Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why, and Why Now?

I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out why the Israeli government is so keen to attack Iran, and why exactly now.

Some tactical answers to the 'why now' question are rather self-evident, and are directly tied to whatever leverage may be gotten from the American elections. In the best of all possible worlds, there will be enough saber-rattling from the GOP to back Obama into a corner, fearing the loss of Jewish votes and Jewish campaign contributions. The issue is a veritable bogeyman, of course, because the 78% of American Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 are not likely to vote for the GOP, even under Romney's presumed leadership, just because he cheers up an Israeli attack on Iran, nor are any campaign contributions that went to Obama or to Democratic candidates from Jewish sources in 2008 likely to dwindle because of that same reason.  Nonetheless we can count on the American media to hype up whatever hysteria is necessary to obscure that simple fact, and maybe, just maybe, Obama would fold (although thus far, to his credit, he has resisted). Even more likely, what is at stake is not Obama giving Israel the green light, but rather, failing to do much if the Netanyahu government does go it alone.

So, now is the time to tighten the screws. But that is not, in actuality the main 'now' question. Rather, the main 'now' question is inherently tied to the 'why' question – why, I am still wracking my brain, is Israel so keen to attack Iran to begin with? The intelligence community, both in Israel and in the US is rather uniformly of the opinion that Iran is nowhere close to developing a bomb, that it is not even clear that Iran intends to develop a bomb, and that any attack is likely to make Iran more, rather than less determined to develop one. Those very same sources are also of the opinion that an Israeli attack is not likely to succeed in setting back any existing nuclear program by very much. And finally, the universal opinion within the intelligence community is that even if Iran did acquire a nuclear bomb, they are way too sane to actually use it. Not so conventional weapon, which those very same sources seem rather certain Iran will use, and to a significant effect, if attacked. Something rather lethal may actually drop on Tel Aviv that would seriously dwarf the Iraqi Scud missiles that created such massive panic in Israel in 1991, and that is likely to wreak substantial damage. Hundreds of Israelis, if not more, will die; oil wells will burn, oil supply world-wide will be disrupted.  So why attack? And why now??

One common rationale one reads in the saner press is that Israel is determined to preserve its nuclear edge in the region, and hence to put a stop to any other efforts in that direction no matter how nascent. The rationale no doubt is solid insofar as Israel will probably go quite far to preserve its solitary Middle East membership in the atomic club.  But given the chances of success as relative to cost, and given the actual state of the Iranian nuclear program, this rationale does seem somewhat unsatisfactory. Nor does the rationale address the question of why now and not, say, after sanctions will have been declared to have failed.

There is, however, an answer to the 'why' and to the 'why now' that has little to do with Iran's progress towards a nuclear bomb and that is rather sensible.  Did we all notice, per chance, how the Palestinian issue has miraculously dropped off the agenda?  Did we notice how the increasingly louder criticism of the Israeli occupation in the American media has somehow vanished, replaced by endless analyses of the body language in the Obama-Netanyahu encounter? As reported by the Jerusalem Post on November 19, 1989, Binyamim Netanyahu, at the time a deputy foreign minister in a Likud government, told a public audience in Bar-Ilan University that the Israeli government has failed to exploit internationally favorable situations, such as the Tiananmen Massacre in June 1989, when world opinion was focused on China, to carry out 'large scale' expulsions at a time when 'the danger would have been relatively small.' Can we now imagine where the world's attention would be if our TV screens are filled with images of mushroom clouds in Teheran? With images of dozens of dead and wounded Israelis in the streets of Tel-Aviv? With burning oil wells? When our attention is on massive world-wide shortage in oil supply and the emergence of potential hostilities in the Persian Gulf between American boats and Iranian ones?   There will also be, of course, thousands of Iranians, if not  more, dead and wounded.  It's just that we may not really get to see them on our TV screens...

Now how many Palestinians can be induced to cross the Jordan River during such times, if not worse? One should never underestimate the amount of destruction that can be wreaked in a relatively short time.  After all, in 1994, it took 8 weeks to butcher some 800,000 Tutsi with machetes, while the US army was trying to decide what color to paint its intervention vehicles!

And once the burning will have ended, if it does, and once the dead will have been buried and mourned, and once the pundits will have had their say, who, indeed, would be noting the Palestinians, now gone?  Where, in the general woe, would there be room for their plight, for the latest phase of their dispossession? 

