As a Western diplomat involved in security training admitted in an International Crisis Group report on the subject, “The main criterion of success is Israeli satisfaction. If the Israelis tell us that this is working well, we consider it a success.”
A discussion of the security sector in the Gaza Strip is beyond the scope of this brief, but a few words are in order about the similarities between the Fatah-led PA in Ramallah and the Hamas-led authorities in Gaza. Of the 23,000 civil servants employed by the Hamas-led authority, 15,500 work in the security sector. Just as the PA keeps a grip on power in the West Bank by intimidating other militant groups, Hamas does so in Gaza. For example, the Ramallah-based Independent Commission on Human Rights reported that of the 3,185 complaints it had received in 2012 of violations by security agencies as well as civil institutions, 2,373 were from the West Bank and 812 from Gaza. It remains to be seen how the unity government’s entry into Gaza will affect its security sector.
Part of Hamas’ effort to keep control of the Gaza Strip has aimed at upholding ceasefires with Israel. Thus, ironically, Hamas has in this respect been the best guarantor of Israel’s security since Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip began in earnest in 2006 – although, as veteran analyst Mouin Rabbani has pointed out, Hamas’ coordination with Israel differs from that of Fatah, being “informal and arguably tactical.” Hamas’ ability to uphold its ceasefires with Israel is something Israeli analysts have acknowledged although that has not prevented Israel from launching increasingly destructive assaults on Gaza to “mow the lawn,” the euphemism they use for their deadly approach to Gaza.
Oppression by a Police State in the Making
Today, the end result of SSR has been to reinforce PA authoritarianism to an unprecedented degree. As Nathan Brown argued in discussing the authoritarian context of SSR, “The entire program is based not simply on de-emphasizing or postponing democracy and human rights but on actively denying them for the present.” Yazid Sayigh concluded that reform in the security sector resulted in an authoritarian transformation that will threaten not only long-term security but also the ability to achieve Palestinian statehood. If ever there is a Palestinian state, it is likely to be as much of a police state as those of most other Arab regimes.
A brief review of what West Bankers are enduring under the PA today shows that for many, the PA has already become a police state through which they are dealing with multiple layers of oppression from both Israel and the PA. This is reflected in the difference in language used between the PA and the people: The PA describes PA-Israel joint work as coordination (tansiq), whereas the people use the word collaboration (ta’awoun) in its negative connotation. Some Palestinians speak of a “revolving door” policy whereby prisoners are released from one authority’s prison to enter another’s. A respondent from Jenin refugee camp said: “After the PA’s Preventative Security Forces arrested and imprisoned me for nine months because I’m a member of Hamas, three weeks after my release, Israel arrested me and accused me of the same exact issues. Literally they used the same words.”3
This explanation by a high official from the Preventive Security Forces says it all: “We get lists with names. [The Israelis] need someone, and we are tasked to get that person for them.” This has been the approach for years, as was highlighted in the 2010 assessment by the International Crisis Group, “the General Intelligence Service (Shin Bet) provides its Palestinian counterparts with lists of wanted militants, whom Palestinians subsequently arrest. IDF and Israeli intelligence officials [say] ‘coordination has never been as extensive’, with ‘coordination better in all respects.’”
While repression by the PA security forces occurs on a continuous basis and takes different forms, it is worth highlighting specific examples to show the extent to which PA forces are willing to go to repress public dissent. In mid-2012, PA security forces cracked down on a peaceful rally in Ramallah and as a result five protesters had to be taken to hospital, with over 18 of them filing complaints. The injuries meted out to one protester in police custody were so severe that Amnesty International said that they amounted to torture.
Another Amnesty International report in 2013 found that police brutality had led to the death of two Palestinians: A 44-year old woman was killed during a police raid on a village that severely injured eight others and sparked protests by hundreds of locals and clashes with security forces, and a second Palestinian was killed in a separate operation at ‘Askar refugee camp in Nablus. It described the overall brutality meted out as “shocking even by the standards of the PA security forces.”
In a glaring echo of the Israeli justice sector’s treatment of Palestinian attempts to secure their rights to life, land, and liberty, Palestinian courts have not found “any West Bank security officers responsible for torture, arbitrary detention, or prior cases of unlawful deaths in custody […] [or] prosecuted officers for beating demonstrators in Ramallah on August 28,” according to a 2013 Human Rights Watch report. This is the case even when the police officers are known. In fact, the authorities sometimes go so far as to prosecute the victims as happened after police assaulted activists in April 2014. In effect, the security forces have the leverage to use the judicial system to their advantage. So much for the rule of law under SSR programs.
Moreover, repression is not confined to demonstrators or “wanted” people, that is, those Palestinians wanted by Israel. The Euro-Med Observer for Human Rights recently reported that in 2013, Palestinian security forces had arbitrarily arrested 723 persons and interrogated 1,137 without clear charges, court decisions, or warrants. Additionally, the PA security forces arrested 56 persons because of Facebook status against them, arrested 19 journalists, and a number of cartoonists and writers. It further documented 117 cases of extreme torture.
Nowhere is the PA’s security collaboration with Israel more evident than in the West Bank’s refugee camps, deepening the isolation of the camps’ residents from the rest of society and eradicating and criminalizing residual Palestinian armed resistance. The treatment of Jenin refugee camp is the best example of this approach. Devastated by Israeli forces during the 2nd Intifada despite heroic resistance, Jenin began in 2007 to be used as a pilot governorate by the Fayyad government, international donors, and Israel for strengthening the rule of law. Under the guise of “Operation Hope and Smile,” PA forces were mandated to remove any source of “terror and unstability” from the camp.
The oppression of Jenin has continued to this day. For example, between August and October 2013, a period when the talks sponsored by US Secretary of State John Kerry talks were underway, Palestinian security forces and the Israeli military conducted over 15 raids against the Jenin refugee camp (see this report in Maan News Agency for example). In March 2014, Israeli military forces stormed the Jenin refugee camp, assassinating three people and wounding at least 14 others. It was alleged that Palestinian security services in the area were told to stay in their office before the raid. Palestinian security forces are also even used to intimidate Palestinians who dare criticize their actions or the actions of PA officials: In May 2014, for example, Palestinian security forces and the guards of the governor of Jenin brutally assaulted a Palestinian civilian after he was overheard making a sarcastic comment about the governor’s procession through the city.
The experience of Jenin demonstrates that the armed resistance that was once considered an inseparable part of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination is being dealt with by the PA as a form of dissent that needs not just policing but eradication and criminalization. Thus, a broader objective of SSR has been to criminalize resistance against the occupation and leave Israel – and its trusted minions – in sole possession of the use of arms against a defenceless population.
The success of the Israel- and US-framed and PA-implemented SSR depends on the way in which Palestinian security forces are conditioned to condition themselves. This self-conditioning is visible at different levels beginning with top government officials. Abbas holds regular meetings with the security forces and repeatedly orders them to rule with an iron fist. The spokesman of the PA security forces, Adnan al-Dimiry, went so far as to suggest that security forces have created a security miracle and that the West Bank is even more secure then Israeli cities.
Even more alarming are the occasions when young Palestinians who are training in the security forces reveal this self-conditioning. As a student from the Turkish academy admitted “It’s messy, but we need to show that we can do this. After that, when we get our state, we can run it so that we can benefit from it.” Indeed, the young Palestinian men and women who join the security forces perhaps embody the duality between being the subject of the occupation and the collaborator in its purest form. When close to half of the Palestinian public sector is given over to jobs in the security sector the decision is almost made for you.
In Ramallah, a group of police officers admitted that even though it is agreed that Israelis are strictly not allowed to come into Area A, when they do, “they call us, and our superiors tell us to put down our arms and go inside. We are not even allowed on the streets or in our police cars if they decide to come in for incursions. If they say disappear, we disappear. Who is going to stop them? No one.”
