In the midst of the noise and clamor, and—in the jargon of the day—“bitter partisan divide” generated by the imminent impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, people may be forgiven if they have overlooked the fact that, more than 100 years after the Turks set themselves the task of engaging in the mass murder of Armenians, the United States Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to recognize the Armenian Genocide. One cannot simply ascribe the inordinate delay in acknowledging the brute fact of the Armenian Genocide to amnesia, since Armenians have been especially vigilant in drawing the world’s attention to what has sometimes been termed the “first holocaust” of the 20th century. Nevertheless, Armenians have also had to live with the fact that the world has often chosen to overlook the genocide that was directed at them.
Fourth and Concluding Part of “Dispossession, Despair, and Defiance: Seventy Years of Occupation in Palestine”
As I argued in the last part of this essay, there is no gainsaying the fact that anti-Semitism remains rife among most Arab communities—and indeed among Christians in many parts of the world, as the attacks on synagogues, which have increased since the time that Mr. Trump assumed high office, amply demonstrate. Nevertheless, it is equally the case that the charge of anti-Semitism has itself become a totalitarian form of stifling dissent and an attempt to enforce complete submissiveness to the ideology of Zionism. On the geopolitical plane, the leadership (as it is called) of the United States, has done nothing to bring about an amicable resolution, even as the United States is construed as the peace-broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, one might well ask if the United States is even remotely the right party to position itself as an arbiter, and not only for the all too obvious reason that its staunch and nakedly partisan support for Israel, punctuated only by a few homilies on the necessity of exercising restraint and Israel’s right to protect itself in the face of the gravest provocations, makes it unfit to insert itself into the conflict as a peacemaker. We have seen this all too often, most recently of course in the carnage let loose on the border last week as Israel celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding and the Palestinians marked seventy years of the catastrophe that has befallen them: even as Israel was mowing down Palestinian youth and young men, most of them unarmed and some evidently shot in the back, the United States was applauding Israel for acting “with restraint”.
In an essay that Richard Falk wrote a few years ago at my invitation, entitled The Endless Search for a Just and Sustainable Peace: Palestine-Israel (2014), he advanced briefly an argument the implications of which, with respect to the conflict and its possible resolution, have never really been worked out. Falk observed that the Abrahamic revelation, from which the two political theologies that inform this conflict have taken their birth, is predisposed towards violence and even an annihilationist outlook towards the other. There is, in Regina M. Schwartz’s eloquently argued if little-known book, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (The University of Chicago Press, 1998), an extended treatment of this subject, though I suspect that her view that monotheistic religions have an intrinsic predisposition towards exterminationist violence will all too easily and with little thought be countered by those eager to demonstrate that religions guided by the Abrahamic revelation scarcely have a monopoly on violence. It has, for example, become a commonplace in certain strands of thinking in India to declare that nothing in the world equals the violence perpetrated in various idioms by upper-caste Hindus against lower-caste Hindus over the course of two millennia or more. One could, quite plausibly, also argue that there is a long-strand of nonviolent thinking available within the Christian dispensation, commencing with Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s injunctions towards nonviolent conduct in Romans and exemplified in our times by such dedicated practitioners of Christian nonviolence as A. J. Muste, Dorothy Day, the Berrigan Brothers, and the stalwarts of the Civil Rights Movement, among them the Reverends M. L. King, James M. Lawson, and Fred Shuttleworth.
Whatever one makes of the view that the political theologies that inform the Abrahamic revelation make a peaceful resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict an immense challenge to the ethical imagination, what is perhaps being tacitly expressed here is a serious reservation about the fitness of the United States, which evangelicals would like to have openly recognized as a land of Abrahamic revelation, to intervene in this debate. I would put it rather more strongly. The supposition that the United States, which has all too often harbored genocidal feelings towards others, and has been consistently committed, through the change of administrations over the last few decades, to the idea that it must remain the paramount global power, can now act equitably and wisely in bringing a just peace to the region must be challenged at every turn. There is, as well, the equally profound question of whether there is anything within the national experience of the United States that allows it to consider such conflicts on a civilizational plane, not readily amenable to the nation-state framework and the rules that constitute normalized politics.Pa
Richard Falk sees, in the willingness of British government after decades of violence, arson, terrorist attacks, and a bitterness that surprised even those hardened by politics, to negotiate with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as a political entity some precedent for discussions that might lead to a framework for an equitable peace. Assuming this to be the case, one must nevertheless be aware that all proposed solutions to the conflict are fraught with acute hazards. Those who are inclined to see the conflict entirely or largely through the prism of religion have displayed little sensitivity to the idea that if religion repels frequently because of its exclusiveness it just as often attracts because of its potential inclusiveness. Those who look at the conflict entirely as a political matter will not concede what is palpably true, namely that the present practice of politics precludes possibilities of a just peace. The advocates of the two-state solution, clearly in an overwhelming majority today, must know that if such a solution becomes reality, Palestine will be little more than a Bantustan. Some may claim that even an impoverished, debilitated, and besieged but independent Palestine would be a better option for its subjects than the apartheid which circumscribes and demeans their lives today, but any such solution cannot be viewed as anything other than a surrender to the most debased notion of politics.