And there, indeed, lies the answer to the 'why' and to the 'why now'.  Iran may not be much of a threat, let alone an urgent one, but the world-wide increase in support for the Palestinian cause is. On that front, Israel is fighting very close to home, with massive sectors of the American Jewish population increasingly distancing themselves from Israel, and with the very core of Israel-Jewish society becoming more and more alienated. Never before was public debate about the Israeli occupation as open in the US, and never before was explicit criticism as commonly published in the main press. There remain, secure in the Zionist camp, but the most fundamentalist of American Christians and the most fundamentalist of Jewish population in Israel.  Not for long will Israel be able to convince people that civilian boats attempting to reach Gaza or 300 peace activists landing in its airport are an existential threat.  Not for long will Israel be able to count on American presidents, of any party, overlooking the resentment and the loss of opportunities in the Arab world that emerge directly from the nearly five decades of political impasse.  Not for long will Israel be able to count on Sheldon Adelson, single handedly, controlling the outcome of congressional elections, when public opinion is turning against Israel.  Now that is urgent.

By way of a solution, a halt to the dispossession agenda is, of course, not an option, and never has been, for any Zionist government.  Rather, it appears, what is on the agenda, and not for the first time, is a cynical manipulative calculation. Let's use the cover of war to load people on trucks and drive them away (1948-1949; 1967); let's bomb us an American library or two and blame it on the Egyptian revolutionary regime to sour up its relationship with the US (in 1954); let's impose a military closure on Palestinian agricultural land and then take it away some years later on the grounds that it's owners have failed to cultivate it (from the '50s onwards); let's contrive to put defenseless refugee camps in the path of murderous Phalangist gangs and retreat to lick our lips as we watch the killing (1982).  The list goes on. To be added – let's light a fire in the Middle East that will burn so fiercely and that will create so much damage – including to some of our very own – that nobody will notice that we have kicked out some million Palestinians or so and have finally accomplished what Ben-Gurion, lamentably, has left unfinished.

Hell, No! Let's not!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

SCRATCH THAT! more than 300,000!

That's around 5% of the total population.

More than 160,000 marching in Tel-Aviv alone!

The protesters and the organizers have bent over backwards to stress that they are not taking a position on the occupation.  The settlers and their ilk, however, know a serious challenge when they see one.  It is not about the occupation, indeed!  It is strictly about the distribution of resources.  While 90% of Israeli citizens are underfunded and are rapidly becoming the working poor, the settlers enjoy a portion of the budget that is more than double of their population ratio.  Besmirching is already at high gear!

stay tuned!

But this one is too clever not to share (by way of slogans):

"If you work for a living, you don't have the time to make money!"  

Monday, August 1, 2011

What do ‘Flotilla Folk’ do and why?

07/31/2011 23:52

Published in the Jerusalem Post

What do ‘Flotilla Folk’ do and why?
In response to a Jerusalem Post piece on July 25, “What do "Flotilla Folk’ do?" by Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid (
Being, so to speak, of the “flotilla folk” ourselves, we read with some interest Rothstein and Seid’s idle speculations on who our shipmates might have been, for idle speculations they certainly are, the writers having never contacted any of us. In fact, at least when it comes to the American-flagged boat, The Audacity of Hope, we are not nearly as much of a mystery as one might imagine. Our biographies are all publicly posted at,.

A perusal of our stories would reveal, among other things, that 58 percent of us are women and that our median age is 60.

Similar demographic patterns existed on other boats as well. Many are retired people; most with modest means. We are people willing to spend our savings to fly to Athens and stay there for weeks, doubled or tripled up in
hotel rooms, waiting to sail to Gaza

We are people who felt, who still feel, that we must make the time and find the means because struggling for justice is the moral thing to do. Because we have all come to believe, in the words of Howard Zinn, that “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” – all notions, one feels, that Rothstein and Seid view with a mixture of scorn and incredulity.

As Americans, many of us also feel our primary duty is to speak truth to precisely that power that purports to speak on our behalf – a notion that is, likewise, rather alien to most Israeli-Jewish society, although by no means to Jews elsewhere. A third of us, passengers and organizers of The Audacity of Hope, are Jews, representing a long and valiant tradition of Jewish progressive activism in the US, Europe, South America, South Africa and elsewhere.

What Rothstein and Seid have neglected to note (carried away as they were by their enthusiastic description of our Israel-Hating Syndrome) is that many passengers on The Audacity of Hope have a long and distinguished record of anti-war activism.

