By James Petras | September 7, 2006
The War Debate on Iran
A survey of Israeli State pronouncements, documents and press releases echoed by its resident representatives in the Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and their supporters writing and speaking in the major media reveals a concerted effort to convince the United States to militarily attack Iran. Beginning in the mid 1990’s, Israel’s top US ideologues promulgated documents and propaganda manifestos, purporting to be strategy papers directed toward joint US-Israeli aggression against Iraq, Syria and especially Iran.(1)
Even as the bricks were still smoldering from 9/11, Israeli ideological point men, Senator Lieberman and Undersecretary for Defense Wolfowitz urged Washington to attack Iran by launching either simultaneous or sequential wars. In pursuit of Israel’s regional priorities, its representatives in the US Government, in the Pentagon (Wolfowitz, Feith and Shulsky), in the National Security Council (Abrams), in the Vice President’s Office (Libby) and in the President’s Office (Speech writer Frum) falsified intelligence, designed the propaganda (War Against Terror, Axis of Evil) and planned the War against Iraq, and with the Lobby secured near unanimous Congressional acquiescence. They then successfully secured a US boycott of Syria and support for Israel’s expropriation, annexation and settlement of Palestinian land in the West Bank and the destruction of Gaza. Even as the US invasion failed to secure control of Iraq, Israel’s representatives in the US Government did destroy Iraqi society and state, and its capacity to support the Palestinian resistance, increasing Israel’s regional power (at a very high cost to the United States).
Even as the US was at war with Iraq, even as it suffered over 20,000 dead and wounded, even as its war spending rose to over $430 billion dollars, even as the bulk of its ground troops were stretched thin, Israel’s representatives in the Executive and Congress and through the Lobby pushed for a US pre-emptive attack on Iran.
Within the US government, Israeli representatives faced several objections from the State Department and active military officers to a pre-emptive military attack on Iran:
Preparing for War
In response, Israel’s representatives in the US formulated a series of policies to get around these objections.
- In the first place, they, along with the Israeli secret police and their Lebanese collaborators, and with the approval of the US-dominated United Nations Security Council, successfully implicated Syria as the author of the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Baha’eddin Al-Hariri, on the basis of recanted testimony from a single perjured ‘witness’.On that basis, the US-UN forced Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, thus hoping to isolate Hezbollah and other anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements. Once Syria was out of Lebanon, the US with Israeli approval secured a client regime in Beirut, a regime nonetheless that only had influence in the center-north of the country. Hezbollah remained the most influential force in Southern Lebanon and much of South Beirut and impregnable from any military machinations emanating from Beirut.In 2004 the US and France co-sponsored UN Resolution 1559 which called for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.” This extraordinary interference by the Security Council in Lebanon’s internal politics was clearly a set-up for Israel’s 2006 invasion.Washington in co-ordination with Israel continued its ‘salami tactics’ chipping away at real or potential opponents to absolute US-Israeli regional control. By isolating Syria, destroying Gaza and ‘surrounding’ Hezbollah (or so they thought), they believed they were moving closer to isolating Iran. In June 2006, Israel proceeded to invade and demolish Gaza, arrest the Hamas political leadership in order to install a new client regime. In the same month, Presidential Adviser on Middle Eastern Affairs, Elliot Abrams, in close consultation with the Israeli military command, gave the green light to invade Lebanon in order to destroy Hezbollah as a step toward the strategic goal of isolating Iran and overcoming US military fears of retaliation from a pre-emptive bombing of Iran.
Parallel to the US-Israeli coordinated invasion of Lebanon and Gaza, Washington and the Jewish Lobby were working the diplomatic track. They sought to secure UN approval for a multi-lateral boycott in opposition to Iran’s legal uranium enrichment program. In the case of Gaza, the Lobby secured unanimous White House, Congressional and mass media support for labeling the electorally oriented Hamas, as a ‘terrorist’ organization. Paradoxically President Bush supported the ‘free elections’ in the Palestinian territories as well as Hamas’ decision to go to the ballot box. The Lobby then followed Bush’s endorsement of the ‘free and democratic’ nature of the electoral process in Palestine by pressuring the US Congress and the White House to cut all aid and contact with the democratically elected Hamas government. The White House then pressured the European Union to follow suit. Israel blocked all trade and supply routes, and illegally refused to hand over Palestinian tax revenues to the newly elected government. Israel moved to asphyxiate the Palestinian economy. The Lobby secured US endorsement of the Israeli policy.