Israel should not be permitted to use the rantings of the Holocaust deniers, or the more severe anti-Semitic pronouncements of its detractors, as a foil for the equally implausible argument that the Palestinians are committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. The greater majority of the Palestinian leaders and intellectuals, as many commentators have points out, have signaled their acceptance of the pre-1967 borders of Israel provided that Israel withdraws from the territory it has occupied since the 1967 war and displays a serious willingness to address the refugee problem. In a more ideological vein, most Palestinians are reconciled to the idea that the Zionist project, originating in a desire to establish a Jewish state on Arab lands, is a fait accompli. However equitable a political solution—and that, too, seems to be a remote possibility—the more fundamental questions to which the conflict gives rise are those which touch upon our ability to live with others who are presented to us as radically different, even if the notion of the ‘radical’ that is at stake here is only grounded in historical contingencies. Living with others is never easy, and is not infrequently an unhappy, even traumatic, affair; but it is certainly the most challenging and humane way to check the impulse to gravitate towards outright discrimination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. “We cannot choose”, Hannah Arendt has written, “with whom we cohabit the world”, but Israel appears to have signified its choice, terrifyingly so, not only by the erection of the Separation Wall, but also by imposing a draconian regime of segregationist measures that reek of apartheid. In so doing, it behooves Israel to recognize that victory is catastrophic for the vanquisher as much as defeat is catastrophic for the vanquished.
See also Part III, “Settlements, Judaization, and Anti-Semitism”
Part II, “A Vastly Unequal Struggle: Palestine, Israel, and the Disequilibrium of Power”
Part I, “Edward Said and an Exceptional Conflict”
For a Norwegian translation of this article by Lars Olden, see: http://prosciencescope.com/fjerde-og-avsluttende-delen-av-bortvising-fortvilelse-og-defiance-sytti-ar-med-okkupasjon-i-palestina/
Part III of Dispossession, Despair, and Defiance: Seventy Years of Occupation in Palestine
All occupations are brutal. The greater number of the Palestinians who were expelled in 1948 were shepherded into the narrow strip called Gaza. Israel’s first occupation of Gaza, in 1956, lasted about a year before Gaza was returned to the jurisdiction of Egypt. The 1967 war was calamitous for Arabs: among its other consequences, Gaza was reoccupied, and Israel only disengaged with Gaza in 2005. That would pave the way, the following year, for elections and the triumph, which took Israel and the West by surprise, of Hamas. For all of the American celebration of electoral sovereignty as the greatest possible outcome for any nation, the United States could not allow that Hamas had achieved an outcome that none had countenanced and few thought possible. Gaza has since been blockaded by Israel, Egypt—which borders Gaza to the south—and the United States, and the movement of people into and out of Gaza has been severely restricted over the course of the last decade. There are graphic accounts of the implications of the blockade, in myriad respects: unemployment among young men runs exceedingly high, and Gaza may well be described as the largest open-air prison in the world.
I said that all occupations are brutal, but Gaza and the West Bank, divided from each other by Israeli territory, have been subjected to a regime of political regimentation and surveillance that have immensely diminished the prospects for any genuine peace. As those involved in progressive movements around the world have often witnessed, most ‘gains’ made by progressives and activists are more frequently than not just recovery of ground lost to the state; in such circumstances, even minor concessions gained after numerous rounds of negotiations seem noteworthy. The settlements are a case in point: every negotiation used to end with an assurance from Israel that settlements would be curbed, but some alleged act of commissions or omission on the part of the Palestinians, or more precisely Hamas—rocket attacks on Israel, the killing of an Israeli soldier, the attempted assassination of Israeli diplomats or consular officers—led to the abrogation of the agreement; by the time another agreement was negotiated a few years later, the settlements had further encroached on Palestinian land. Lately, with the advent of the Trump administration in the US and its avowed defense of Israel, even the pretense of curbing settlements has all but been done away with.