Several analysts have noted the impact of such conditioning. Law professor Asem Khalil suggests that security coordination itself is a form of conditioning: “The Palestinian struggle finds itself in a time where it’s no longer about self-determination – it’s about international reputation, about proving that you deserve to run your own state, and the coordination is a form of discipline where international donors, along with the colonizing power, are conditioning the future state of Palestine.” Political scientist Mandy Turner argues that the state-building enterprise is a form of counterinsurgency but that it takes time to blossom precisely because it needs to socialize the colonial subject into conditioning itself to the standards imposed by neoliberal principles.
A Call to Palestinians to Reform the “Reform”
The “Palestine Papers” leaked by Al Jazeera, including detailed documents from Israeli-Palestinian meetings in Annapolis in 2008, reveal that to some extent Palestinian leaders still believed that if they did everything that donors asked of them in terms of security they would get a state (see, for example, Saeb Erekat here). Yet, Palestinians are further than ever from securing a state. Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally made it clear during Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza that Israel would never relinquish security control west of the river Jordan. The myth that the millions of dollars that donors have been pouring into the Palestinian security sector would serve a state-building enterprise has been exposed for what it is.
Security Sector Reform as it has been conducted in the OPT has distorted the national struggle and its priorities with the aim of disempowering the Palestinian people’s ability to resist colonial subjugation. It has broken the direct line of sight between the Palestinians living under occupation and the Israeli occupation forces and contributed to the creation of a new elite of security practitioners who abuse their powers and project the humiliation they face by Israeli forces onto Palestinian civilians.
The question is: What impact will Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza this summer have on the security sector in the OPT? Before the start of the assault, there appeared to be little change: Israel’s Gaza operation began hard on the heels of the June 2014 Israeli crackdown on the West Bank, which saw an intensified PA crackdown on Palestinian protestors both in tandem with Israeli forces and on their own. Soon afterwards, Abbas played the nationalist card to respond to Palestinian and global outrage about the assault on Gaza, and the Palestinian team negotiating a ceasefire in Cairo included all factions. However, after the assault was over, Fatah and Hamas began trading accusations again, but their end-September agreement to allow the unity government to function in Gaza may lead to a working relationship. It is too soon to judge the impact this will have on the security sector in either Gaza or the West Bank.
Regardless, security reform under occupation is fundamentally flawed: The more the PA invests in security reform, the more it entrenches the occupation and the more it is obliged to work as Israel’s sub-contractor. There is an urgent need to move away from the securitized development paradigm that was built under Abbas and strengthened under Fayyad and instead address the real development needs of the OPT. The fact that the number of families receiving financial assistance increased from 30,000 to 100,000 between 2007 and 2010 is evidence, should it be necessary, that PA arguments that better security conditions will lead to better economic conditions are hollow.
Below are four recommendations addressed to Palestinian civil society and their supporters at home and abroad so as to begin the work that can and must be done to reform “security sector reform.”
First and most importantly, Palestinian civil society organizations should use the media, public forums, and other outreach to shift the discourse and reject the notion that resistance against the occupation should be criminalized. All people living under occupation have the right to resist, whether it is through demonstrations, through speech and writing, or to defend against armed attacks. Indeed, criminalizing resistance to the occupation is the crime itself.
Secondly, civil society needs all its creativity to find ways to institute checks and balances. The key to successful security reform is public accountability and ownership. Neither exists in the Palestinian context given the lack of any Palestinian checks and balances and independent oversight, to say nothing of the all-encompassing Israeli occupation. PA officials claim they “are abiding by international standards,” but without a functioning parliament, an independent ombudsman office, or effective recourse to the judiciary, these words are meaningless. Until such checks and balances are introduced, SSR will be part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Thirdly, investment needs to be found for alternative economic opportunities to enable people to survive as well as to continue the struggle against the multiple layers of oppression without being forced to work in the bloated and repressive security sector.
Finally, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement has given many Palestinians and their supporters renewed hope in the effectiveness of non-violent tools of resisting oppression and securing rights. Some of its organizing principles and practices can be applied in the efforts to lift the yoke of the security state.
- 1Hussein Agha and Ahmad Khalidi, A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine (London, UK: Royal Institute for International Affairs/Chatham House, 2005).
- 2For more information, see Roland Friedrich and Arnold Luethold, Entry-Points to Palestinian Security Sector Reform (Switzerland: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), 2007).
- 3Unless otherwise specified, quotations are from interviews by each of the two authors in Ramallah, Birzeit, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin, and Ankara in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
CAIRO’S Gaza Reconstruction Conference, you ask incredulously? And well you might – after all, Egypt is currently preventing the entry of materials to complete Qatari-funded projects in Gaza addressing the destruction of previous Israeli offensives. Building of roads, housing estates and hospitals have all ground to a halt despite being underway well before the latest Israeli war crimes in Gaza – crimes which have only further increased the need.
We are seriously expected to accept Egypt as an honest broker? That the current regime has a shred of compassion for the already homeless, sick and injured Gazans still reeling from the 2008-9 and 2012 offensives who it refuses to admit assistance for, let alone those battered by the latest assaults? For the thousands of maimed and injured STILL refused exit through Rafah for necessary medical treatment elsewhere?
Egypt is BLOCKING Gaza reconstruction. At this very moment. Egypt is BLOCKING injured Gazans from receiving essential medical treatment. At this very moment.
Egypt is the bull elephant in the china room of Gaza reconstruction.
But it is not alone.
The United States, funder and arms supplier extraordinaire to the Israeli serial killers, is also chipping in, as is Ban Ki-moon, famous for undermining the UN independent report into Israeli war crimes in 2008-9.
And let us not leave out the criminals themselves – the Israelis, who stand to profit nicely from this exercise in sleight of hand.
Unconfirmed information from the West Bank last week reports that Israeli companies have already been awarded the tenders for the supply of cement and other building materials, standing to reap billions of dollars in the process. It is difficult to imagine a clearer incentive to continue the cycle of ‘destroy and rebuild’ than to reward the criminal by paying them to repair the destruction they have wreaked, rather than make them pay for it.
Which raises the next point – why is the international community being asked to foot the bill for Israeli criminal damage? In criminal law, reparations are paid by the perpetrators of crimes, not by the onlookers (however morally bereft they may have been for failing to act to halt the murderous rampage).
And Israel’s culpability goes further than merely making good its wanton and criminal destruction of Gaza – it is the OCCUPYING POWER, and as such has full responsibility under international law for “restoring” the territory it has occupied.
“The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all measures in his power to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety…” says Article 43 of the Hague Regulations.
Reports that donors are threatening to withhold Gaza aid “…without fresh impetus in negotiations” exposes the dirty secret of international complicity and enabling of ongoing Israeli abuses of Palestinians.
Israel has been illegally occupying Palestinian territory for decades, built illegal settlements on stolen land, built an illegal apartheid wall, and imposed and maintained an illegal blockade on Gaza for some eight years, breaching a swathe of international laws and UN resolutions – thus exposing the manifest inadequacy of the United Nations in enforcing international law without fear or favour, if not its complete irrelevance in contemporary international affairs.
When Palestinians legitimately resist, they are killed, displaced, have their homes demolished and their country is decimated under the nose and eyes of the international community, which does nothing but launch into another round of victim-blaming ably aided and abetted by the type of response we see today in Cairo, with its emphasis on Israeli security at the expense of Palestinian security – in fact, at the expense of international law itself.
The keys to Israeli and Palestinian security – thus to the longevity of Gaza reconstruction – are in the hands of Israel and the UN: the former, by OBSERVING INTERNATIONAL LAW and withdrawing from occupied territory, leaving the illegal settlements, demolishing the apartheid wall and lifting the siege on Gaza; and the latter, by ENFORCING INTERNATIONAL LAW by holding Israel accountable for its gross abuses not only in regards to the war crimes of 2008-9, 2012, and 2014 but also the 60+ years of breaches of international law and UN Resolutions – and by insisting on the lifting of the siege of Gaza.