They have been outspoken opponents of the American war in
Vietnam; they have spoken against American involvement in Central America, and in the past decade, against wars the US has waged on Iraq and Afghanistan. Many have traveled numerous times to war-ravaged Baghdad and Afghanistan. Kathy Kelly, one of our passengers, traveled to Iraq 26 times! NO, WE are definitely not like other folks, if by “other folks” Rothstein and Seid refer to themselves. Unlike Rothstein and Seid, we insist on remembering not only the 23 people killed by rockets from Gaza, but also the over 1,000 Palestinian civilians killed by Israel in Gaza in Cast Lead
. And the scores killed in Jenin, and those shot routinely in demonstrations in the West Bank. Unlike folks such as Rothstein and Seid, we refuse to forget that 1.6 million people in Gaza have been living in an open-air prison for five years now, or that 2.6 million in the West Bank have been under military occupation for 44 years – the longest military occupation in modern history, and a situation with absolutely no current parallels! That we have turned our attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general and to the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians in particular derives directly from the understanding that these could not have survived without US government support. It is the US government that has directly abetted Israel in its continuing dispossession of the Palestinians, and that has supported and protected Israel through its decades of refusal to enter meaningful negotiations. Insofar as we are Americans, and insofar as our action is fundamentally political, it is intended to raise the awareness of our own people and to pressure our own government to change its course.

And yes, horrendous things are happening elsewhere in the world. Some on the flotilla have been very concerned about that. The IHH – that organization which The Jerusalem Post links to jihadist groups – has, in fact, interceded to support the Syrian refugees in Turkey, and delivered medicine and medical equipment to hospitals in al-Bayda and Benghazi in Libya. How inconvenient for your case! But not to worry. One would be hard-pressed to find any trace of these facts in the mainstream Western or Israeli press.

Reading your derisive comments – all intended to belittle the flotilla and its passengers – it strikes us that the main question is not the one you pose, namely, who we are. Rather, a very different question comes to mind. Here we are, by your description – a bunch of pathetic losers, misguided vacationers, professional activists and idealists who ran out of causes.

A grand total of 1,500 – an overestimation to begin with – and in actuality a lot less once the Mavi Marmara withdrew.

And yet, the State of Israel sees fit to keep us in the headlines for months with threats of attack dogs, snipers and anticipated deaths. Israel pulls out all stops in putting pressure on Mediterranean countries in general, and on Greece in particular, to make sure we don’t leave port. The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, on June 22, called on the international community “to do everything in their ability in order to prevent the flotilla and warn citizens of their countries of the risks of participating in this type of provocation.”
BUT IF we are deluded losers, what does that make the State of Israel and its hysterical response? If 16 passengers on a small yacht off the coast of Gaza are bored vacationers with a mental disorder, what does that make the four fully armed gunboats confronting them? The fact of the matter is that Israel, without any aid from us, provided our otherwise symbolic and rather small-scale effort with the overwhelming amplification that made it headline news in the rest of the world, and most crucially, it would appear from your article, an ongoing Israeli obsession.

While we wanted the plight of the Palestinians to be noticed by the world, we did not set out to have the flotilla become a major world event. That it has become one, however, became patently clear to us once Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw fit to travel to Greece to deliver her heartfelt thanks to ƒPapandreou for services rendered – the stopping of our flotilla.

Frankly, we are grateful!

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve colonel and former US diplomat. Hagit Borer is a professor of linguistics at the University of Southern California.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Vladimir Jabotinsky, “The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs),” Rassvyet (Dawn), Berlin, November 4, 1923

In a recent mass mailing, Lenny Brenner pointed out that the US public is not very knowledgeable about the history of the Likud Party and its ideological underpinning. On the occassion he also posted Zabotinsky's article, 'The Iron Wall', a historical document which I am more than happy to help become better known.

The article - a brilliant piece of writing, in its way - is a very important historical document marked by a high level of lucidity and, I would argue, realism and forethought. It most certainly provides an answer to the question, posed among other places in my LAT op. ed., of how much of what has come to be present day Israel and Zionism could have been foreseen. Zabotinsky, for one, knew exactly where Zionism is headed as early as 1923, and as he argues, so did everybody else who wasn't in denial. Of some interest, to me, is the discussion under the heading  "Moral and Just". I concur with Zabotinsky that answering the moral question is an imperative. And I concur with him that this is a question one should settle before one becomes a Zionist, or, as in my case, before one decides to continue to be one. Sometime in the early 70's, and unlike Zabotinsky, I, personally, answered in the negative.

[Note: The article first appeared in English, captioned as below, in South Africa's November 26, 1937 Jewish Herald.]