The West Bank has a settler-only road network: here, if one were searching for it, is clear evidence of the apartheid structure of the Jewish state. Prime Minister Netanyahu made no effort, when he inaugurated yet another settler-only road in January 2018 that is part of a system of by-pass roads that connect Judaea and Samaria in the occupied West Bank to the rest of Israel, to disguise this blatant violation of international law. Of criminals it can be said that they generally act in the defiance of law, and almost always under cover; but of Netanyahu it can be said that he belongs to that smaller cohort of international outlaws who are brazen in the execution of their designs in open daylight. The settlers have, then, become a veritable state unto themselves, positioning themselves as the most formidable vanguard of Zionism. Many commentators have spoken, as well, of the Judaization of Jerusalem, and of Israel’s designation of all of Jerusalem as part of sovereign Israeli territory in defiance of international law and opinion. Now, with the recent relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which did not initiate the latest round of resistance from Palestinians who have sought unsuccessfully to breach the border even as it greatly aggravated the situation, Israel is undoubtedly feeling even more emboldened to claim all of Jerusalem as its own rightful and ancestral territory.
To speak of Israel’s appropriation of Jerusalem in its entirety, in defiance of agreements that award the Palestinians joint sovereignty over the holy city, means less than we might imagine, if only because, as a rule, the insolent abrogation of international norms has characterized Israel’s conduct for decades. Israel acts with the assurance that it has the patronage of Western powers; and the United States, in particular, can reliably be counted upon, as a permanent member of the Security Council, to veto UN resolutions critical of Israel. Israel tirelessly projects itself, not without success considering the unstinting support it has received from the US and its other allies since its foundation, as an oasis of democracy in a desert of dictatorships and authoritarian states. In the more colorful language of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Israel is “a villa in the jungle.”
Such idolization of Israel, however, is scarcely the most egregious aspect of the problem: not only does the US purport to be acting out of fairness, intent to demonstrate that it will not permit censure of Israel when other nations are similarly guilty, but the message is that criticisms of Israel are perforce animated by sentiments of anti-Semitism and therefore cannot be tolerated. There is no question, of course, that anti-Semitism remains pervasive among various communities, not least Arabs and Palestinians, and Mahmoud Abbas has done his kinsmen no favors with his recent rants against Jews as the consistent targets of attack owing to their “social role related to usury and banks”. Abbas, in fact, has a long, troublesome, and inflammatory history of Holocaust denial dating back to at least his 1982 thesis where he purposed to address the secret links between Nazism and Zionism. As Gilbert Achcar, whose own critical investigations of Zionism are judicious and grounded in thoughtful scholarly work, has demonstrated, a wholly spurious and deeply offensive text such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion has long animated many people in the Arab world. Gamer Abdel-Nasser, who led Egypt from 1956 until his death in 1970, recommended the Protocols enthusiastically in an interview given to an Indian journalist on 28 September 1958 with the observation that it proved “beyond the shadow of a doubt” that “three hundred Zionists”, all known to each other, governed “the fate of the European continent.” [See Gilbert Achcar, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives, trans. G. M. Goshgarian (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2009), p. 206.] The Protocols make its appearance in Article 32 of Hamas’s charter, though numerous other articles—7, 15, 22, 31—are equally virulent in their expression of anti-Semitic sentiments.
(to be continued)
For a Norwegian translation of this article by Lars Olden, see http://prosciencescope.com/del-iii-av-vising-fortvilelse-og-defiance-sytti-ar-med-okkupasjon-i-palestina/
Günter Grass, some say, invites controversy. For many years, he excoriated his fellow Germans to come clean about their past and confront the brute facts that might help explain how Germany became the seat of most terrifying machinery of human extermination that the world had ever witnessed. However, not until Grass was nearly 80 years old did he confess that, as a 17-year old at end of the war, he was conscripted into the Waffen-SS, a paramilitary force attached to the Nazi party. Grass is in the eye of the storm again, this time with a poem, published in several European newspapers on April 4th and rendered in English as ‘What Must Be Said’, that warns the world that ‘Israel’s atomic power endangers / an already fragile world peace’. Declaring himself sick of ‘the West’s hypocrisy’, Grass hopes that with his poem
many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger
we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
free and open inspection of
the nuclear potential and capability of both.
