Thursday, 25 September 2014

Back to the Land

Amidst the media brouhaha about talks about the Gaza blockade, or the killing - the extra-judicial execution, in fact - by the IDF of two men allegedly involved in the murder of three young yeshiva students near Hebron in June, one must always remember the fundamentals of the Israel-Palestine situation.   And nothing is more fundamental - practically but also symbolically and ideologically - to the situation than the land question.

The bottom line in this uneven struggle is and has always been the project of creating and enforcing Zionist-Jewish sovereignty in the territory of Palestine.  The creation, by ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and immigration of Jews, of a Jewish-majority polity is legitimated by the ideological project of the 'redemption' of the land of Eretz Israel.  The pragmatics of redemption is the shift of the land to Jewish ownership and cultivation, always conceived of as a renewal of an old ownership, and this was a feature of the Zionist project from the moment of the first aliyah, or Jewish immigration, in the 1880s.  It continues to this day, both inside and outside the borders of pre-1967 Israel. 

One of the bases for the charge of Israel becoming an 'apartheid state' is the way that, since its inception, the state has handed over certain of its functions to agencies which have always been concerned to serve Jewish persons, not citizens of the state.  One of the chief such agencies is the Jewish National Fund, which was set up in 1901 by the World Zionist Organisation with the sole purpose of land redemption.  Lands were purchased in Ottoman Palestine, later Mandate Palestine, by and for the JNF, and when Israel declared its independence in 1948, the role of administering 'state lands' was handed over to the JNF and its successor organisation, the Israel Land Administration.  In other words, 'state lands', which in fact amount to some 93% of the land surface of Israel were to be and are run solely for the benefit of Jews (conceived globally) and not for the benefit of the citizens of the state.

Consequently, land politics, land administration, the market in land (for agriculture, building, industrial development, leisure and amenity) and land law are crucial elements in the struggle in Palestine.   Here are several articles which go some way towards explaining this extraordinary situation.

First, a piece on the history of the Israeli land law regime, by Gerry Liston on Mondoweiss:

The historical context of the Israeli land and planning law regime:

Second, an article from Jewish Virtual Library giving some of this history from an overtly Zionist point of view - from the horse's mouth, so to speak:

"The Redeemers of the Land"

Third, an article also on Mondoweiss about the current iteration of this problematic:

Israeli Supreme Court upholds law allowing housing discrimination against Palestinians


Saturday, 20 September 2014


In everyday usage, the term 'hegemony' refers to control, or even dominance.   For 60 years, Fianna Fail was the hegemonic political party in Ireland - the party which dominated the scene, which spent more time in power than any other, which came to regard itself as 'the natural party of government'.

As Fintan O'Toole used to explain it, Fianna Fail thought and even now may think of itself as a 'movement', not merely a political party.  This notion - that Fianna Fail's ideas, or more accurately its modes of practice, its sense of its constituency (since most Irish political parties are intellectually invertebrate) have so saturated Irish society that its influence is chiefly to be found beyond the realm of the 'political' as such - leads us to the sense in which I want to use the term here.  The great Italian Communist party leader, newspaper writer, and Marxist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, who died in a Fascist jail in 1937, used the term 'hegemony' to explain how, in modern liberal capitalist societies, power is maintained by means beyond the merely violent or coercive.  This made such societies much harder to revolutionize than societies (such as Tsarist Russia) where an oppressive state, and a powerful aristocracy, sit atop a structure composed mostly of ill-educated and poorly organised peasants and workers.  In capitalist democracies, their strength-in-depth lies precisely in the way that leadership and control are exercised in extraordinarily ramified and complex ways - through law, education, religion, culture.  In all these realms, in civil society itself, authority or hegemony is produced and reproduced in a constant never-ending iteration.  Hegemony, ultimately, is the attainment of ideological control by one sector of a society to the extent that it manages to convince its rivals that its interests and worldview are isomorphic with theirs.

It's in this sense that one can apply the term hegemony to an area of endeavour such as archaeology, as it's practiced in Israel/Palestine.  In Israel, excavations of sites such as the Western Wall have been driven as much by politics as by scholarship, and Biblical Studies, as Keith Whitelam demonstrated in a classic book, The Invention of Ancient Israel (1987), can be shown to have been similarly affected.  Such work, such struggles, are prime examples of the long war which this blog has lately compared to the Gaza attacks and killings.  Here is a blogpiece by Natasha Roth from the London Review of Books on precisely this topic:

Settlement through Excavation



Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Camp Massacres - Remembering Sabra and Shatila

Israel has been stamping on Palestinian refugees for a long long time.  In September 1982, the Israeli Defence Forces had been laying siege to the city of Beirut for many weeks, pounding their Palestine Liberation Army enemies, and the civilian population, with airstrikes and artillery.  A plan was devised, partly by President Reagan's Middle East shuttle-negotiator Philip Habib, for the evacuation and exile from Lebanon of the armed Palestinian units, led by Yasser Arafat.  Many civilians remained behind, however, with old men, women and children crowded into the refugee camps in the south of the city - Sabra and Shatila.