The solution certainly does not lie in picking up the bill, and participating in perpetuation of the siege by acting as an international version of the PA Security Services in the West Bank, thereby both acting as an Israeli proxy and lending legitimacy to an Egyptian regime whose role in denying Gazans’ rights is every bit as questionable.
Palestine has an equal right to security, and to defend itself. Which party is occupying and extending its invasion and theft of the territory of the other? THAT is the party that requires international control over its behaviour – and it is clearly not Palestine.
A Gaza reconstruction conference should be held, not in Cairo, but in GAZA – where the international community can see first-hand the destruction the USraeli military machine mercilessly meted out on innocent people and property. But perhaps that is the point – ignorance enables denial.
A Gaza reconstruction conference should be centred on holding the perpetrators accountable, making them pay for their crimes, and ensuring they cannot offend again – by keeping international and humanitarian law centre-stage, not the carnival side-show of ‘Israeli security’ or the equally-absurd victim-blaming and demonisation of Hamas.
A Gaza reconstruction conference should ensure that the criminals do not profit from their crimes, and Israeli firms should be specifically EXCLUDED from all and every tendering process and provision of goods and services in the rebuild.
And the first step in any principled and serious commitment to rebuilding Gaza must be the IMMEDIATE and UNCONDITIONAL lifting of the illegal siege.
If Israel and Egypt refuse to comply, then the Gaza seaport must be immediately opened and if necessary, military protection provided by international peacekeepers for boats entering and leaving Palestinian waters, such that Israeli and Egyptian siege-based attempts to control Palestinians’ enjoyment of their rights to trade and freedom of movement are rendered impotent.
Unless the Gaza Reconstruction Conference delivers Gaza from the siege, holds Israel accountable for its crimes against international and humanitarian law and ensures it does not profit from them, the international community will merely be enabling ongoing Israeli abuse in the best traditions of the dysfunctional incestuous family.
As most of the world has duly noted, Canada under the neo-Conservative Harper regime has been a front-runner in supporting Israel in its racial apartheid policies in Israel. Also, recently a discussion comparing South Africa’s apartheid system with that of Israel has occurred with South African testimony indicating that, while they are not the same, they are very similar, and in some circumstances, Israel’s apartheid is worse. What is not seen is Canada’s role in modeling apartheid for South Africa under the Afrikaner-dominated National Party. Canada’s role in developing these systems of apartheid has been seldom noted academically, and is given very little attention either domestically or internationally.
It is generally recognized that North America was a series of colonies from Great Britain, France, Spain, and Russia, with a few Dutch thrown into the mix. The first ‘discoverers’ of America, the Norse Vikings, died out through their lack of ability to adapt to the climatic changes that overtook them. The later colonial settlers survived in part because they did accept the graciousness of the indigenous peoples in assisting them, from which Canada and the U.S. derive their respective national holiday, Thanksgiving.
However, right from the start, these colonial-settler immigrants created myths that allowed them to overrun the native populations without too many qualms about the abuses they perpetrated. Religion, race, and government policies all had a great deal to do with this. The two main myths directed at the Indians of North America can be located elsewhere in the world where colonial-settler populations have invaded. The first myth is that North America was a vast empty land filled with riches to be exploited by the newcomers. Somewhat in contradiction to that is the myth that the Indians were primitives, needing to be civilized, a notion that included religion, land ownership, and the rule of white man’s law.
The reality of history is much more disconcerting for those concerned about human rights and the nature of our societies, as they were, and as they exist today. I will not deal with the history of the native population in the U.S., although it is interrelated with that of Canada. It is generally recognized that after the era of glorious movie westerns celebrating the settlement of the empty plains and mountains, the reality is that of a steady policy of genocide, racism, and warfare against the native people while capitalist ownership of land subjugated the landscape.
Canada’s native history
Canada’s story is a bit different, especially as perceived in comparison to that of the U.S. It is true we do not have the same degree of violent history over the native population, but it is a history that nonetheless is still violent, genocidal, and racist. Current events reflect that it is still violent, if of a different form, and still very much racist, although covered over with all sorts of ignorant platitudes. Unfortunately as well, the vestiges of apartheid still hang on within Canadian governance, never described as such, with the blame for its human rights abuses being blamed mainly on the recipients of that abuse—racism at its most civilized.
These thoughts all coalesced this summer while I was travelling across Canada. Somewhere along the line (literally—I went by train), I bought a powerful, damning critique of Canadian government policy during the era of Canada’s colonial settlement years across Canada’s vast resource rich prairie region. Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, (University of Regina Press, 2013), written by James Daschuk, is a study of the Canadian settlement in relation to the early fur trade up to the time when the railroads opened up the plains for the large settler populations from Europe, most from eastern Europe. The title is very indicative of the content, and as I read it I was also reminded of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.
It is Diamond’s middle term, germs, that plays a significant role in Canada’s history, although guns and steel had their fair share, and all were tied into political policies of the day.
By the time the fur traders arrived in the Prairie region of Canada, epidemics of European origin had already swept through many of the tribes, decimating a population that had not previously been exposed to them. While this is an attribute of all peoples not previously exposed to particular microbes, the problem in Canada was significantly increased by both a lack of interest in native health—other than for labor for harvesting the beaver pelts – and later a government official policy of ‘near starvation.’ Without their historical access to food as the buffalo herds were decimated as a foodstock for the early traders and settlers, and without reliable water resources as the beaver population was decimated for the leisure class in Europe, the natives were highly susceptible to foreign microbes as malnutrition compromised their immune systems. As the fur trade progressed in its many facets, then died out to be replaced by the railroads and settlements, the vectors for transmission of disease increased. As the vectors increased, so did the government policies of starvation and apartheid.
Our current neo-Conservative government loves to promote the achievements of Sir John A. Macdonald, considered the ‘father of confederation.’ It is perhaps not surprising then that their current attitudes towards the native population are reminiscent of their political heritage. It was Sir John A. MacDonald who said, “We cannot allow them to die for want of food…. [We] are doing all we can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.”
The Liberals were not significantly different as opposition to the government. They were “an important factor in constraining the government expenditures on the Indian population… the prime minister pre-empted criticism by promising to keep the hungry from dying, but assuring the House that his government would be “rigid, even stingy” in the distribution of food.”
This pretense of financial responsibility was of course part and parcel of the countries policy of settlement of the prairies. Along with this simple policy of starvation were several other factors (such as the lack of immunities mentioned above) that were part of Canada’s racial apartheid policy.
Today, much of Canada has no recognizable Indian territories other than the small parcels of land allocated to the various remaining band populations under the Indian Act (1876). This Act purportedly provided the Queen’s protection for the natives including the enforcement of the various treaties that ceded huge swaths of territory to the Canadian government. These reservations have a history of being revoked, resettled, cut-off, redrawn, leaving mostly small remnants of generally poorer geographical areas for native use.
The treaties themselves were and are generally treated as inconveniences for the government and were not much more than lip service for their underlying articles for rights and assistance. The Indian Act placed the native population under the care of the ‘crown’—the government—and has been used as a device to control and limit native power rather than to uphold treaty obligations: “To Canadian officials, the widespread occupation of reserves had another benefit: it greatly facilitated their control of the population.” This was managed in several ways along with the official policy of starvation.
Agricultural practices were one factor. Although encouraged to settle and take up farming, the government controlled agricultural practices, “An order in council was passed to forbid the inhabitants of reserves from “selling, bartering, exchanging or giving any person or persons whatsoever, any grain, or root crops, or any other produce grown on any Indian Reserve in the Northwest territories [as the prairie regions was then called].” The move was intended to preserve locally grown food for the communities that produced it, but it also had the effect of barring reserve farmers from participating in the commercial economy of the northwest.”