Six months into a murderous campaign, Israel escalated its armed incursions into Gaza and the West Bank, by deliberately killing civilians, families and children who were engaged in the most innocent activities, such as family outings at the beach. These grotesque Israeli provocations were intended to push the democratically elected Hamas into breaking its 17-month unilateral ceasefire. A Palestinian attack to incapacitate an Israeli tank emplacement near the frontier shelling Gaza and the capture of an Israeli soldier served as the pretext for a full-scale invasion of Gaza. The Israeli government systematically destroyed most of the basic life-supporting infrastructure (water treatment and power plants, sewage systems, roads, bridges, hospitals and schools) and arrested the top executive and legislative leadership of the elected Palestinian Authority. Israel killed over 251 Palestinians in the first two months of its ‘Summer Rain’ campaign against Gaza, injured over 5000 – mostly civilians (Haaretz September 4, 2006). Following the Lebanon debacle Israel unleashed a massive ‘kill and destroy’ campaign.
The Lobby silenced any dissenting voices and secured near unanimous Congressional and automatic Executive endorsement for Israel’s policies toward Gaza. Israel’s stranglehold over Gaza weakened any organized Palestinian opposition to a pre-emptive attack on Iran.
Where the Israeli military invasion of Lebanon failed to destroy Hezbollah, the Lobby succeeded in pushing the US to secure a major diplomatic victory via the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UN Res. 1701) on a ‘cease fire’. The entire resolution was verbatim a replica of Israeli strategic aims for destroying Hezbollah, dividing Lebanon, securing its military primacy in Lebanon and isolating Iran. The approval of the resolution followed the usual multi-step process: Israel set the terms, the Lobby organized its apparatus to push Congress and the White House. Washington presented the resolution to the Security Council and pressured its members to approve it. The resolution was approved and the military, economic and diplomatic processes were set in motion, with Kofi Annam serving as point man for the US-Israeli strategy.
To say that the ceasefire resolution is ‘one-sided’ and biased in favor of Israel is an understatement. The problem is in the very terms and premises of the resolution. Israel invaded Lebanon. A country, which invades another, destroys the entire civilian infrastructure and 15,000 housing units and kills over 1,100 of its citizens, is considered by international law to be the ‘aggressor’. A buffer zone or demilitarized region should be located within the borders of the aggressor country – namely a twenty-kilometer area within the Israeli frontier. This is the common practice with states with long histories of military intervention into neighboring countries. This is especially the case since Israel initiated the bombing of Lebanon and Israel invaded Lebanon and not vice versa. Instead, the resolution provided for the United Nations forces to occupy Lebanese territory and to eliminate its first line of national defense – namely the complex of bunkers and underground tunnels which Hezbollah and the Lebanese resistance organized as civil defense against the onslaught of Israeli bombs, missiles, artillery and invading infantry.
- Second, the United Nations resolution called for the displacement, dissolution and disarming of the defenders (Hezbollah) of the invaded country instead of the invaders (the Israeli Defense (sic) Forces – IDF). In line with Israeli strategy, this proposal was meant to accomplish via the UN military what Israel’s IDF was not able to do.
- Third, while the resolution proposed that Hezbollah was to be forced to disarm or at least ‘hide’ its arms, Israeli armaments, occupation soldiers and over flights remained in place within Lebanon, ready and eager to bomb and attack the Lebanese resistance as its Prime Minister and Defense Minister publicly declared (and practiced on several occasions).
- Fourth, while Hezbollah agreed to the ceasefire, Israel did not. Israel retains its air and sea blockade, which are ‘acts of war’ according to International law, and upholds the ‘right’ to freely send commandos and assassination teams into Lebanon. The UN and Kofi Annam have not denounced Israel’s non-compliance. The US, on the other hand, has endorsed Israel’s non-compliance.
- Fifth, Israel has insisted and the UN resolution proposed that Lebanese troops patrol the border, hunt down and destroy Hezbollah arms and activists, thus hoping to promote a sectarian civil war and divide Lebanon into a fragmented, dysfunctional state in place of the coalition government (which includes Hezbollah) that existed prior to and during and after the Israeli invasion. In response Hezbollah has not disarmed although it has agreed to not permit its fighters to openly carry arms in public. Hezbollah has not resisted the placement of Lebanese soldiers on the Israeli frontier; rather it has fraternized with them.