Israel has, in consequence, declared Günter Grass persona non-grata. A once eminently diasporic people, formerly scattered to the ends of the earth and living their lives in exile until they could claim Palestine as their homeland, have apparently surmised that the banishment of Grass from Israel represents the most fitting punishment for the aged but unrepentant poet.
Just what, we must surely ask, was Grass’s sin? The fury whipped up in Israel, and among Israel’s supporters in the West, points to several considerations. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed outrage that Grass should have had the audacity to compare Israel to Iran. Netanyahu described the comparison as shameful, offensive, shall we say, to the dignity of every civilized person: ‘In Iran there is a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for the destruction of Israel. This comparison says very little about Israel and a great deal about Mr. Grass. It is Iran, not Israel, which poses a threat to world peace. It is Iran, not Israel, which threatens to destroy other countries. It is Iran, not Israel, which supports terror organizations that fire missiles on innocent civilians. It is Iran, not Israel, which supports the massacre that the Syrian regime is carrying out on its civilians. It is Iran, not Israel, which stones women, hangs gay people, and ruthlessly suppresses the tens of millions of citizens in its country.’ No doubt, the present regime in Iran cannot be viewed as other than highly authoritarian, though there is no reason to suppose that the suppression of some freedoms has stifled all dissent, or creativity in art, music, cinema, and literature. It has not helped Iran that its most public face is provided by Mahmud Ahmedinejad, succinctly and not inaccurately described in Grass’s poem as a ‘loudmouth’ who earned undying notoriety in the West when he described the Holocaust as a fiction.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to resist the view that Netanyahu protests too much. However enormous the misgivings one may have about Iran’s political regime, Iran has never posed a threat to any other country, nor has it launched an attack on another nation. Netanyahu is no less boorish than Ahmedinejad, and it is idle for him, or indeed for any other Zionist, to pretend that Israel has not been the perpetrator of untold number of atrocities against the Palestinians –– choking, numbing, and starving them into submission in a war of gravely disproportionate resources. It is no surprise that the list of accusations hurled against Iran did not include its real or alleged sponsorship of political assassinations, since Israel is likely without peer in its mastery in this department of covert politics. But there is something else underlying the swashbuckling behavior of Netanyahu and his predecessors in high office: Iran and Israel have long fought a shadow war, and they need each other desperately. The ayatollahs in Iran say and do enough to keep states such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan frothing at the mouth; similarly, the Shia clergy can always count on the presence of Israel to summon the faithful, particularly when internal dissent appears to pose grave threats to the regime. Whether or not the relationship of Iran and Israel can be characterized as one informed by what Freud called the “narcissism of minor differences”, there is no gainsaying the fact that these two countries understand each other very well.
The more Iran and Israel begin to look alike, the greater the swagger with Israel must contemptuously dismiss Iran as the irredeemable other. Israel has long thought of itself as the sole democracy in the Middle East, ringed by unruly Arabs within and hostile states beyond; and if on occasion its unmitigated repression of Palestinians has evoked a mild rebuke from its allies in the West, it has nearly always conducted itself in world politics with the assurance that it may act with impunity. Iran, on the other hand, has for an equally long time labored under it reputation in the West as, in the vocabulary of our times, a ‘rogue’ state. The nationalism of countries such as Iran has always seemed to many in the West, even those who style themselves liberals, as ‘problematic’. The nationalization of Iran’s oil industry in 1951 was bound to lead to serious repercussions for then Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who would be removed in a coup two years later. His overthrow, orchestrated by the CIA and British military intelligence, brought Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, whose gratitude to his benefactors would amply be on display in the decades ahead, to the helm of power. Since the revolution of 1979, which installed the mullahs in power, and the subsequent Iranian hostage crisis, a rather humbling experience for the Americans, Iran has effectively been shunned as a ‘pariah state’ by the West.