As usual the excuse for the action and the intended effect are contradictory. The ultimate idea “was not that the Indian should become self-supporting. He was only to be kept quiet till the country filled up when his ill will could be ignored.”
With the arrival of the railways, sections of land were given to immigrants in order to establish an agricultural economy. This was done through providing the railways themselves with enormous tracts of land, and relocating the natives.
“The most significant relocation was the forced removal of communities from their chosen reserves in the Cypress Hills after the decision to build the Canadian Pacific Railway along the southern prairies…. In doing so, the Canadian government accomplished the ethnic cleansing of southwestern Saskatchewan of its indigenous population.”
Starvation was a tool within this policy as “Rations were deliberately withheld until the chief capitulated.”
Another factor of control was the institution of a pass system. With a pass, the natives were given certain rights subject to the Indian Act and ultimate control by the government. It was “perhaps the most onerous regulation placed on the Indians after the rebellion,” implemented to limit the mobility of treaty Indians, keeping them on their reserves and away from European communities.”
Once the land was removed—and the land is essential to any indigenous people’s culture—the cultural attributes of the indigenous people were attacked. Foremost among these efforts were the Residential schools controlled mainly by the Catholic and Anglican religions (paid for by the government) that followed the white man into the prairies. Native languages and religious rituals were forbidden, visitations were limited, the program of minimal nourishment and lack of health care continued, the latter contributing to many unrecorded deaths among the native children. Along with these limitations and prohibitions, the religious orders created a situation ripe for sexual abuse and assault. These institutions existed until as late as 1996 when the last one was closed down.
Beyond the residential schools, band based religious practices were forbidden. Indigenous rights to access courts were forbidden. The right to vote did not arrive fully until 1960; before then if a native were to vote, their treaty rights—such as they were—were revoked, another means to control the reserve populations.
Racism was easily inculcated into the settlers across the prairies as by the time they arrived in the late Nineteenth Century, they were witness to the nadir of native health and culture. What they saw was a population decimated by disease, incapable of supporting themselves, unkempt and “uncivilized”. They did not know or care to know the conditions that had reduced the once self-sufficient and culturally whole tribes to a state of haggard dependency on an uncaring government.
The Indian Act still controls the reserve system and is still used and abused by the government to control the native population. While outright starvation is not a serious problem, modern diseases—AIDS, diabetes, alcoholism, suicide—are significantly higher in native populations than in the rest of Canada.
Education is still used as a tool to manipulate both the native people and the opinions of the non-native population. The latter is managed by the latent racism that is not far below the surface of many Canadians of all political stripes, very clearly seen in response to protests or demonstrations, especially with the “Silent no more” actions.
Economic activity is another tool used to manipulate the current native populations. Individual economic agreements with bands are attempts to both divide the populations in the bands as well as get around Treaty requirements and other Federal or Provincial regulations in many aspects of the economy from agriculture to mining and forestry. Money is still used as a manipulator, with promises and conditions being put forward that overall are attempts by the government to destroy the resurgence in native culture, to destroy its ability to use constitutional law against the government.
The Canadian apartheid system is still alive. It is not as demonstrative or obvious as that of Israel or formerly of South Africa, but it still exists as a construct within Canadian governance. As concluded by Daschuk, “While Canadians see themselves as world leaders in social welfare, health care, and economic development, most reserves in Canada are economic backwaters with little prospect of material advancement and more in common with the third world than the rest of Canada.”
Apartheid in South Africa
As I indicated above, I will not discuss the relationships, differences, and commonalities between South Africa and Canada and Israel. There are two recent works that discuss Israeli apartheid in comparison to South African apartheid that I have read: The Battle for Justice in Palestine, (Haymarket Press, 2014) and The Anatomy of Zionist Apartheid (Porcupine Press, SA, 2013). Both provide the obvious evidence for the state of apartheid in Israel, with valid comparisons to South Africa.
There is however a Canadian link. Officially Canada opposed South Africa’s apartheid system, but underneath trade and economic business carried on as usual. Canada only went against it when popular opinion became too strong to resist as a political platform. The real tie to South African apartheid is not at this level, but comes from South Africa modelling the Canadian reserve system and its instruments in order to implement apartheid in South Africa.
“Notwithstanding this self-congratulatory revisionism, Canada mostly supported apartheid in South Africa. First, by providing it with a model. South Africa patterned its policy towards Blacks after Canadian policy towards First Nations. Ambiguous Champion [University of Toronto Press, 1997] explains, ‘South African officials regularly came to Canada to examine reserves set aside for First Nations, following colleagues who had studied residential schools in earlier parts of the century.’”
More recently Thomas Mulcair, as opposition leader to the current neo-Cons, commenting after the passing of Nelson Mandela, “makes a fairly direct comparison between South Africa’s apartheid regime and Canada’s treatment of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. He’s not wrong, either — in fact, the apartheid system was based on Canada’s Indian Act. Our residential schools, Indian Reserve and many other deeply racist systems inspired South Africa’s oppressive regime. I’m glad that at least one of our federal leaders has (somewhat) acknowledged this in their remarks on Mandela’s death.”
Thus for all of Canada’s rhetoric about apartheid in South Africa and its rhetoric in support of Israeli and therefore its apartheid, there is a strong linkage demonstrating the positive role Canada has had in creating and maintaining the apartheid systems.
Apartheid in Israel is obvious to anyone reading about how the overall cultural-geopolitical landscape is managed. Accompanying apartheid, ethnic cleansing has also occurred, on a scale probably larger and more violent than occurred in Canada; genocide has not been a significant factor in Israel yet (other than used as an ongoing excuse for being the global victim of ethnic hatred), but was a considerable factor in Canada.
Certainly there are similarities and differences. Israel, like Canada, is a colonial-settler country, with the original Zionist philosophers clearly recognizing the problem of an already existing population in Palestine. Theodore Herzl recognized it clearly, advocating the ethnic cleansing of the region, “Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” (Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the Arabs of Palestine, Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry.)
Ben Gurion also warned in 1948 after the independence war and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their villages and towns, “We must do everything to ensure they (the Palestinians) never do return.” Assuring his fellow Zionists that Palestinians will never come back to their homes, “The old will die and the young will forget.
The lie of denial of an existing population, reminiscent of North America’s ‘unoccupied’ lands is frequently quoted from Golda Meir, “How can we return the occupied territories? There is nobody to return them to.” (Golda Meir, March 8, 1969.) “There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed.” (Golda Meir Israeli Prime Minister June 15, 1969.)
Apartheid is a construct that includes both cultural and geographical elements. The idea of ethnic cleansing and the denial of existence as above is one such factor. There are many others.
Strangely enough, the idea of starvation as a manipulator of populations has been one of the more recent manifestations of Israeli policy, most particularly as directed against Gaza. Dov Weisglass, advisor to Ehud Olmert stated, “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Sounds strangely familiar to Canada’s policy of the Nineteenth century.
Canada somehow calculated what it thought were minimal survival rations for its indigenous populations, and it appears that Israel carried that forward with even more mathematical precision, “While the health ministry determined that Gazans needed a daily average of 2,279 calories each to avoid malnutrition – requiring 170 lorries a day – military officials then found a host of pretexts to whittle the number down to a fraction of the original figure. The reality was that, in this period, an average of only 67 lorries – much less than half of the minimum requirement – entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 lorries before the blockade began.”
Other cultural factors
Racism, ethnic cleansing, starvation are manifestations of cultural policies that support apartheid and its purposes. The purpose in Israel, unlike Canada, is the great demographic fear of the burgeoning Arab population within Israel and cantonized Palestine.
There are many other cultural factors that come into play, similar in several respects to Canada’s apartheid system.