In this most perverse of all ceasefire resolutions, the aggressor (Israel) retains its arms, its occupation of Lebanese land, sea and air space, and increases its purchase of offensive weapons. The Lobby pushes the US/UN to encircle Hezbollah, control Lebanon’s border with Syria (thus losing sovereignty) and stop the flow of any defensive weapons to replenish the supply depleted defending the country from Israeli invaders.
The Israeli/US/UN resolution is designed to isolate the Lebanese resistance from Syria and Iran, and to weaken any common Arab solidarity if and when Iran and Syria are attacked.
Kofi ‘the Gopher’ (a pejorative American term for an errand boy or flunkey) Annan, nominally the UN Secretary General, but known by UN insiders as Washington’s – and therefore the Lobby’s – messenger, went on a ‘peace’ mission to the Middle East. His purpose was not to open negotiations over a prisoner exchange between Lebanon-Hezbollah and Israel but to secure the unilateral release of the two captured Israeli prisoners of war. Never at any moment did he mention the key demand of the Lebanese, which was the release of the unlawfully imprisoned 1,000 Lebanese civilians and combatants suffering in Israeli prisons, many of whom have been held without charges or trial for years. For Annan, articulating Israel’s demands for prisoner release was the only issue to be discussed. When Syria agreed to work with Annan on a negotiated reciprocal Israeli-Lebanese prisoner release and Israel rejected the offer, Annan refused to criticize Israeli intransigence and continued mouthing their demand for an unconditional, unilateral prisoner release.
It is clear that Israel and the US-Jewish Lobby are trying to build on the pro-Israeli ceasefire resolution and its implementation to widen and deepen inroads in Lebanese politics, control its security policy and erode its sovereignty by buying off sectors of the Beirut elite with ‘reconstruction aid’ while keeping Israel on a wartime footing within, around and above Lebanon.
The ‘ceasefire’ agreement is in effect a ‘mousetrap’ offering donors’ assistance (cheese) to the weak and vacillating Beirut regime (particularly its right-wing, pro-Western sectors) and the iron clamp of air, sea and land encirclement and military attacks by Israeli and UN collaborators on a disarmed Hezbollah.
The Jewish Lobby has ensured 100% White House and US Congressional support for Israel’s continued air and sea blockade and its demands for disarming and destroying Hezbollah as conditions for withdrawing from its territorial occupation of Lebanon.
Even worse, as the UN begins its occupation of Lebanon and Israel retains its military presence, Tel Aviv ‘re-interprets’ the ceasefire to ensure its forward position within Lebanon. Israel demands the release of its two prisoners of war and the destruction of Hezbollah before considering ending its occupation and blockade. Israel insists that the UN troops control the Syrian border before conforming to the terms of the agreement and withdrawing its own troops. No mention is made of the UN patrolling Israel’s borders with Gaza which Israel crosses daily on its way to murder and assassinate Palestinians. In other words, as the UN erodes the position of the Lebanese resistance and strengthens the Israeli militarily, Israel neither negotiates nor reciprocates – it escalates new and harsher demands. All of this is backed by the Jewish Lobby and its highly placed officials in the Executive branch and US Congress. The purpose of this complex United Nations maneuver is to neutralize any Lebanese opposition to the escalation of US-Israeli aggression against Iran.
Diplomacy for Confrontation and War
Parallel to and converging with the Lebanese ‘mousetrap’ strategy, the US with a powerful push from the Lobby have moved to secure United Nations Security Council support for a series of diplomatic measures and economic sanctions against Iran. The UN Security Council prompted by the US and Europe is making demands in total contradiction to the Non-Proliferation Treaty allowing all countries in the world at any time to enrich uranium for peaceful uses, thus provoking a major confrontation with Iran. These illegal and presumptuous demands have absolutely no basis in law and in fact: According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there is no evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. The US has taken a step-by-step approach to preparing for pre-emptive war with Iran, in order to minimize its (the US) isolation, the heavy financial and human costs and the prospects of retaliation. Washington has prepared a resolution calling for economic sanctions – limiting travel and investment. Once the principle of economic sanctions is in place, Washington can more easily push for add-ons, like trade sanctions, shipping restrictions and freezing overseas assets. Once having secured the multi-lateral economic isolation of Iran, Washington can launch its military-air assault with less opposition and greater acquiescence from Europe and its Mid East clients.