The countries in the West which for years have rallied behind the United States to declare Iran a ‘rogue’ state have, historically speaking, treated their Jewish population much worse than did Iran, which even today has the largest population of Jews outside Israel in the Middle East. It is barely necessary to recall, for example, the barbarism of the French, whether with respect to the Jews or their colonial subjects in Algeria, Indochina, and elsewhere. On the received narrative, however, the anti-Semitism that was so characteristic a feature of European society is a thing of the past; indeed, what generally gives Western civilization its distinct prominence over other civilizations is its capacity for atonement and repentance. It is precisely in this respect that Grass has been found by Netanyahu and other like minded yahoos to be severely wanting: as Grass had disguised his past for over six decades, he is said to have been absolutely stripped of credibility. Writing for Haaretz, long established as the voice of Israeli liberals, Anshel Pfeffer ponders in a piece entitled ‘The Moral Blindness of Günter Grass’ why ‘a highly intelligent man, a Nobel laureate no less’, does not understand that ‘his membership in an organization that planned and carried out the wholesale genocide of millions of Jews disqualifies him from criticizing the descendants of those Jews for developing a weapon of last resort that is the insurance policy against someone finishing the job his organization began. What could be more self-evident?’ For the likes of Grass, there is, quite self-evidently, no atonement, no remorse, only the certitude of eternal condemnation. Yet the poet had clearly anticipated it all:
But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
When critiques of Zionism, or of Israel’s conduct towards Palestinians, cannot be adequately answered, there is always the weapon of last resort, the ultimate weapon with which to tarnish the voice of informed democratic and humanistic criticism: the charge of anti-Semitism. ‘This general silence on the facts’ –– the fact, which Israel is in no position to repudiate, and which Grass’s poem has now uncomfortably brought into the limelight, namely that Israel’s own nuclear program remains without supervision, inspection, or verification, subject to no constraints except those which its leaders might impose upon themselves in the light of reason –– forced Grass’s hand; and it was not without awareness on his part of how the end of the narrative was foretold. Writes Grass,
This general silence on the facts,
before which my own silence has bowed,
seems to me a troubling, enforced lie,
leading to a likely punishment
the moment it’s broken:
the verdict “Anti-Semitism” falls easily.
To consider just how easily the verdict of ‘anti-Semitism’ falls on the critics of Israel, let us recall the opprobrium that Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas Gandhi and the co-founder and then President of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester, had to face when he penned a short blog for the Washington Post (20 January 2008) entitled, ‘Jewish Identity Can’t Depend on Violence’. Though Arun Gandhi recognized that Israel was far from being the only purveyor of violence in that part of the world, he nevertheless thought that ‘Israel and the Jews’ were the ‘biggest players’ in promoting the ‘culture of violence’. On a visit to Tel Aviv in 2004, Gandhi wrote, he was surprised to hear even peace activists defending the separation wall and the military build-up as the unavoidable condition of their secure existence. The future of Jewish identity struck Arun Gandhi as ‘bleak’: too many Jews remained ‘locked into the holocaust experience’, not merely convinced of the absolute exceptionality of the Holocaust but firm in their view that their victimhood gives them unique entitlements. The case of Israel, Gandhi argued, ‘is a very good example of [how] a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends. . . . the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews.’ What hope is there, asks Arun Gandhi, that Israel will ever come around to the view that its existence cannot be secured by ‘bombs and weapons’?
Fast and furious was the response to Arun Gandhi, and in much less than a week he had been forced to step down as President of the M. K. Institute for Nonviolence. Though Arun Gandhi cannot be accused of disguising his Nazi past, nothing prevented him from being brandished with the scarlet letters of anti-Semitism. One cannot downplay the persistence of anti-Semitism over the centuries, and it is similarly instructive to what extent a forgery such as the ‘Protocol of the Elders of Zion’ continues to resonate among those who are convinced that the Jews are uniquely capable of conspiring to ensure their domination over the world’s financial markets and the power elites in the United States and Europe. But it is a form of totalitarianism to insist that all criticism of Israel is itself a form of anti-Semitism. Even the Jew might not critique Israel; if he or she does so, the Zionists have a phrase for such a person: a self-hating Jew. Moreover, it is imperative to recognize that in the United States and much of Europe, it is not anti-Semitism but rather a visceral hatred and fear of Islam which is by far the greater problem. In large swathes of respectable European and American society, the open display of xenophobic behavior towards Muslims is not burdened by the fear of censure.
It is Israel, rather than Günter Grass, that has come across poorly in this recent exchange. This has happened all too often in the past, and Israel will have to do more than hide behind those gigantic scarlet letters that spell ‘anti-Semitism’ if it is to confront the reality of its own demons.
— First published in the Economic and Political Weekly XLVII, no. 17 (28 April 2012), 23-24, under the same title; for much shorter version, see ‘Stake in the Grass’, Times of India – Crest Edition (21 April 2012), p. 14.