Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Jonathan Cook

It is easy to forget, with eulogies casting him as the unexpected “peace-maker”, that for most of his long military and political career Ariel Sharon was known simply as The Bulldozer. That is certainly how he will be remembered by Palestinians.

It may not have reached the level of fevered expectation unleashed by that famous handshake between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the White House lawn in 1993, but the sense of hope inspired by the long-awaited revival of peace talks is both tangible and deeply misplaced.

Leaders from the [Israeli] Palestinian community, Christian and Muslim, who have spoken against this new [IDF] enlistment effort have been called in for investigation by Israel’s secret police. In an Orwellian inversion, they have been accused of “incitement to violence.”

Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad: “I want my films to put fear into Israelis. My job is to disturb their dreams, to wake them from the fantasy that there is no occupation.”

Former Israeli defence (then industry) minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer: “People like to buy things that have been tested. If Israel sells weapons, they have been tested, tried out. We can say we’ve used this 10 years, 15 years.”

[Lawyers] and others argue that Israel is carrying out a systematic and intentional policy to drive Palestinians off their land to replace them with Jewish communities. This, they say, should be identified as “ethnic cleansing”, a term first given legal and moral weight in the Balkans conflict in the early 1990s.

While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies on the far right were castigating an amusement park called Superland for separating Jewish and Arab children, they were busy backing a bill that will give Israeli Jews who serve in the army a whole raft of extra rights in land and housing, employment, salaries, and much more. Superland’s offence pales to insignificance when compared to that, or to the decades of state-planned and officially sanctoned discrimination against the country’s Palestinian minority.

According to some well-placed Israeli commentators, the best Israel can hope for is that Assad holds on but only just. That would keep the regime in place, or boxed into its heartland, but sapped of the energy to concern itself with anything other than immediate matters of survival. It would be unable to offer help to Hizbullah, isolating the militia in Lebanon and cutting off its supply line to Iran.

In 1948, some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from more than 400 villages as the new state of Israel was declared on a large part of their homeland – an event known to Palestinians as the nakba, or “catastrophe”. The refugees – mostly descendants of those driven from their homes – now number around five million, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

With Europe’s most talented young footballers preparing for the kick-off of the under-21 championships on Wednesday, Israelis are celebrating the biggest footballing coup in their history… Last week Desmond Tutu, the leading South African anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel peace laureate, threw his weight behind the campaign. In a letter published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Tutu and other prominent human rights activists argued that UEFA was acting to “whitewash” Israeli racism.

Israel, it seems, hopes that the Palestinian Authority, now permanently mired in financial crisis, can be arm-twisted with promises of billions of dollars in sweeteners. According to Palestinian sources, Mr Kerry’s plan is intended to leverage Mr Abbas into dropping his condition that Israeli must freeze settlement growth before negotiations can restart.

“You know why Israel’s leaders can’t make peace?” a Palestinian friend asked recently. “Because if the conflict ever ended, Israeli Jews would start tearing out each other’s throats.” But any Palestinian who hoped the protest movements emerging in Israel might signal the beginning of Israeli society’s disintegration should think again. There are plenty of reasons to doubt that most Israeli Jews are ready to break free of the militaristic and nationalist thinking that has dominated Zionism for decades.”

Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami: “Israel’s line was busy, or there was no one on the Israeli side to pick up the phone.”

Israel’s increasing integration into European competitions, despite its refusal to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, respect human rights and halt illegal settlement, is, according to critics, contrary to sporting values and should be met with international opposition of the kind faced by apartheid South Africa.

Tony Blair stepped down as British prime minister in 2007 and immediately assumed the position of representative to the Quartet, the international body overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Against the background of mounting criticism at home over his role in the 2003 Iraq War, this profile examines the record of Blair’s activities in the Middle East over the past five years. The picture that emerges is one of rapid self-enrichment through murky consultancies and opaque business deals with Middle East dictators, and an official role (formally dedicated to Palestinian state-building) whose main results appear to be an unhappy Palestinian Authority and the perpetuation of the status quo.

Assuming the Arab League makes good on its commitment … the fund will serve only to highlight the very problems it seeks to alleviate… The reality is that Mr Abbas and the Arab League are at least a decade too late to protect East Jerusalem. In the current circumstances, such a cash fund will do little more than salve consciences.

The unspoken message of Obama’s visit is that the Netanyahu government is free to pursue its hardline agenda with little danger of anything more than symbolic protest from Washington.

Israeli archeologist Yonathan Mizrachi: “Israel wants to present the situation as if it is simply ‘borrowing’ these antiquities from the Palestinians, like it might borrow an exhibit from France or Britain. But that is not the reality in this case. It is borrowing them from the Civil Administration, which has no right to them in the first place.”

Here is the rub. Mr Netanyahu already has a stranglehold on the politics of his potential peace partners. He can easily manipulate the fortunes of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on the two biggest tests he faces: the peace process overseen by the international community, and reconciliation talks with the rival Palestinian faction Hamas.

Israelis have been revelling in the prospect of an Oscar night triumph next week, with two Israeli-financed films among the five in the running for Best Documentary. But the country’s right-wing government is reported to be quietly fuming that the films, both of which portray Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in a critical light, have garnered so much attention following their nominations.