From Iraq, Hezbollah and Hamas to Iran: Another Failed Strategy?
Israel’s representatives in the US government saw the war against Iraq as a key staging ground for the attack on Iran– as part of a triumphal series of military conquests turning the Gulf into an Israeli-US condominium. Together with the Iraq War, the Lobby successfully bulldozed the US Congress to pass legislation boycotting Syria, another target in the overall Israeli-Lobby strategy. Lebanon, especially the national resistance led by Hezbollah is a key piece in the US-Israeli strategy for militarily attacking Iran. South Lebanon under Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza, and other potential allies of Iran, were subsequently targeted for diplomatic isolation through the UN and militarily for physical extermination. Each US and Israeli war serves an immediate purpose (weakening adversaries) and more important forms part of the preparation for a major attack on Iran. The ‘dual purpose’ wars are designed to weaken and destroy adversaries to US-Israeli plans for regional dominance and to create military bases, geographic encirclement and economic pressure for the ultimate military assault on Iran.
The Dominoes are Falling in the Wrong Places
The Lobby and the Israeli architects of sequential wars in the Bush Administration have however suffered several severe setbacks as well as victories on their road to Teheran.
They succeeded in destroying the secular nationalist government of Saddam Hussein and totally crippled Iraq’s defensive military and economic potential. However they face an unanticipated long-term, large-scale insurgency which ties down hundreds of thousands of US active military forces and depletes their reserves, imposes enormous financial costs and undermines public support for that war and any new military invasion promoted by the Israeli Lobby.
The Israel-Lobby-US backed effort to oust Arafat and impose a client regime opposed to Iran and Hezbollah via elections, backfired: Hamas, an anti-colonial national movement won the elections. As a result Israel re-took the path of outright military assaults and massacres to decimate opposition to its larger Middle East agenda.
The effort to exterminate Hezbollah in South Lebanon succeeded in ravaging that country and killing many civilians, but failed its main mission to clear the way for an uncontested attack on Iran. While Israel failed militarily, the Lobby and its clients in the US Congress and Administration succeeded in imposing their joint Israeli/US policy goals in the infamous UN Resolution 1701 via United Nations and Lebanese troops. Nevertheless the resolution, while imposing some important restrictions, is still highly contested: Hezbollah rejects disarmament, the Lebanese Army, which is nearly 40% Shia, fraternizes with Hezbollah and doesn’t challenge them and the United Nations troops have no intention of acting as Israel’s shock troops in provoking a new attack on Hezbollah, especially after Israel’s deliberate killing of UN peacekeepers.
The Israel-Lobby-US diplomatic strategy in the United Nations to impose sanctions on Iran, has secured European support for relatively marginal issues but has failed to secure Russian and Chinese support for a full-scale embargo. China is negotiating an agreement with Iran on the enrichment process that may undermine the entire US ‘diplomacy to war’ strategy.
Facing a series of military and diplomatic obstacles, the Jewish Lobby does not cease and desist. The Lobby presses ahead with a new campaign to whip up war fever in the US through the ultra-militant ‘Zionophiles’ John Bolton, US Ambassador to the UN, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, President Bush and, of course, the inimitable ‘Chief Adviser on the Middle East’ Elliot Abrams. Their current position is to sweep aside all the failed, phony issues and diplomatic proposals and base the impending military attack of Iran on ideology: The new struggle between Democracy and ‘Islamo-fascism’.
For the Israeli Government, a pre-emptive US attack on Teheran would be seen as weakening another opponent to Israel’s regional dominance. For the United States, it would open the floodgates of insurgency into Iraq and beyond, leading to two, three many Iraqs. At some point ‘the chickens may come home to roost’. For sacrificing untold numbers of American lives at the service of a foreign power, the Lobby and its political supporters in the US Congress will go down in history as traitors to our highest ideals as a free and independent country.