Starting on September 16, the IDF (under the overall political command of Ariel Sharon) sent gunmen from their neofascist Christian Maronite confederates, the Lebanese Phalange, into the camps, to winkle out what Sharon called 'terrorist nests'.  There were, of course, no such 'nests', and no other threat to the IDF.  But over the next three days, Elie Hobeika and his assassins murdered at least 800, and possibly as many as 3000, civilian Palestinians and Lebanese in the camps.  Their actions were overseen, literally, by IDF watch towers and observation posts.  The IDF prevented terrified people from fleeing Sabra and Shatila, and fired flares into the night sky over the camps to permit the Phalange to continue their brutal work.  No Israeli forces lifted a finger to stop them.

These killings were documented in horrifying detail by great journalists such as Robert Fisk and Jonathan Randal, both of whom managed to enter the camps before the killing was over.  Anyone who has read Fisk's epic book on the Lebanon wars, Pity the Nation, will never forget his account.

The Institute of Palestine Studies is putting up essays and material free on its website, to mark the thirty-second anniversary of this atrocity.  Here you will find essays and eye-witness reports on the slaughter:

Remembering Sabra and Shatila 32 Years Later


Monday, 15 September 2014

How to forge peace

Here is a tight, sharp and telling listing, taken from the London Review of Books blog, of how Israel has been making peace since the August 26 ceasefire. Each point in Omar Robert Hamilton's catalogue contains a hyperlink bringing the reader to an article elaborating on that point, in detail. 

Israel's actions here listed are clearly of the kind that makes the United States so happy to defend Israel as a model liberal democracy, and the EU so keen to give Israel access to European trade, funds, and privileged status:

Omar Robert Hamilton
After the Ceasefire



Thursday, 11 September 2014

Getting to the crux at last - the Irish Times interviews Gideon Levy

At last the Irish Times publishes some serious and tough coverage of Gaza.   In the aftermath of the bombardments and invasion of July and August, Lara Marlowe was dispatched to the Strip.  Marlowe is a veteran foreign and war correspondent, who has divided her time over the last number of years between writing as that paper's Paris correspondent, and covering Middle East wars.  She writes with a sympathetic and clear eye.

Here she interviews Gideon Levy, a famous dissenting columnist at Ha'aretz, Israel's elite daily newspaper.  Levy has become famous, or notorious, as one of Israel's most outspoken homegrown critics.  He is a brave and honorable writer, and it's good to see Irish audiences introduced to him.

Here is the link to Marlowe's interview:

‘Holocaust makes Israelis think international law doesn’t apply’

And here is a link to my review of Levy's  book The Punishment of Gaza, which was posted on the Irish Left Review's excellent website - for which many thanks are due to Donagh Brennan - a few years ago:

The Punishment of Gaza



Monday, 1 September 2014

Desolation - reflections and reading on the Gaza War 2014

Tacitus again - 'they [the victors of war] make a desolation and call it "peace"'.   To be sure, though now 'at peace', much of Gaza has been laid waste over the last six weeks.  Two thousand Gazans are dead, 10,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands affected by the destruction of their homes, or more widely by the wanton destruction of huge swathes of the Strip's civic infrastructure - hospitals, schools, the university, the one power station, businesses, farmland. 

The response of the great powers has been one of sleepy negligence.  Appeals to 'both sides' to desist from fighting.  The pronounced need for fighting to stop so as to allow the 'peace process' to start up once again.  No Security Council Resolutions - contrast this with the fevered activity that has accompanied American and Western intervention in Iraq against the 'Islamic State', or the military-diplomatic drums now being beaten about Russian meddling in Ukraine.

The ceasefire agreement that was put together in Cairo is, as this blog has noted already, essentially a repeat of that which came at the end of the bombardment of 2012.  This suggests that secreted within conditions as they now stand lies the complex of factors which will produce another onslaught of this kind in a year or two.  Groundhog Day in Gaza, as we say.

Nevertheless, there is now relative calm.  The point then that interested and critical people may want to think about is this - what happens during the 'peace'?   How peaceful is the peace, actually?   Is it a political and ethical space filled with eager efforts to negotiate a longer-term agreement?   Where lies the 'peace process'?