Education is controlled centrally, and the knowledge base allowed for Palestinian education ignores completely the ‘nakba’ and its ethnic cleansing and instances of mass murder. Islam is obviously an ongoing religious base for the Palestinians, but it is increasingly demonized as an ideology of evil, resulting in the ever present rhetoric of an existential threat. Many laws are discriminatory, with rulings on land ownership, residency, marriage, mobility, and other facets of civilian life being restricted by Israeli courts.
Most Palestinians live under military rule where civilian law simply does not exist. Movement of any kind and daily life can all be controlled at the whim of regional military personnel and/or Shin Bet.
The reality of apartheid however is the physical setting. Racism and ethnic hatred can spread throughout cultural systems and can support apartheid, but they are not apartheid itself. Israel is clearly an apartheid state from its actions on the ground. These have been well explained in many, many books and articles over the past several decades.
The physical landscape of apartheid is clearly visible in Israel. The euphemistic ‘wall’ is one of the larger barriers, supposedly to keep out ‘terrorists’ but in reality enclosing prime settlements, agricultural lands, and water sources. The settlements are designed to capture and hold prime landscapes for demographic control as well as resource control, physically grabbing land and effectively denying the validity of a two state solution with a contiguous Palestinian state. Roads are built that bypass Palestinian settlements, providing both a barrier to Palestinian movement and a continuous web of encroachment and encirclement of Palestinian villages and farmlands. The indiscriminate destruction of Palestinian housing on various trumped up civilian rules and on military authorizations to evict resistance fighters slowly clears land to be later incorporated into Israeli settlements using various laws concerning land usage and residency.
Looking at a map of areas ‘controlled’ by Palestine reveals a largely diminished and fragmented series of bantustan style areas remaining. The West Bank is ostensibly under the rule of Abbas, but its apartheid nature is still clear from the descriptions given above. Gaza is the largest indicator of Israeli apartheid, and an indicator of the viciousness of Israeli apartheid.
Starvation as a policy is directly applied—and acknowledged—as a control mechanism for Gaza. Gaza is technically not occupied but all of its land, sea, and air space is controlled by Israeli military force. It is in essence a large concentration camp, completely controlled in all its physical aspects by Israel.
The ultimate purpose of Israeli apartheid is similar to that of Canada, the Palestinians are “to be kept quiet till the country filled up when his ill will could be ignored.” That purpose cannot be realized without much violence: Canada’s indigenous population is very small in comparison with the overall population; Gaza in particular and the Palestinians in general are about on par with the Israeli population, but with a higher birth rate that, as always, gives the big demographic threat to the idea of a unitary theological state called Israel.
Partners in apartheid
Apartheid in Israel is a process used to try and eliminate as many Palestinians through emigration as possible, and perhaps the same conditions as in Canada: starvation leading to malnutrition, compromised immune systems, especially among the young, and an eventual and inevitable outbreak of some epidemic.
Fortunately for the Palestinians, the world is watching. Drastic actions, including the past three invasions of Gaza by Israel, are openly observed by the world. The result of all these actions has been an increase in support for Palestinians and a much more critical view of Israel and its national intentions. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement has strengthened and Israel is increasingly recognized globally as a threat to Middle East peace.
Canada remains in the forefront of countries supporting Israel. This devolves from Canada’s history of Christian Zionism, its support of Britain’s colonial systems, and its current neo-Conservative government with its fundamentalist evangelical mythology. On the surface the Harper neo-Conservatives argue in terms of human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and the evil of terror perpetrated by “Islamicism” (Harper’s coined term to try and create a pejorative view of Islam). Underneath lies the religious fundamentalism combined with strong support for non-democratic corporate control of governance. Canada has distinct problems with human rights, the ongoing problems with the Indian communities and reserves being the largest, its ongoing support of Israel and its apartheid policies being another.
Final word to Canada’s indigenous population
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, attending the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), an historic two-day meeting, that began on Sept. 22 at the UN General Assembly in New York, summarized Canada’s position, “For years, the Harper government has refused to consult indigenous rights-holders on crucial issues, especially when it involves international forums. This repeated failure to consult violates Canada’s duty under Canadian constitutional and international law.”
In his opening remarks, Ban declared to indigenous peoples from all regions of the world, “You will always have a home at the United Nations.” Yet in our own home in Canada, the federal government refuses to respect democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
There is a war going on and it long predates Israel’s summer Gaza onslaught. It is a war on water, and it runs deep. For the last decade, Israel has been carrying out a systemic and willful campaign to deny Palestinians access to clean water.
Though Israel’s campaign to restrict water access has yet to make the news, rights organizations are pushing the Palestinian Authority to take the issue to court, so the matter could well make headlines in the coming months. While the PA has been debating whether or not to accede to the International Criminal Court, increasing documentation of war crimes may push their hand.
Under international law, deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure is a war crime, and as of 2010, water and sanitation were enshrined as basic human rights. Israel has blatantly and systemically been denying these rights.Through growing documentation and awareness, Israel’s systemic campaign against Palestinian water can be seen for what it is: a comprehensive violation of one of the most basic human rights. It consists of a two-pronged approach: the visible mass destruction of water and sanitation infrastructure, reinforced by invisible policies of closure and occupation, siege and confiscation that block the repair of infrastructure. Together, these tactics prevent the existence of sustainable Palestinian communities, driving people from their land, their homes, and communities.
The first tool of Israel’s water war has been well documented. It includes direct and extensive damage caused deliberately during large-scale military operations. In the latest Israeli military operation in Gaza this meant Israeli aircraft targeted the sewage pump station and F16s disabled pumps that sent 25,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day to Gaza’s main sewage treatment plant. Further Israeli shelling east of Gaza City hit a main water pipeline, disconnecting areas east of the city so that 450,000 were completely cut off from municipal services, and the more than 1.5 million residents of the strip suffered massively reduced access.
The losses in water infrastructure alone from this latest series of strikes have been estimated at $30 million. This is not taking into account the massive toll on health, with 100,000 cubic meters of untreated sewage flowing through the streets of Gaza and into the sea, causing widespread health problems. This meant over-burdened hospitals, without water themselves, were dealing with digestive ailments, skin allergies, water-borne and respiratory diseases.
UN investigations from the 2008-9 attacks on Gaza already affirmed that Israel’s targeting of water infrastructure was “deliberate and systematic.” The September meeting of the Russell Tribunal, charged with investigating rights violations from this summer’s atrocities, has reached similar conclusions.
And while arguments will no doubt be made about the fog of war or the targeting of water infrastructure as accidental or as collateral damage, this line of defense is weakened when such military attacks are seen as part of a longer-term systemic program. For example, in the 2001-2 invasion of Jenin, the same policy of intentional damage to water equipment during military assault was used. Invasions caused massive damage to water and wastewater infrastructure, cutting off water services to civilians for weeks.
Even more insidious has been the slow but deliberate damage to water infrastructure that has taken place as part of the day-to-day of occupation. This damage can be seen both in the West Bank, as well as in the agricultural lands of Gaza that have, since 2005, been declared as a border ‘buffer’ zone by the Israeli military.
Official documentation has catalogued demolition by Israeli forces of 173 different pieces of water, sanitation, or hygiene infrastructure in Area C of the West Bank between 2009 and 2011. This has included the confiscation of water tankers, which are used as an emergency measure when access to water is prohibited. In the Gaza border zone – which swallows up some 17 percent of Gaza’s landmass – 305 agricultural wells were destroyed between 2005 and 2013.
In addition, Jewish settlers in the illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank regularly carry out acts of vandalism and destruction that specifically target Palestinian water sources, and frequently take over natural springs for their own recreational use.
These settlers are acting within a clear Israeli policy that sees targeting of water resources as an acceptable method of warfare.
The destruction of generations-old water infrastructure such as historic cisterns or springs not only deprives marginalized communities of water but destroys an important element of Palestinian history and the community’s organic relationship with natural resources. Further, by depriving farmers of water, Israeli policies drive them off their land. Loss of agricultural income resulting from de-developed water infrastructure is estimated at $1.44 billion annually.