Failing to secure a US attack on Iran, Israel constantly accelerates its plans for war with Iran and Syria. Once again the Lobby mounted a massive, sustained propaganda campaign which claimed that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad in a speech on October 2005 declared “Israel must be wiped off the map.” The Lobby totally falsified the English translation. In fact the Iranian President never used the word ‘map’ or the term ‘wiped off’ (Counterpunch August 28, 2006). What he actually said was, “… this regime that is occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” Clearly he was referring to a regime which illegally occupies a city by military conquest, that reduces its own Arab citizens to discrimination and poverty and which colonizes the occupied territories. In other words he calls for the disappearance of a racist colonial regime, not the destruction or removal of the Jews in Israel.
These and other deliberate ‘mistranslations’ are part of the Lobby’s effort to build up worldwide opprobrium against Iran and to stigmatize Iran with the worst ‘holocaust-denier’ features, in order to present an Israeli attack as an act against an ‘Islamo-fascist’ rogue state. From January to March 2006, the Israeli military high command set in motion war plans to attack Iran – postponed temporarily as Washington went through the diplomatic motions. In September, the London Times (September 3, 2006) reported that “Israel is preparing for a possible war with both Iran and Syria.” According to Israeli political and military sources, “The challenge from Iran and Syria is now top of the Israeli defense (sic) agenda.”
(1) See The Project for the New American Century: White Paper Rebuilding American’s Defenses (September 2000) prepared and authored by the leading American pro-Israel Jewish and non-Jewish ideologues.
Genetic Engineering Has Failed to Significantly Boost U.S. Crop Yields Despite Biotech Industry Claims
Increases over last decade largely due to traditional breeding and conventional agricultural improvements
For years, the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.
That promise has proven to be empty, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.
“The biotech industry has spent billions on research and public relations hype, but genetically engineered food and feed crops haven’t enabled American farmers to grow significantly more crops per acre of land,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and author of the report. “In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results.”
The report, “Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops,” is the first to closely evaluate the overall effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies. It reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, the UCS report concluded that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report found, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.
The UCS report comes at a time when food price spikes and localized shortages worldwide have prompted calls to boost agricultural productivity, or yield—the amount of a crop produced per unit of land over a specified amount of time. Biotechnology companies maintain that genetic engineering is essential to meeting this goal. Monsanto, for example, is currently running an advertising campaign warning of an exploding world population and claiming that its “advanced seeds … significantly increase crop yields….” The UCS report debunks that claim, concluding that genetic engineering is unlikely to play a significant role in increasing food production in the foreseeable future.
The biotechnology industry has been promising better yields since the mid-1990s, but “Failure to Yield” documents that the industry has been carrying out gene field trials to increase yields for 20 years without significant results.
“After more than 3,000 field trials, only two types of engineered genes are in widespread use, and they haven’t helped raise the ceiling on potential yields,” said Margaret Mellon, a microbiologist and director of UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “This record does not inspire confidence in the future of the technology.”
“Failure to Yield” makes a critical distinction between potential—or intrinsic—yield and operational yield, concepts that are often conflated by the industry and misunderstood by others. Intrinsic yield refers to a crop’s ultimate production potential under the best possible conditions. Operational yield refers to production levels after losses due to pests, drought and other environmental factors.
The study reviewed the intrinsic and operational yield achievements of the three most common genetically altered food and feed crops in the United States: herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn and insect-resistant corn (known as Bt corn, after the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, whose genes enable the corn to resist several kinds of insects).
Herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn and Bt corn have failed to increase intrinsic yields, the report found. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn also have failed to increase operational yields, compared with conventional methods.
Meanwhile, the report found that Bt corn likely provides a marginal operational yield advantage of 3 to 4 percent over typical conventional practices. Since Bt corn became commercially available in 1996, its yield advantage averages out to a 0.2 to 0.3 percent yield increase per year. To put that figure in context, overall U.S. corn yields over the last several decades have annually averaged an increase of approximately 1 percent, which is considerably more than what Bt traits have provided.
In addition to evaluating genetic engineering’s record, “Failure to Yield” considers the technology’s potential role in increasing food production over the next few decades. The report does not discount the possibility of genetic engineering eventually contributing to increase crop yields. It does, however, suggest that it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agricultural agencies, and universities increase research and development for proven approaches to boost crop yields. Those approaches should include modern conventional plant breeding methods, sustainable and organic farming, and other sophisticated farming practices that do not require farmers to pay significant upfront costs. The report also recommends that U.S. food aid organizations make these more promising and affordable alternatives available to farmers in developing countries.
Too Heavy a Price for Israeli Elites?