Far from marking a revival by the center-left, as most media presented the results, [Israel’s 2013] election results signaled a further rightward shift in the center of political gravity in Israel. Hana Suwayd of the Democratic Front, the least outspoken of all the Palestinian legislators, observed: “I believe that what happened in Israeli politics is a kind of transformation: The extreme right became the mainstream, and the most extreme people are sitting at the center of Israeli politics.”

This election has been a personal blow to Netanyahu, but not to the right. Netanyahu misread the public mood, but not on the central issues that should define the left-right divide in Israel: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and decades of belligerent Israeli occupation. Far from a collapse of the right, the election demonstrated that the right is continuing to push the center of political gravity ever further rightwards.

As Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority, gears up for the country’s general election next week, the most common poster in the city features three far-right leaders noted for their virulently anti-Arab views. Paid for by one of the largest Palestinian parties, the posters are intended to mobilize the country’s Palestinian citizens to vote. They pose a blunt question in Arabic: “Who are you leaving it [the Israeli parliament] to?”

However futile the activists’ efforts prove to be on this occasion, the encampment indicates that ordinary Palestinians are better placed to find inventive ways to embarrass Israel than the hidebound Palestinian leadership. Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi extolled the activists for their “highly creative and legitimate nonviolent tool” to protect Palestinian land. But the failure of PA officials, including Saeb Erekat, to make it to the site before it was cordoned off by Israel only heightened the impression of a leadership too slow and unimaginative to respond to events.

A recent report in the Haaretz newspaper, on an Israeli Jew who grows Christmas trees commercially, noted in passing: “hotels – under threat of losing kashrut [Kosher] certificates – are prohibited by the rabbinate from decking their halls in boughs of holly or, heaven forbid, putting up even the smallest of small sparkly Christmas tree in the corner of the lobby.”

IOA Editor: Merry Christmas, Israel!

The inciting cause of the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas has little to do with the firing of rockets, whether by Hamas or the other Palestinian factions. The conflict predates the rockets – and even the creation of Hamas – by decades. It is the legacy of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, forcing many of them from their homes in what is now Israel into the tiny Gaza Strip. That original injustice has been compounded by the occupation Israel has not only failed to end but has actually intensified in recent years with its relentless siege of the small strip of territory.

Awad Abdel Fattah: “Our [Palestinian Israelis’] traditional strength derived from the fact that we, as a community, survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948 [the Nakba]. We remained in our homeland, even as it was transformed into a Jewish state.”

Is Israel preparing to annex Area C, as a growing number of analysts have recently been speculating? This week, on a visit to the Israel’s tourism bureau in Nazareth, Jonathan Cook came across an official brochure, “Your Next Vacation: Israel”, that suggests the answer.

There can be no doubt that the diet devised for Gaza – much like Israel’s blockade in general – was intended as a form of collective punishment, one directed at every man, woman and child. The goal, according to the Israeli defence ministry, was to wage “economic warfare” that would generate a political crisis, leading to a popular uprising against Hamas.

An announcement from frequent IOA contributor, Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook: I am excited to announce the launch of my new website – Jonathan Cook: the View from Nazareth – and a related public page on Facebook. The website should make following my work easy, and the Facebook page will, for the first time, give you the chance to participate by commenting and posting your own thoughts directly.

In the shadow of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s theatrics at the United Nations last week, armed with his cartoon Iranian bomb, Israeli officials launched a quieter, but equally combative, initiative to extinguish whatever hopes have survived of reviving the peace process. For the first time in its history, Israel is seeking to equate millions of Palestinians in refugee camps across the Middle East with millions of Israeli citizens descended from Jews who, before Israel’s establishment in 1948, lived in Arab countries.

Politicians may prefer to express admiration of Israel, and hand over billions of dollars in aid, but the US security establishment has – at least in private – always regarded Israel as an untrustworthy partner. The distrust has been particularly hard to hide in relation to Iran. Mounting pressure from Israel appears to be designed to manoeuvre Washington into supporting an attack on Tehran to stop it supposedly developing a nuclear weapon.

Jonathan Cook tells the story of Nazareth, a Palestinian town that survived the Nakba only to be subjected to massive land confiscations, economic strangulation, and systematic discrimination by all Israeli governments since 1948. An important report covering issues crucial for the understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: because the Occupation didn’t start in 1967, and because discrimination against Israeli Palestinians, at times violent, continues.

Europe’s only real leverage over Israel is economic: business between the two already accounts for about 60 per cent of Israeli trade, worth nearly 30 billion euros (Dh136 billion). But rather than penalising Israel for repeatedly stomping over the flimsiest prospects for a two-state solution, the EU is handsomely rewarding it.

Under international law, Israel’s rule in the West Bank and Gaza is considered “belligerent occupation” and, therefore, its actions must be justified by military necessity only. If there is no occupation, Israel has no military grounds to hold on to the territories. In that case, it must either return the land to the Palestinians, and move out the settlers, or defy international law by annexing the territories, as it did earlier with East Jerusalem, and establish a state of Greater Israel.

The discovery of a rare aerial photo of Jerusalem in the 1930s, taken by a Zeppelin, has provided the long-sought after proof that when Israel occupied the Old City in 1967 it secretly destroyed an important mosque that dated from the time of Saladin close to the al-Aqsa mosque.

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