The Iron WallColonisation of PalestineAgreement with Arabs Impossible at Present Zionism Must Go Forward

By Vladimir Jabotinsky

It is an excellent rule to begin an article with the most important point. But this time, I find it necessary to begin with an introduction, and, moreover, with a personal introduction.

I am reputed to be an enemy of the Arabs, who wants to have them ejected from Palestine, and so forth. It is not true.

Emotionally, my attitude to the Arabs is the same as to all other nations – polite indifference. Politically, my attitude is determined by two principles. First of all, I consider it utterly impossible to eject the Arabs from Palestine. There will always be two nations in Palestine -- which is good enough for me, provided the Jews become the majority. And secondly, I belong to the group that once drew up the Helsingfors Programme, the programme of national rights for all nationalities living in the same State. In drawing up that programme, we had in mind not only the Jews, but all nations everywhere, and its basis is equality of rights.

I am prepared to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone. This seems to me a fairly peaceful credo.

But it is quite another question whether it is always possible to realize a peaceful aim by peaceful means. For the answer to this question does not depend on our attitude to the Arabs; but entirely on the attitude of the Arabs to us and to Zionism.
Now, after this introduction, we may proceed to the subject.

Voluntary Agreement Not Possible

There can be no voluntary agreement between ourselves and the Palestine Arabs. Not now, nor in the prospective future. I say this with such conviction, not because I want to hurt the moderate Zionists. I do not believe that they will be hurt. Except for those who were born blind, they realised long ago that it is utterly impossible to obtain the voluntary consent of the Palestine Arabs for converting "Palestine" from an Arab country into a country with a Jewish majority.

My readers have a general idea of the history of colonisation in other countries. I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonisation being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent.

The native populations, civilised or uncivilised, have always stubbornly resisted the colonists, irrespective of whether they were civilised or savage.

And it made no difference whatever whether the colonists behaved decently or not. The companions of Cortez and Pizzaro or (as some people will remind us) our own ancestors under Joshua Ben Nun, behaved like brigands; but the Pilgrim Fathers, the first real pioneers of North America, were people of the highest morality, who did not want to do harm to anyone, least of all to the Red Indians; and they honestly believed that there was room enough in the prairies both for the Paleface and the Redskin. Yet the native population fought with the same ferocity against the good colonists as against the bad.

Every native population, civilised or not, regards its land as its national home, of which it is the sole master, and it wants to retain that mastery always; it will refuse to admit not only new masters but, even new partners or collaborators.

Arabs Not Fools

This is equally true of the Arabs. Our peace-mongers are trying to persuade us that the Arabs are either fools, whom we can deceive by masking our real aims, or that they are corrupt and can be bribed to abandon to us their claim to priority in Palestine, in return for cultural and economic advantages. I repudiate this conception of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are five hundred years behind us; they have neither our endurance nor our determination; but they are just as good psychologists as we are, and their minds have been sharpened like ours by centuries of fine-spun logomachy. We may tell them whatever we like about the innocence of our aims, watering them down and sweetening them with honeyed words to make them palatable, but they know what we want, as well as we know what they do not want. They feel at least the same instinctive jealous love of Palestine, as the old Aztecs felt for ancient Mexico, and the Sioux for their rolling Prairies.

To imagine, as our Arabophiles do, that they will voluntarily consent to the realisation of Zionism, in return for the moral and material conveniences which the Jewish colonist brings with him, is a childish notion, which has at bottom a kind of contempt for the Arab people; it means that they despise the Arab race, which they regard as a corrupt mob that can be bought and sold, and are willing to give up their fatherland for a good railway system.

All Natives Resist Colonists

There is no justification for such a belief. It may be that some individual Arabs take bribes. But that does not mean that the Arab people of Palestine as a whole will sell that fervent patriotism that they guard so jealously, and which even the Papuans will never sell.

Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised.

That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of "Palestine" into the "Land of Israel."

Arab Comprehension

Some of us have induced ourselves to believe that all the trouble is due to misunderstanding –- the Arabs have not understood us, and that is the only reason why they resist us; if we can only make it clear to them how moderate our intentions really are, they will immediately extend to us their hand in friendship.

This belief is utterly unfounded and it has been exploded again and again. I shall recall only one instance of many. A few years ago, when the late Mr. Sokolow was on one of his periodic visits to Palestine, he addressed a meeting on this very question of the "misunderstanding." He demonstrated lucidly and convincingly that the Arabs are terribly mistaken if they think that we have any desire to deprive them of their possessions or to drive them out of the country, or that we want to oppress them. We do not even ask for a Jewish Government to hold the Mandate of the League of Nations.