With the resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank yesterday, Israel’s powerful settler movement hopes that it has scuttled peace talks with the Palestinians.
It would be misleading, however, to assume that the only major obstacle to the success of the negotiations is the right-wing political ideology the settler movement represents. Equally important are deeply entrenched economic interests shared across Israeli society.
These interests took root more than six decades ago with Israel’s establishment and have flourished at an ever-accelerating pace since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the 1967 war.
Even many Israeli Jews living within the recognised borders of Israel privately acknowledge that they are the beneficiaries of the seizure of another people’s lands, homes, businesses and bank accounts in 1948. Most Israelis profit directly from the continuing dispossession of millions of Palestinian refugees.
Israeli officials assume that the international community will bear the burden of restitution for the refugees. The problem for Israel’s Jewish population is that the refugees now living in exile were not the only ones dispossessed.
The fifth of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian but survived the expulsions of 1948 found themselves either transformed into internally displaced people or the victims of a later land-nationalisation programme that stripped them of their ancestral property.
Even if Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, signed away the rights of the refugees, he would have no power to do the same for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, the so-called Israeli Arabs. Peace, as many Israelis understand, would open a Pandora’s box of historic land claims from Palestinian citizens at the expense of Israel’s Jewish citizens.
But the threat to the economic privileges of Israeli Jews would not end with a reckoning over the injustices caused by the state’s creation. The occupation of the Palestinian territories after 1967 spawned many other powerful economic interests opposed to peace.
The most visible constituency are the settlers, who have benefited hugely from government subsidies and tax breaks designed to encourage Israelis to relocate to the West Bank. Peace Now estimates that such benefits alone are worth more than $550 million a year.
Far from being a fringe element, the half a million settlers constitute nearly a tenth of Israel’s Jewish population and include such prominent figures as foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Hundreds of businesses serving the settlers are booming in the 60 per cent of the West Bank, the so-called Area C, that falls under Israel’s full control. The real estate and construction industries, in particular, benefit from cut-price land — and increased profits — made available by theft from Palestinian owners.
Other businesses, meanwhile, have moved into Israel’s West Bank industrial zones, benefiting from cheap Palestinian labour and from discounted land, tax perks and lax enforcement of environmental protections.
Much of the tourism industry also depends on Israel’s hold over the holy sites located in occupied East Jerusalem.
This web of interests depends on what Akiva Eldar, of the Haaretz newspaper, terms “land-laundering” overseen by government ministries, state institutions and Zionist organisations. These murky transactions create ample opportunities for corruption that have become a staple for Israel’s rich and powerful, including, it seems, its prime ministers.
But the benefits of occupation are not restricted to the civilian population. The most potent pressure group in Israel — the military — has much to lose from a peace agreement, too.
The ranks of Israel’s career soldiers, and associated security services such as the Shin Bet secret police, have ballooned during the occupation.
The demands of controlling another people around the clock justifies huge budgets, the latest weaponry (much of it paid for by the United States) and the creation of a powerful class of military bureaucrat.
While teenage conscripts do the dangerous jobs, the army’s senior ranks retire in their early forties on full pensions, with lengthy second careers ahead in business or politics. Many also go on to profit from the burgeoning “homeland security” industries in which Israel excels. Small specialist companies led by former generals offer a home to retired soldiers drawing on years of experience running the occupation.
Those who spent their service in the West Bank and Gaza Strip quickly learn how to apply and refine new technologies for surveillance, crowd control and urban warfare that find ready markets overseas. In 2006 Israel’s defence exports reached $3.4bn, making the country the fourth largest arms dealer in the world.
These groups fear that a peace agreement and Palestinian statehood would turn Israel overnight into an insignificant Middle Eastern state, one that would soon be starved of its enormous US subsidies. In addition, Israel would be forced to right a historic wrong and redirect the region’s plundered resources, including its land and water, back to Palestinians, depriving Jews of their established entitlements.
A cost-benefit calculus suggests to most Israeli Jews — including the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — that a real solution to their conflict with the Palestinians might come at too heavy a price to their own pockets.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest book is “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press). His website is www.jkcook.net.
BRUSSELS – Organisations raising funds to benefit the Israeli army and illegal settlements in the West Bank enjoy tax-exempt status in Europe, an IPS investigation has shown.
