Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Recasting the Nakba | Jewish Nation-State Bill | Teaching Fear and Loathing | Hunger Strike | More ..

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EDITORIAL

Jewish Nation-State Bill: Israel's Precarious Identity is Palestine's Nightmare

The Israeli Knesset (parliament) has hurriedly passed a new bill that defines Israel as the "national home of the Jewish people." Although the association between Jewishness and Israel goes back to the foundation of the state, the new law also carries clear discriminatory elements that target the country's Arab communities, numbering nearly two million people.
The 'Jewish Nation-State Bill' is the latest concoction of Israel's rightwing Zionist Jewish parties, which have dominated Israeli politics for years. With the Israeli 'Left' rendered irrelevant, or has itself moved to the right, the right wing elements of Israel are now the supreme rulers of that country.
By strict definition, Israel is, at best, an inadequate 'democracy' or a democracy for Jews only, although it has promoted itself for decades as the 'Middle East's only democracy'. Like other Middle Eastern governments, Israel uses all the right sounding words and phrases, but its political system is neither fair nor representative of all citizens regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.
In some way, Israel behaves as if Palestinian Arabs - Christian or Muslim - do not exist. Whether citizens of Israel or the occupied Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or besieged Gaza, they are all, to varying degrees, invisible to Israel's political system.
While so-called Israeli Arabs enjoy a semblance of rights - a fact that is often underscored by Israel as proof of its democratic credentials - millions of occupied Palestinians exist completely outside the system. The only rules that apply to them are the rules of war and guidelines set by military courts and carried out by occupation soldiers.
But nearly a fifth of Israel's own population - native Palestinians - is subjected to an array of discriminatory laws that collectively render their fundamental human and political rights devoid of substance. 'Adalah', the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has established a database of new and proposed bills at the Knesset that discriminates against Palestinians and privileges the Jewish citizens of Israel. They are many.
Reporting in 'Al Jazeera', Jonathan Cook explained the nature of discrimination that will be introduced once the Jewish Nation-State Bill becomes law. "Among its provisions, the legislation revokes the status of Arabic as an official language," he wrote.
Once the bill is enacted into law, which Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed to achieve in the course of 60 days, the legislation will increase "the powers of so-called 'admissions committees' that block Palestinian citizens from living in hundreds of communities that control most of Israel's land."
In fact, none of this is entirely new. Israel was established as a state for the Jews, regardless of their birthplace and current residence, following the destruction of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of its population.
Palestinians are still reeling under that very Nakba - or 'Catastrophe' - that had befallen their ancestors in 1948. When Israel was established, over 500 Palestinian towns and villages were destroyed, and the Arab, Muslim and Christian identity of that country was violently gutted out, to be replaced by a Jewish one.
The proposed law is but one of numerous such attempts, using 'democracy' as a vehicle to perfect the marginalisation of Palestinians.
Israel never had a constitution, but a set of Basic Laws. It opted not to have a constitution because such a document requires a clear definition of the country's borders. An expansionist state since birth, Israel has postponed the question of borders to a later date.
The Basic Laws have also defined Israel as a Jewish state. For 70 years, various Israeli governments from the Right, Left and Center, used such definitions to discriminate against Palestinian Arabs, denying them access to most of the country's land, to live in certain communities or politically organise in any way that may be deemed perilous to the Jewish identity of Israel. Those who refused to comply were treated as fifth column and traitors. In fact, Palestinian Arab citizens have always been treated as third class citizens.
However, the clustering of Israel's Right in recent years, the rise of the ultranationalist parties and the further religionization of the country's identity has pushed the scale of discrimination against the Palestinian community in Israel to an all-time high.
Last July, a majority in the Knesset voted in favour of a bill that, in principle, could expel members of Knesset whose views are judged as contrary to those of the majority.
"This law presents a grave danger to one of the most basic civil rights in a democratic society - the right to vote and the right to be elected," 'Adalah' said in a statement at the time.
Like previous laws, the 'expulsion law' is "intended to expel Arab Knesset members who 'dare' to stray beyond the boundaries dictated to them by the Israeli Jewish majority, thus silencing the voice of the Palestinian Arab public."
Although a religious matter to some, the emphasis on the Jewish identity of Israel was hardly a question of religion, but a matter pertaining to race and ethnicity.
It is a known fact that Theodor Herzl, founding father of Zionism - the ideology upon which Israel was founded - and David Ben-Gurion, Israel's 'founding father' were both ardent atheists.
For them, and other leaders of the early Zionist Movement, Judaism was a vehicle that helped galvanise the collective energy of Jewish communities around the world to 'return' to the 'mother homeland'.
Referring to Ben-Gurion, David Hulme wrote in Vision.org "even in his later years he demonstrated no great sympathy for the elements of traditional Judaism, though he quoted the Bible extensively in his speeches and writings - more than any other Jewish politician then or since."
Such ethnic and religious jingoism continue to define Israel's attitude towards Palestinians. However, a new breed of purely religious Zionists has morphed in recent years to replace Ben-Gurion's national Zionism which used religion to merely achieve its political aims.
Israel's new Zionist is determined to achieve complete dominance over Palestinian Arabs.
The Jewish Nation-State Bill is particularly dangerous for it crosses all previous lines. Masked as a renewed emphasis on Israel's Jewishness, the law will push the country's minorities further into a corner.
The law will further normalise racism in Israel and cement a growing Apartheid system.
Yet Netanyahu insists that "there is no contradiction at all between this bill and equal rights for all citizens of Israel."
Israel's odd definition of democracy and relentless attempts to reconcile between democracy and racial discrimination, however, is rarely challenged among its American and European allies.
Palestinians, on the other hand, are bearing the brunt of racism more than ever before, for Israel's Jewish dream has become their never-ending nightmare.
- Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include "Searching Jenin", "The Second Palestinian Intifada" and his latest "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story". His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