And the answer has to be that in Palestine, often it's during the 'peace' that the greatest damage occurs.  The real war in Palestine is not, actually, the one waged in paroxysms like that through which Israel/Palestine has just passed.  The real war is one waged below the level of the headlines, beyond the range of the Qassems and the M109s, far away from the diplomatic networks of Washington, Cairo, Tel Aviv and Brussels.  And this is its danger and its power.  Thirty-five years ago, Edward Said described Zionism as 'a discipline of detail', and by this he meant that Zionism as a movement has always planned for Palestine in the most extraordinarily thoroughgoing and brilliant manner.  Said was borrowing from Michel Foucault in that description, and it's fitting, as it was Foucault who offered us the most powerful recent description of the disciplinary and dominative effects of apparatuses of civil infrastructure - prisons, yes, but also schools, hospitals, asylums, and other institutions.  Foucault's bleak vision of 'the subjectification of subjects' is appropriate here precisely because of the interpenetration he envisaged of the machinery of coercion and the structures of civil society, in the world of modernity.  Said's realisation was that Israel's greatest power, its most effective weapon against the Palestinians was not its overwhelming and obvious military power, but its capacity for thinking about Palestine (with its politicians, its generals, its academics, its journalists, its cartographers, its archaeologists, its historians, its teachers, its architects), and then its ability to put those ideas into material expression.

The real power of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians lies in what Eyal Weizmann has called 'a civilian occupation' - the settling of the West Bank, the Judaization of the Galilee - what the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions Jeff Halper calls 'the matrix of control'.  And also in its manipulation of the population of the Strip, in 'peace-time'.  In a brief splendid book, The Least of all Possible Evils, Weizmann shows how closely linked the actions of the IDF and of various arms of the Israeli effort to control, exploit and regulate the Territories have been in recent times to law - to humanitarian law, no less.   The Israeli blockade and siege of the Strip has always been calibrated so as to be just on the right side of the humanitarian law regarding the minimum needs of Gazans, and this is calculated - literally - down to the last calorie.  It was in this sense that Dov Weisglass, one-time advisor to Sharon, joked that the intention of the blockade was to put the Palestinians of Gaza 'on a diet'.  And it's in this sense that we can apply Giorgio Agamben's term 'bare life' to the population of the Strip.  Israel wants to keep these people alive, but only just.  It does not want them alive enough so as to resist, so as to create viable social or political or legal institutions, so as to attain political consciousness.

The terms of the ceasefire barely touch this 'war', this war of the longue duree.  The blockade may be eased very slightly, but it can be tightened again in a couple of hours.  The IDF can intervene again in Gaza at point-blank notice.  It is this war, in some ways even more than the war of rockets and fighter planes, that ultimately may throttle Gaza, that blights lives for years, that impoverishes ordinary people,  that stunts their children, and that kills hope.

Meanwhile Israel goes back to doing what it is actually best at - not trying to destroy Hamas, but colonizing the West Bank.  The announcement of a new settlement block to be constructed just south of Bethlehem was heralded on the RTE radio news as being the largest such initiative in thirty years, but this is unremarkable, in that the years of Netanyahu's coalition have witnessed the greatest ever spasm of settlement construction in the West Bank.  The failure of the United States to force Israel to freeze settlement construction during the Kerry talks was the most obvious sign that those talks were doomed from the start.  And this makes us now realise that one of the greatest impediments to justice in Israel/Palestine is, in fact, the 'peace process' itself.

Think of all those failed plans and initiatives: Carter's Camp David, Madrid, Oslo, Wye, Clinton's Camp David and Taba talks, the 'roadmap', and now the Kerry talks.  Through nearly all of them, Israeli settlement construction, the creation of a separate Jews-only road system, water theft, land degradation, illegal dumping, fence and wall-building, illegal population transfer have been continuing.  What the 'peace process' has turned out to be is the grandest of all possible masks for Israel's land- and resource-grab - what better cover for its rogue antics could Israel want than the pointless, cynical and hypocritical  high political and diplomatic caperings in the White House, Downing Street and the Elysee, New York and Brussels, about 'the two state solution'?  Israel is keen on the process, but not on the peace, as Ilan Pappe has noted; as he's also pointed out, peace talks conducted while one side in a struggle is still making war are not true peace talks, and the fact is that in the West Bank, the demolition of a private house, the cutting down of an olive grove, the holding of a pregnant woman for hours at an illegal checkpoint are and need to be seen as acts of war.  The only good thing about the juxtaposition of the Gaza ceasefire and the new settlement proposal is that it may be jarring enough to make the rest of the world see that the real war is the one conducted, incrementally, at the rate of 'one acre and one goat' (as Chaim Weizmann once suggested), in plain sight, for the last forty-seven years.

Here is a couple of articles which help put some of this in perspective:

Jeff Halper:

The Palestinian message to Israel: Deal with us justly. Or disappear


Jonathan Cook is a British journalist living in Nazareth, and a winner of the Martha Gelhorn Prize.  Here, he writes about the mood in Israel after Protective Edge: 


Israelis unsure whether they won or lost in Gaza