The Sar-El Foundation is one of several groups working in the Netherlands dedicated to supporting the Israel Defence Forces. It organises regular visits to Israel, where Dutch volunteers spend three-week periods training with the IDF.
Max Arpels Lezer, the foundation’s Amsterdam-based chairman, said that he tries to encourage volunteers to work in Israeli hospitals but if “that is not possible they can do civilian work on military bases.”
He has previously stated that while the volunteers do not become soldiers, “they help in the battle against the Palestinians.” But he would not comment when asked why he wishes to assist the Israeli army, given that a United Nations inquiry led by retired South African judge Richard Goldstone found that its troops committed war crimes during a three-week offensive against Gaza in 2008-2009.
“I don’t wish to answer the question,” he said. “We don’t talk about politics. Our organisation is a non-political organisation.”
Under Dutch law, foundations such as Sar-El are exempt from tax, and individuals giving money to them can deduct the donations from their income tax.
A similar group Collectieve Israël Action (Collective Action Israel) collects about eight million euros (11 million dollars) per year, according to its website. Among the projects it assists are training for Israeli soldiers, particularly on the applications of advanced technology. The CIA’s board of advisers includes Doron Livnat, director of Riwal, a supplier of cranes used in the construction of the massive wall that Israel has built in the West Bank. That wall was found to be illegal in a 2004 opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The Nachamoe Foundation, meanwhile, raises money for the upkeep of Israeli families. The foundation has admitted that some of the families live on Israeli settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.These settlements violate international law; the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from transferring part of its own civilian population into the land it is occupying.
Some groups in the Netherlands have categorised support for the IDF as “humanitarian aid”. Visie voor Israël (Vision for Israel) encourages its sympathisers to give donations that will be used to buy gifts such as backpacks for Israeli soldiers. A newsletter from the organisation says that the quantity of gifts provided has increased substantially since the Israeli army’s offensive against Gaza over the past two years.
Shuva is one of several Christian Zionist organisations working in the Netherlands viewing the foundation of Israel and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the fulfilment of a Biblical prophecy. According to one of its 2009 newsletters, it has financed a school in Nofei Nechemia, an extension (frequently termed an “illegal outpost” by Israeli newspapers) of the Israeli settlement of Ariel the West Bank. Shuva has stated too that it helps hundreds of settlers establish themselves in four Israeli communities in the West Bank every year.
A spokesman for the Dutch inland revenue service said that the country’s tax rules do not contain any clauses relating to breaches of international law. He said that Dutch legislation allows non-profit organisations to apply for tax exemptions based on their stated goals. “At any given moment, the Dutch tax authorities may decide to revoke this favoured status” after examining the activities of those benefiting from it, he added. But the spokesman said he was unable to speak about the status enjoyed by any particular organisation.
Ghada Zeidan from United Civilians for Peace, a Palestinian solidarity group in the Netherlands, said it is “very difficult” to convince the authorities that they should take action against fundraising by pro-Israel organisations. “The problem is that there is a kind of culture of acceptance of it,” she added.
Earlier this year a campaign was launched in Britain to have the Jewish National Fund (JNF) stripped of its status as a charity. While the JNF presents itself as an ecologically minded body that plants trees in Israel, it has actively supported violence against Palestinians for many decades. One of its leading figures Yosef Weitz explicitly advocated in 1940 — eight years before the state of Israel was founded — that Palestinians should be forced out of Palestine. More recently, the JNF has concentrated much of its energies on settling Jews in the Negev, a process that has involved the uprooting of indigenous Bedouins, often by the destruction of their homes.
The latest accounts made public by the JNF in London say that its total income for 2008 amounted to 7.7 million pounds (12.2 million dollars). Another priority for the fund has been to help the Benji Hillman Foundation; set up in memory of a soldier killed when Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, it offers accommodation to young people who travel from abroad to join the Israeli army.
A spokesman for the British revenue authority said he could not say if any investigations have been undertaken into the JNF’s activities.
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) — one of the organisations monitoring the JNF’s work — is seeking a probe into whether fundraisers for foreign armies can be considered charities under British law. Matthew Richardson, an ISM activist, noted that the JNF has powerful allies — David Cameron, the British Prime Minister — has agreed to be one of its patrons; so too did his predecessors Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Richardson added: “The JNF is very embedded within the (pro-Israel) lobby and the political elite as a whole.”