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COMMENT

Israel Tutors Its Children in Fear and Loathing


By Jonathan Cook - Nazareth
A display of Israeli-style community policing before an audience of hundreds of young schoolchildren was captured on video last week. Were the 10-year-olds offered road safety tips, advice on what to do if they got lost, or how to report someone suspicion hanging around the school?
No. In Israel, they do things differently. The video shows four officers staging a mock anti-terror operation in a park close to Tel Aviv. The team roar in on motorbikes, firing their rifles at the "terrorist".
As he lies badly wounded, the officers empty their magazines into him from close range. In Israel it is known as "confirming the kill". Everywhere else it is called an extrajudicial execution or murder. The children can be heard clapping.
It was an uncomfortable reminder of a near-identical execution captured on film last year. A young army medic, Elor Azaria, is seen shooting a bullet into the head of an incapacitated Palestinian in Hebron. A military court sentenced him to 18 months for manslaughter in February.
There has been little sign of soul-searching since. Most Israelis, including government officials, call Azaria a hero. In the recent religious festival of Purim, dressing up as Azaria was a favourite among children.
There is plenty of evidence that Israel's security services are still regularly executing real Palestinians.
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem denounced the killing last week of a 16-year-old Jerusalem schoolgirl, Fatima Hjeiji, in a hail of bullets. She had frozen to the spot after pulling out a knife some distance from a police checkpoint. She posed no threat, concluded B'Tselem, and did not need to be killed.
The police were unrepentant about their staged execution, calling it "a positive, empowering" demonstration for the youngsters. The event was hardly exceptional.
In communities across Israel this month, the army celebrated Israel's Independence Day by bringing along its usual "attractions" - tanks, guns and grenades - for children to play with, while families watched army dogs sicking yet more "terrorists".
In a West Bank settlement, meanwhile, the army painted youngsters' arms and legs with shrapnel wounds. Blood-like liquid dripped convincingly from dummies with amputated limbs. The army said the event was a standard one that "many families enjoyed".
The purpose of exposing children at an impressionable age to so much gore and killing is not hard to divine. It creates traumatised children, distrustful and fearful of anyone outside their tribe. That way they become more pliant soldiers, trigger-happy as they rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories.
A few educators have started to sense they are complicit in this emotional and mental abuse.
Holocaust Memorial Day, marked in Israeli schools last month, largely avoids universal messages, such as that we must recognise the humanity of others and stand up for the oppressed. Instead, pupils as young as three are told the Holocaust serves as a warning to be eternally vigilant - that Israel and its strong army are the only things preventing another genocide by non-Jews.
Last year Zeev Degani, principal of one Israel's most prestigious schools, caused a furore when he announced his school would no longer send pupils on annual trips to Auschwitz. This is a rite of passage for Israeli pupils. He called the misuse of the Holocaust "pathological" and intended to "generate fear and hatred" to inculcate extreme nationalism.
It is not by accident that these trips - imparting the message that a strong army is vital to Israel's survival - take place just before teenagers begin a three-year military draft.
Increasingly, they receive no alternative messages in school. Degani was among the few principals who had been inviting Breaking the Silence, a group of whistle-blowing soldiers, to discuss their part in committing war crimes.
In response, the education minister, Naftali Bennett, leader of the settlers' party, has barred dissident groups like Breaking the Silence. He has also banned books and theatre trips that might encourage greater empathy with those outside the tribe.
Polls show this is paying off. Schoolchildren are even more ultra-nationalist than their parents. More than four-fifths think there is no hope of peace with the Palestinians.
But these cultivated attitudes don't just sabotage peacemaking. They also damage any chance of Israeli Jews living peacefully with the large minority of Palestinian citizens in their midst.
Half of Jewish schoolchildren believe these Palestinians, one in five of the population, should not be allowed to vote in elections. This month the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called the minority's representatives in parliament "Nazis" and suggested they should share a similar fate.
This extreme chauvinism was translated last week into legislation that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people around the world, not its citizens. The Palestinian minority are effectively turned into little more than resident aliens in their own homeland.
Degani and others are losing the battle to educate for peace and reconciliation. If a society's future lies with its children, the outlook for Israelis and Palestinians is bleak indeed.
(A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.)
- Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his website: www.jonathan-cook.net.
COMMENT

