Thursday, June 07, 2007

On the 7th Day, Isreal Built

By most accounts it was a phenomenal day in the history of Israel. No longer the little nation surrounded by enemies, the David vs. the Arab Goliath, Israel was the victor in a lightning quick war that routed three Arab armies, and changed the political landscape of the Middle East. Overnight Israel controlled the entire former British Mandate of Palestine. The sweet euphoria that enveloped Israel that summer in 1967 and that is being celebrated this past week has been supplanted by the tragedy of forty years of occupation of the territories conquered during those six days.

On June 10th, 1967, one million Arabs came under the control of Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan. Villages were razed, entire communities were rounded up and exiled, and an estimated 300,000 people became refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. This was the 2nd exodus for the Palestinians. In 1948 upwards of 700,000 refugees fled the fledgling state of Israel to camps in Gaza and the West Bank. At first, the occupation of territories seized during the war was considered temporary. In July 1967, the first settlers arrived in the Golan, and the settlement movement of Greater Israel was actualized. From that fateful day, as journalist Gershom Gorenberg makes clear, “the purpose of settlement has been to create facts on the ground that would determine the final status of the land.” Today, over a quarter of a million Israelis live in colonial outposts (“neighborhoods” and “settlement blocks” in the language of occupation) throughout the West Bank and these settlements continue to expand, appropriating additional land and resources as they grow.

Of course, like the Europeans before them, and like America today, In 1967 Israeli’s leaders thought of themselves as enlightened occupiers. Whether this was self-deception or merely propaganda to “sell” the theft of land and resources to it’s own citizenry and the international community it is hard to discern, but as resistance to subjugation grew the tactics of control grew harsher. Forty years down the road, victory is hardly recognizable, peace illusive.

Israel’s security has become the first and foremost consideration, in fact, the only parameter by which we are allowed to judge the situation. Any mention of the suffering of the Palestinians, any mention of the injustice done to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories- the dispossession, the massacres, the home demolitions, the oppression- is met with derision, threats, slander, and claims of anti-Semitism. In 2007, terror trumps all.

Each and every act of violence perpetrated by Palestinians is framed as terrorism, committed by people without conscience, people taught to hate from birth, people who hate democracy, people without a moral compass, the personification of evil itself, people who can not be reasoned with, and after all, “We Will Never Negotiate with Terrorists!” Terror. Terror without reason, completely separated from history, without any possible cause.

These claims are closely followed by the lament, “We have no partner for peace.”

Each and every violent act perpetrated by the state of Israel is framed as a strike against terror, no matter that the electric power plant was destroyed- collective punishment for entire communities; no matter that the perpetrator was a child throwing stones at a tank; no matter how many women and children are killed, no matter that the wall divides your land and steals your resources. No matter. Security is paramount. Terror must be defeated. We have no choice. State sponsored violence is righteous, necessary, and the Palestinians have brought it on themselves. (If only there was a partner for peace!) State sponsored violence is the only answer.

The misconception that peace is only possible by military victory, destroying your enemies at any cost and projecting strength "in a dangerous neighborhood" holds sway not only in Israel but America as well. The deeply held fear and the untenable anxiety of the citizenry, ratcheted to ever higher levels by those who are expected to govern and lead, traps us in a vicious cycle. The rhetoric of righteous violence corrupts all that it touches. In this atmosphere, neither “side” is a valid partner for peace. And citizens, both Israeli and Palestinian, are fodder for their politician’s disingenuous posing and ineptitude.

Forty years down the road, the “road map” is shredded, the idea of a “peace process” exposed as an illusion. The West Bank is divided up into cantons separated by walls, by-pass roads, settlements, and military checkpoints. The Palestinians are on the verge of civil war. Chaos, poverty, and destruction reign in the territories. 8000 Palestinians including women and children are in Israeli prisons, many held without charges. The Israeli government is ineffectual, weakened by the war with Lebanon, (yet another war that was forced upon Israel). We are faced with the monumental political folly of all sides, the absolute failure of all parties to seek justice in a framework of true reconciliation and atonement. Extremists on all sides are increasingly vocal and gaining strength. The rhetoric of violence, retaliation, and retribution grows louder. Storm clouds gather. A generation knows nothing more than occupation. The euphoria has dissipated on the wind. Victory has never seemed so shallow a concept.

©Johnny Barber 6/7/07