Though Israel has total control over the building, development, or maintenance of water infrastructure in Area C – where permission is systemically denied – it also maintains indirect control in all areas of the West Bank, where it can – and often does – prohibit the building of water treatment, irrigation, or industrial facilities.
Evidence of water warfare, and deliberate efforts to use water as a weapon against Palestinian civilian populations, is being documented at all levels, and efforts continue to bring awareness to all those affected. Israel’s water war has continued with impunity for far too long and must be challenged before its effects are irreversible.
Jews and philosophy have had a pretty troubled relationship. The collision between ‘the tribal’ and ‘the universal’ or, more accurately, between Athens and Jerusalem, is inevitable. The few great Jewish thinkers who transcended the tribal, such as Spinoza or Otto Weininger, have been harassed and labelled by the rabbis as ‘self haters’ and enemies of the Jews.
Some contemporary Zionist merchants insist upon wrapping their Judeo centrism in crypto philosophical arguments. Bernard-Henri Levy, for instance, advocates his Zionist warmongering using a pseudo ‘moralist’ terminology.
Today I came across a uniquely banal rant by Asa Kasher, a Jewish ‘philosopher’ at Tel Aviv University. Kasher, who also authored the ‘IDF ethical code,’ defended Israel’s military conduct in the recent Gaza campaign in an article published in the Jewish Review of Books.
Kasher wrote, “Hamas unscrupulously violates every norm in the book.” And I wonder, what book? I would like to find out, at a minimum, what ‘book’ grants the Jewish State the right to uproot an entire nation in the name of a Jewish homecoming? Is there a book that permits the Jews to turn a city into an open-air prison? Is there a book that legitimates reducing Gaza into a pile of rubble? I am afraid that the answer is affirmative. There is more than one such book. But these books aren’t exactly philosophical texts. These books are the prime Judaic texts. The Talmud and The Old Testament are suffocated by Goy hatred and stories of Jews and their God pouring their ‘wrath on the Goyim.’ Rabbinical Judaism has historically been very careful in the way it treated some of those vile and barbaric Judaic verses and teachings. But Israel and Zionism draw inspiration from those genocidal verses, and the outcome is evident in the shattered urban landscape of Gaza.
Unlike the very few Jews who actually contributed to humanity by means of self-reflection (such as Jesus, Spinoza and Marx), Kasher prefers pointing at Hamas. He denounces Palestinian militants for indiscriminately rocketing Israeli cities. I wonder if the same ‘Kosher Aristotle’ would go out of his way to denounce Jewish militants in Auschwitz if they had possessed the ballistic capability to rocket Berlin and had acted upon it? I doubt it.
Back in the 18th century, in a remarkable attempt to formulate an anthropocentric, ethical requirement that was justified by means of reason, Immanuel Kant presented the Categorical Imperative: “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”
Let’s examine Kasher’s thoughts in the light of Kant’s imperative. If the IDF operated ethically in Gaza, as Kasher foolishly suggests, then every military force should be expected to follow the ‘IDF universal law:’ flatten entire cities, uproot nations, murder innocent civilians and so on. Perhaps a Zionist Jew can follow such awkward reasoning.
Kasher further asks, “Does the presence of large numbers of non-combatants in the vicinity of a building that is directly involved in terrorist assaults on Israelis render that building immune to Israeli attack?” Kasher continues, “The answer is, and must be, no. Israel cannot forfeit its ability to protect its citizens against attacks simply because terrorists hide behind non-combatants. If it did so, it would be giving up any right to self-defense.”
Consciously or not, the banal Israeli so-called ‘philosopher’ evinces the complete opposite of philosophical, ethical or universal principled thinking. Instead, he provides a glimpse into Jewish tribal ethno-centrism in which ‘goodness’ is defined solely by Jewish interests.
In a total dismissal of international conventions and of ethical judgment, Kasher blurs the crucial distinction between ‘civilians’ and ‘combatants’ and between the innocent and the actor.
The verdict is obvious. That Israel repeatedly behaves unethically goes without saying, but reading Kasher reveals that the Jewish State also lacks the notion of an ethical horizon. Even its academic authority on the subject is totally incompetent.
This is disturbing but not surprising.
A top UN rights expert has expressed alarm at the impact of Israel’s attack on Gaza for civilians, concluding that “Israel’s claim of self-defense against an occupied population living under a blockade considered to be illegal under international law is untenable.”
Makarim Wibisono, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, spoke Monday at the end of his first mission to the region.
In a press release, Wibisono stated that the Israeli military killed almost 1,500 civilians, including more than 500 children, with “a staggering 11,231 Palestinian civilians, including 3,436 children” injured and many “now struggling with life-long disabilities”.
Tens of thousands of children live with the trauma of having witnessed the horrific killings of family members, friends, and neighbours before their own eyes.
Wibisono, echoing similar and even stronger conclusions by the likes of Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that “this raises serious questions about possible violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”
Wibisono related three demands from Palestinians: “the need for accountability, an end to the blockade, and an end to the occupation”. Affirming this call, the UN official said that “those responsible for violations of international law must be brought to justice in order to avoid yet another round of deadly violence in the near future”.
The Special Rapporteur had a special focus on children in Gaza, noting that “there wasn’t a single child…who has not been adversely affected”. Wibisono pointed to an estimated 7,000 unexploded ordinances “littered across” the territory, and described how over “50 days of relentless bombing and shelling”, some 228 schools were damaged, including 26 destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
According to Wibisono, around 60,000 Palestinians remain in 19 shelters in the Gaza Strip, while medical professionals report a “critical shortage” of medicines and equipment. “Israel must immediately lift the seven year land, sea and air blockade of Gaza”, Wibisono urged, “and urgently allow needed materials for reconstruction and recovery.”
The Special Rapporteur also spoke to the “excessive use of force” used by Israeli forces in the Occupied West Bank over the summer, “noting that during the period from 12 June to 31 August 2014, a total of 27 Palestinians were killed, of whom five were children, with the youngest victim only 11 years-old.” Wibisono stressed that “the use of live ammunition against Palestinians even if they were throwing stones, is unjustifiable.”
The Special Rapporteur will report fully on his findings and recommendations to the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2015.
Hundreds of American protesters, angered by Israel’s recent deadly assault on the Gaza Strip, gathered at the Port of Oakland to block an Israeli ship from unloading its cargo.
Workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) refused to unload the Zim Shanghai as about 200 activists picketed outside several of the port’s gates on Saturday morning.
The cargo ship is managed by Israel’s largest shipping firm, Zim Integrated Shipping Services.
About 50 police officers were also present at the port.
The protesters said they would continue with their “Block the Boat” campaign.
They said Israeli authorities must be held responsible for the deaths of more than 2,100 Palestinians during the recent 50-day war on Gaza.
“I think it was a big victory today for those who are opposed to the policies of Israel in Gaza,” said Steve Zeltzer, an organizer of the protest.
Similar actions were taken in August, when protesters blocked Israeli-owned ship Zim Piraeus for five days, forcing it to leave for Los Angeles with most of its cargo unloaded.
Longshore workers refused to cross picket lines to unload Zim Piraeus in August.
Protesters on Saturday said they hoped to achieve the same outcome.
“We ask the ILWU to carry on its long historical tradition of opposing injustice and honoring community picket lines. Let’s keep the pressure on and continue this tradition of labor blockades against oppression,” the “stop ZIM action committee” said in a statement.
Abbas denies mounting claims that Egypt has offered territory for a Palestinian state. Should we believe him?
What is Israel’s endgame in Gaza? It is a question that has been puzzling analysts and observers for some time. But belatedly, there are indications of the future Israel and Washington may have in mind for Gaza.