Recasting the Nakba: Palestinian Struggle between Victimhood and Resistance

In mainstream Israeli politics, history books, literature and collective imagination, the Palestinian Nakba never happened. If the pain and suffering of a nation is acknowledged, then the people themselves would, naturally, have to be acknowledged as well. This, Israel could not do.
In fact, the infamous declaration made by former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir - that Palestinians "didn't exist" and that "there is no such a thing as a Palestinian people" - was far more dangerous than the racist comment that many understood it to be, justifiably so. The statement was made two years after the Naksa, which saw the Arabs defeated in 1967 and Israel's military domination of all of historic Palestine. The more land that Israel seized illegally by military means, and the more that Palestinians were ethnically-cleansed from their ancestral homeland, the more that Israeli leaders felt the pressing need to erase Palestinians from the annals of history as a people with an identity, a culture and an entitlement to nationhood.
If Palestinians actually "existed" in Israel's imagination, there can never be any moral justification for its creation; there will never be any Israeli narrative that could be powerful enough to rejoice at the birth of the Israeli "miracle" that "made the desert bloom". That blood-stained birth callously required the destruction of an entire nation; people with a unique history, language, culture and collective memory. It was thus absolutely necessary for the Palestinians to be wiped out to quell any possible sense of Israeli guilt, shame and legal and moral responsibility for what has befallen millions of dispossessed people.
In the absence of a problem, there is no obligation to fix it or even relevance in doing so. Thus, the denial of the Palestinian people and homeland was the only intellectual formulation that would allow Israel to sustain and promote its national myths. Not surprisingly, the Israeli logic was convincing enough for those, driven by political necessity, religious zeal or simply self-delusion, who felt the need also to celebrate the Israeli "miracle". Their new mantra, as repeated by one of America's most opportunistic and, indeed, ignorant politicians, Newt Gingrich, a few years ago, was simple: "Palestinians are an invented people."
Despite a fledgling movement in Israel that attempts to challenge the Israeli narrative, in Israeli literature the Palestinian is a "mute shadow", as described by Elias Khoury. The shadow is a reflection of something real, but intangible; it is mute, so that it can be talked to but can never talk back. The "shadow" Palestinian both exists and does not exist.
Nearly seventy years after Palestinians were exiled from their homes when Israel was created in their land, and although their numbers have grown to millions, they remain a mute shadow: random beings behind a wall; multitudes gathered passively with pale faces at military checkpoints; mere numbers and not real beings caged in Israeli jails.
While the pseudo-intellectual equivalent of Gingrich and the political clones of Golda Meir still dominate most platforms concerned with Palestine, and continue to vent hatred and historical distortions, they are making little headway. The Palestinians' fight for their rights throughout the years has resurrected them constantly as a nation, despite every Israeli attempt to deface their national narrative. As in Rene Descartes' dialectics that delivered the realisation, "I think, therefore I am," Palestinian existence is not merely hinged on mere thought, but also action, namely resistance. Resistance here is not a casual reference to combat in some battlefield, but the resistance against the demise of a nation, one with an elaborate, rooted culture that has maintained its identity despite repeated wars, invasions, colonial adventures and military occupation. While the Palestinian culture is linked intrinsically to Islam, Christianity and the wider Arab cultural space, these connections supplement, not supplant, the inimitable Palestinian experience.
The good news is that Israel has, thus far, failed. Not only did Israel fail to erase or even subvert Palestinian identity, though, it is now also attempting to reclaim the Palestinian narrative altogether. Terms such as the "Jewish Nakba" are becoming omnipresent, in reference to the alleged ethnic cleansing of Arab Jews from their countries during the war of 1948.
While the attempt to rewrite history is disingenuous at best, it signals the growing signs of defeat for the Israeli discourse. The term "Nakba" has proven to be too powerful a reference to the origins of Israel, established with genocidal intent and complete disregard for another nation.
Nevertheless, the Nakba must be in a constant process of re-evaluation and, if needed, redefinition. The Nakba is not merely a question of history, but an ongoing reality that has affected several generations of Palestinians. It is not a celebration of victimhood, but the impetus for an ongoing resistance. It is not an "event" assigned a specific political context and analysis, but is now a state of mind; the Palestinian people's strongest rapport between them and their past, present and future.
No, Palestinians should not be defined perpetually by the Nakba. Once justice and freedom are achieved, the Nakba must be reassigned a different meaning, a suitable role in the collective memory of the Palestinian Arab nation. "After the struggle is over, there is not only the demise of colonialism, but also the demise of the colonized," wrote Frantz Fanon. For now, however, the Nakba must live, not only as recognition of the brutality of colonialism, but also of the pride, dignity and resistance of the colonized.
(This article originally appeared in Middle East Monitor.)
- Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include "Searching Jenin", "The Second Palestinian Intifada" and his latest "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story". His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

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