One of the Arab papers, "El Carmel," replied at the time, in an editorial article, the purport of which was this:

"The Zionists are making a fuss about nothing. There is no misunderstanding. All that Mr. Sokolow says about the Zionist intentions is true, but the Arabs know that without him. Of course, the Zionists cannot now be thinking of driving the Arabs out of the country, or oppressing them, nor do they contemplate a Jewish Government. Quite obviously, they are now concerned with one thing only -- that the Arabs should not hinder their immigration. The Zionists assure us that even immigration will be regulated strictly according to the economic needs of Palestine. The Arabs have never doubted that: it is a truism, for otherwise there can be no immigration."

No “Misunderstanding”

This Arab editor was actually willing to agree that Palestine has a very large potential absorptive capacity, meaning that there is room for a great many Jews in the country without displacing a single Arab.

There is only one thing the Zionists want, and it is that one thing that the Arabs do not want, for that is the way by which the Jews would gradually become the majority, and then a Jewish Government would follow automatically; and the future of the Arab minority would depend on the goodwill of the Jews; and a minority status is not a good thing, as the Jews themselves are never tired of pointing out. So there is no “misunderstanding.” The Zionists want only one thing, Jewish immigration; and this Jewish immigration is what the Arabs do not want.

This statement of the position by the Arab editor is so logical, so obvious, so indisputable, that everyone ought to know it by heart, and it should be made the basis of all our future discussions on the Arab question. It does not matter at all which phraseology we employ in explaining our colonising aims, Herzl's or Sir Herbert Samuel's.

Colonisation carries its own explanation, the only possible explanation, unalterable and as clear as daylight to every ordinary Jew and every ordinary Arab.

Colonisation can have only one aim, and Palestine Arabs cannot accept this aim. It lies in the very nature of things, and in this particular regard nature cannot be changed.

The Iron Wall

We cannot offer any adequate compensation to the Palestinian Arabs in return for Palestine. And therefore, there is no likelihood of any voluntary agreement being reached. So that all those who regard such an agreement as a condition sine qua non for Zionism may as well say "non" and withdraw from Zionism.

Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population –- behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.

That is our Arab policy; not what we should be, but what it actually is, whether we admit it or not. What need, otherwise, of the Balfour Declaration? Or of the Mandate? Their value to us is that an outside Power has undertaken to create in the country such conditions of administration and security that if the native population should desire to hinder our work, they will find it impossible.

And we are all of us, without any exception, demanding day after day that this outside Power should carry out this task vigorously and with determination.

In this matter there is no difference between our "militarists" and our "vegetarians." Except that the first prefer that the iron wall should consist of Jewish soldiers, and the others are content that they should be British.

We all demand that there should be an iron wall. Yet we keep spoiling our own case, by talking about "agreement," which means telling the Mandatory Government that the important thing is not the iron wall, but discussions. Empty rhetoric of this kind is dangerous. And that is why it is not only a pleasure but a duty to discredit it and to demonstrate that it is both fantastic and dishonest.

Zionism Moral and Just

Two brief remarks:

In the first place, if anyone objects that this point of view is immoral, I answer: It is not true; either Zionism is moral and just, or it is immoral and unjust. But that is a question that we should have settled before we became Zionists. Actually we have settled that question, and in the affirmative.

We hold that Zionism is moral and just. And since it is moral and just, justice must be done, no matter whether Joseph or Simon or Ivan or Achmet agree with it or not.

There is no other morality.

Eventual Agreement

In the second place, this does not mean that there cannot be any agreement with the Palestine Arabs. What is impossible is a voluntary agreement. As long as the Arabs feel that there is the least hope of getting rid of us, they will refuse to give up this hope in return for either kind words or for bread and butter, because they are not a rabble, but a living people. And when a living people yields in matters of such a vital character it is only when there is no longer any hope of getting rid of us, because they can make no breach in the iron wall.

Not till then will they drop their extremist leaders whose watchword is"Never!" And the leadership will pass to the moderate groups, who will approach us with a proposal that we should both agree to mutual concessions. Then we may expect them to discuss honestly practical questions, such as a guarantee against Arab displacement, or equal rights for Arab citizens, or Arab national integrity.

And when that happens, I am convinced that we Jews will be found ready to give them satisfactory guarantees, so that both peoples can live together in peace, like good neighbours.

But the only way to obtain such an agreement, is the iron wall, which is to say a strong power in Palestine that is not amenable to any Arab pressure. In other words, the only way to reach an agreement in the future is to abandon all ideas of seeking an agreement at present.