Desperately overcrowded, short on basic resources like fresh water, blockaded for eight years by Israel, with its infrastructure intermittently destroyed by Israeli bombing campaigns, Gaza looks like a giant pressure cooker waiting to explode.
It is difficult to imagine that sooner or later Israel will not face a massive upheaval on its doorstep. So how does Israel propose to avert a scenario in which it must either savagely repress a mass uprising by Palestinians in Gaza or sit by and watch them tear down their prison walls?
Reports in the Arab and Israeli media – in part corroborated by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas – suggest that Egypt may be at the heart of plans to solve the problem on Israel’s behalf.
This month Israeli media reported claims – apparently leaked by Israeli officials – that Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had offered the Palestinian leadership the chance to annex to Gaza an area of 1,600 sq km in Sinai. The donated territory would expand Gaza fivefold.
The scheme is said to have received the blessing of the United States.
‘Greater Gaza’ plan
According to the reports, the territory in Sinai would become a demilitarised Palestinian state – dubbed “Greater Gaza” – to which returning Palestinian refugees would be assigned. The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas would have autonomous rule over the cities in the West Bank, comprising about a fifth of that territory. In return, Abbas would have to give up the right to a state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The plan, which would most likely result in significant numbers of Palestinians moving outside the borders of historic Palestine, was quickly dismissed as “fabricated and baseless” by Egyptian and Palestinian officials.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a spokesman for Abbas, accused Israel of using the proposal to “destroy the Palestinian cause”, referring to Abbas’ efforts at the United Nations to win recognition of Palestinian statehood on parts of historic Palestine.
But Abdel Rahim’s denial raised more questions than it answered. While rejecting suggestions that Sisi had made such an offer, he added that the plan originated with Giora Eiland, Israel’s national security adviser from 2004 to 2006.
Abdel Rahim appeared to be referring to a plan unveiled by Eiland in 2004 that Israel hoped would be implemented after the withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from Gaza – the so-called disengagement – a year later.
Under Eiland’s terms, Egypt would agree to expand Gaza into the Sinai in return for Israel giving Egypt land in the Negev.
Abdel Rahim also stated that a similar plan – the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Sinai – had been advanced briefly by Sisi’s predecessor, Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi, who served as president for a year from the summer of 2012 until his ousting by Sisi in a military coup, headed a Muslim Brotherhood administration that tried to strengthen ties to the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
The idea of creating a Palestinian state outside historic Palestine – in either Jordan or Sinai – has a long pedigree in Zionist thinking.
“Jordan is Palestine” has been a rallying cry on the Israeli right for decades. There have been parallel suggestions for Sinai.
In recent times, the Sinai option has found favour with the Israeli right, especially following the outbreak of the second intifada 14 years ago. Support appears to have intensified after the disengagement in 2005 and Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian national elections a year later.
Notably, the scheme became the centrepiece of the 2004 Herzliya conference, an annual meeting of Israel’s political, academic and security elites to exchange and develop policy ideas. It was then enthusiastically adopted by Uzi Arad, the conference’s founder and long-time adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister.
He proposed a three-way exchange, in which the Palestinians would get part of Sinai for their state, while in return Israel would receive most of the West Bank, and Egypt would be given a land passage across the Negev to connect it to Jordan.
A variation of the “Sinai is Palestine” option was dusted off again by the right during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 50-day attack on Gaza this summer.
Moshe Feiglin, the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for Gaza’s inhabitants to be expelled from their homes under cover of the operation and moved into Sinai, in what he termed a “solution for Gaza”.
Did Morsi offer Sinai?
Given that the rationale of the Sinai option is to remove Palestinians from what the Israeli right considers Greater Israel, and such a plan is vehemently opposed by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, why would Morsi have backed it?
Further, why would he have proposed giving up a chunk of Egyptian territory to satisfy Israeli ambitions, thereby undermining his domestic credibility, at a time when he was fighting for political survival on many other fronts?
One possibility is that Abbas’ office simply made up the story to discredit Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and by extension Abbas’ political rivals in Hamas, and thereby win favour with Sisi.
But few Palestinians or Egyptians appear to have found the claim credible, and Sisi has shown no interest in pursuing this line of attack against Morsi. Why would Abbas fabricate a story that might rebound on him by linking him to such underhanded diplomacy by Egypt, Israel and the US?
There are two further pieces of the jigsaw suggesting that there may be more to the Sinai story than meets the eye.
The first are comments made by Abbas shortly before the Israeli media began reporting the alleged offer by Sisi. Abbas was responding to earlier rumours that began in the Arab media.
Abbas signalled at a meeting with Fatah loyalists on 31 August that a proposal to create a Palestinian state in Sinai was still of interest to Egyptian officials.
He reportedly said: “A senior leader in Egypt said: ‘a refuge must be found for the Palestinians and we have all this open land.’ This was said to me personally. But it’s illogical for the problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense. We won’t have it.”
The Times of Israel website said it had subsequently confirmed the comments with Abbas.
The Palestinian leader made similar remarks on Egyptian TV a week earlier, when he told an interviewer an Israeli plan for the Sinai had been “unfortunately accepted by some here [in Egypt]. Don’t ask me more about that. We abolished it, because it can’t be.”
What about Mubarak?
The second clue was provided in a barely noticed report in English published last month on the website of the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, headquartered in London but with strong ties to the Saudi royal family.
It claimed that in the later years of his presidency, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak came under concerted and repeated pressure from the US to cede territory in Sinai to the Palestinians to help them establish a state.
The article, based on information reportedly provided by an unnamed former Mubarak official, stated that pressure started to be exerted on Egypt from 2007.
The source quoted Mubarak as saying at the time: “We are fighting both the US and Israel. There is pressure on us to open the Rafah crossing for the Palestinians and grant them freedom of residence, particularly in Sinai. In a year or two, the issue of Palestinian refugee camps in Sinai will be internationalised.”
In Mubarak’s view, according to the report, Israel hoped that, once Palestinians were on Egyptian soil, the combined area of Sinai and Gaza would be treated as the Palestinian state. This would be the only territory to which Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return.
Anticipating later statements by Abbas’ office, the Egyptian source said a similar proposal was put to Morsi when he came to power in 2012. A delegation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders travelled to Washington, where White House officials proposed that “Egypt cede a third of the Sinai to Gaza in a two-stage process spanning four to five years”.
US officials, the report stated, promised to “establish and fully support a Palestinian state” in the Sinai, including the establishment of seaports and an airport. The Brotherhood was urged to prepare Egyptian public opinion for the deal.
Pieces of the jigsaw
So what sense can we make of these various pieces of the jigsaw?
Each in itself can be discounted. The Asharq al-Awsat report is based on an anonymous source and there may be Saudi interests at work in promoting the story. Likewise, the Israelis could be waging a misinformation campaign.
But taken together, and given that Abbas appears reluctantly to have conceded key elements of the story, it becomes much harder to ignore the likelihood that the reports are grounded in some kind of reality.
There seems little doubt – from these reports and from the wider aspirations of the Israeli right – that a Sinai plan has been crafted by Israel’s security establishment and is being aggressively advanced, not least through the current leaks to the Israeli media. It also looks strongly like variations of this plan have been pushed more vigorously since 2007, when Hamas took exclusive control of Gaza.
Israel’s current rationale for the Sinai option is that it undermines Abbas’ intensifying campaign at the United Nations to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood, which Israel and the US adamantly oppose.
It also seems plausible, given the strength of its ties to Israel, that the US is backing the plan and adding its considerable weight to persuade the Egyptian and Palestinian leaderships.
Harder to read, however, is whether Egypt might have responded positively to such a campaign.
An Egyptian analyst explained the expected reaction from Sisi and his generals: “Egypt is relentlessly trying to keep Gaza at bay. Tunnels are being destroyed and a buffer zone is planned. Bringing more potentially hostile elements closer to Egypt would be a dangerous and reckless move.”
This is true enough. So what leverage do Israel and the US have over Egypt that might persuade it to override its national security concerns?
Turning the screw
Aside from the large sums of military aid Washington gives to Egypt each year, there is the increasingly pressing matter for Cairo of dire fuel shortages, which risk inflaming a new round of street protests.
Israel has recently discovered large offshore deposits of natural gas, which is it is ready to export to its neighbours. It is already quietly agreeing deals with the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, and is reported to be in advanced discussions with Egypt.
Is this part of the pressure being exerted on Egyptian leaders to concede territory in Sinai? And has it been enough to make them overlook their security concerns?
Finally, there is the Palestinian leadership’s role. Abbas has said firmly he will not countenance such a deal. How might Israel think it could change his mind?
One controversial possibility, which throws a very different light on the events of this summer, is that Israel may hope it can “soften up” Palestinian opinion, especially in Gaza, by making life even less bearable than it already is for the population there.
It is noticeable that Israel’s large-scale operations attacking Gaza – in the winter of 2008-09, 2012 and again this year – started shortly after, according to Asharq al-Awsat, Israel and the US began turning the screws on Mubarak to concede part of Sinai.
The massive and repeated destruction of Gaza might have an added advantage for Israel: it allows Cairo to cast its offer of a small slice of the Sinai to the Palestinians as a desperately needed humanitarian gesture.
The success of Israel’s approach requires isolating Gaza, through a blockade, and inflicting massive damage on it to encourage Palestinians to rethink their opposition to a state outside historic Palestine. That precisely fits Israel’s policy since 2007.
The Sinai option may be difficult to confirm at this stage but we should keep it firmly in mind as we try to make sense of unfolding events in the region over the coming months and years.
Every time Gaza fisherman Rami goes to sea, the same thing happens: five nautical miles offshore, shots ring out and a voice over an Israeli loudspeaker demands he turn back.
Officially, Gaza’s fishing fleet has the right to trawl the waters up to six nautical miles off the shore under the terms of Israel’s illegal and brutal eight-year blockade.
Although that outer limit has frequently been reduced, or even cancelled outright over the years, it was formally reinstated by virtue of an August 26 truce agreement which ended a deadly 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants.
But nearly a month after the ceasefire took effect, even those six nautical miles — which the fishermen say is not nearly enough — are unattainable.
One afternoon, Rami Bakr and his 10-man crew put to sea for a 10-hour fishing expedition. With them was an AFP team.
Very quickly, warning shots skimmed the boat as an Israeli navy vessel approached. On board were around a dozen soldiers armed with machine guns, shouting through a loudspeaker for them to stop.
“These are the worst conditions we’ve ever known,” said the 41-year-old fisherman, who has spent more than three decades of his life fishing the waters off Gaza.
“During the war, the Israelis bombed fishing huts on the beach and now they are preventing fishermen from earning their crust at sea,” he said.
The Gaza Strip has long been known for its plentiful seafood and fish although the stocks have been depleted by pollution, frequent wars and the blockade.
Today, the coastal enclave counts some 4,000 fishermen, more than half of whom live below the poverty line, said Nizar Ayash, head of the Gaza fishermen’s syndicate.
During the recent seven-week war launched by Israel which killed over 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of which are civilians, 80 of Gaza’s fleet of around 1,500 fishing boats and dozens of fishing huts were destroyed in the Israeli bombardment, which also reduced nets and fishing equipment to ashes, he said.
For Ayash, the problems experienced by Rami are widespread.
“Since the ceasefire, many Israeli attacks have been reported,” he said, referring to repeated shooting at fishing vessels.
Israeli forces say the warning shots are necessary because Palestinian boats flout the six-mile limit.
With their tackle destroyed and the price of oil soaring, Gaza’s fishermen are almost working at a loss.
Today, a single fishing expedition can cost up to about $500, said another fisherman called Mehdi Bakr, who lost his hand when an Israeli navy vessel fired at his boat in 1997.
For every night on the water, they need 270 liters (59 gallons) of diesel and 250 liters of petrol, he explained.
And all this for a very small catch.
“September and October is sardine season and they are only found between six to nine nautical miles from the shore, so with a six-mile limit, we’re bringing home hardly anything,” explained Taha Bakr, a 24-year-old member of Rami’s crew.
Because fishing is a trade passed on from father to son, and because he can no longer provide for his family and the job is so dangerous, the young man with green eyes and a neatly-trimmed beard has signed up to journalism school.
“It’s so that I don’t have to fish again, that job is just too risky,” he told AFP.
Maria Jose Torres, deputy head of office in the Palestinian branch of the UN humanitarian agency (OCHA), said that the 1993 Oslo Accords established a fishing zone of up to 20 nautical miles.
“It is essential to increase the fishing zone beyond six nautical miles to allow the fishermen to earn their living,” she said, indicating that the vast majority today are unable to support themselves.
“Some 84 percent of them are only able to survive thanks to help from the UN,” she said.
Rami said he keeps putting out to sea so that he can feed his children.
“It has been a long time since we last heard the singing and laughter of fishermen at sea who returned with their nets full,” he said.
But Mehdi fears for the future of this millennia-old profession in Gaza.
“We, the young generation, are not happy with this. If it carries on like this, there won’t be any more fishing in Gaza at all,” he said.
Palestinian residents in the buffer zone along the eastern borders of the Gaza Strip suffer the loss of their homes and source of income in every Israeli escalation.
Palestinian farmer Mohamed Qudih, 60, and his wife Sabiha, 59, lost their house, which was destroyed by the Israeli occupation during the ground invasion in the Khan Younis village of Khuza’a. They also lost their farm, which included around 50 olive and date trees and okra crops.
“I was surprised when I saw the rubble of my house,” Qudih told local Palestinian news agency Quds Net. “I was also surprised to see around 50 olives trees and date palms were uprooted and the okra crop was crushed.”
Qudih’s farm is 800-metres away from the Gaza-Israeli border. “We suffer so much as the Israeli occupation always razes the farms adjacent and near its borders,” he said.
He added: “We are always in danger while working or staying in our farms as the Israeli border troops in the military towers always fire live bullets and tanks and bulldozers move on the ground when they feel anything approaching the borders.”
Iyad Qudih, 40, whose farm is 500-metres from the border, had a similar story: “I came back to my farm to find no sign of my house and all the trees and crops were damaged.”
Mu’taz Al-Najjar, 19, tends to his family’s farm which is 450-metres from the border. He hopes the buffer zone is cancelled in order for his family to freely access their entire farm and benefit from it. He called for the representatives of the Palestinian fighters to the indirect talks with the Israelis in Cairo to stick to this demand.
“This will help hundreds of farmers access all areas of their farms and thus more farmers will have work and agriculture produce will increase,” he said.
Khuza’a is located to the east of Khan Younis, a Palestinian city in the south of the Gaza Strip. It is located on 4,000 Dunams (1,000 acres) of land and is home to 14,000 Palestinians, most refugees.
The Israeli occupation razed a large number of Palestinian houses in the neighbourhood during the latest war on Gaza and wrecked most of its farms and empty lands.
The ceasefire agreement between Palestinian resistance fighters and the Tel Aviv regime has been hailed as tantamount to the victory of Palestinians against Israel.
Under the truce deal, Tel Aviv must lift the blockade it has imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007. Israel must also reopen the border crossings into the besieged Palestinian territory.
In this edition of The Sun Will Rise, we discuss the barbarous Israeli military aggression against Gaza and the victory of resistance against Israel.
- an exclusive from Gaza by Ashraf Shannon, in which he interviews Professor Mosheer Amer from the Islamic University of Gaza and victims of the Gaza war.
- a feature on Palestinian photographic video works – “Voices” – by Rich Wiles exhibited in the P21 Gallery in London.
In the studio, we were joined by:
President, General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS UK)
Palestinian Student Activist