Monday, September 27, 2004

Comments on Dr. Uri Davis’ Article, “Naming the Colonizer in Geographical Palestine”

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the personal courage and the intellectual integrity of Dr. Uri Davis. If the reader suspects that this sincere comment is the preface for a severe critique of the contents of Davis’ current article, Naming the Colonizer in Geographical Palestine (NTCGP), which is to serve as the focus of our discussion next week, he or she will be absolutely right.

Davis certainly has the right to choose his own subject and to define the limits of the discussion that he prefers. Even so, this is no reason to be swept along with the rather arbitrary demand that he sets before us. Davis opens his paper by stating:

“Assuming the characterization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an inter-communal conflict, to be distinguished from an inter-state conflict, namely, a colonial conflict between the colonized native people and the colonial people originating from the Zionist immigration to Palestine..”

Now, any serious discussion of central problems connected with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can and should involve at the least a number of central assumptions regarding its characterization. Surely enough, an additional characterization of the conflict is that the conflict, in its present stage, is one between two national entities. An equally interesting characterization of the conflict holds that that the Jewish community in Israel is so atypical of conventional colonizer attributes, that it prevents categorization of the conflict as a conflict between colonized and colonizers. The Israeli Jews have no other homeland except for Israel. They are not envoys of a metropolitan center. Certainly these facts are sufficient to discard any facile attempt to compress them into the orthodox colonizer category. After all, when dealing with typical colonizers isn’t the main solution to make life miserable enough for them so that they bugger off and leave the indigenous population to work out its own national life. And if they do not understand that it is for the best that they go home, it is the job of the oppressed to make life difficult enough for them, so that they understand that this is the best step for all concerned. This is hardly a viable option in present circumstance,

Moreover, the social and class structure of Israeli society is basically different from that of almost all colonial formations. The colonized-colonizer schema also avoids dealing with the sensitive area of national self determination and the national passions of both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. It is rather manifest that it is national self determination and the establishment of an independent state that interests the mass of both peoples. Even those who deny any legitimacy to the current state of Israeli may well find it necessary to discuss the problem of the self determination of the Israelis after they are stripped of their empire in the occupied Palestinian territories (an event to be anticipated with joy by any decent thinking and feeling person).

Instead of ‘assuming’ the characterization of the conflict in a way suggesting that its sole solution is the establishment of a single democratic secular state, as Davis suggests, we must of necessity to deal with two main constructs simultaneously: the two state solution because of the considerable political and diplomatic support the project enjoys and the one state alternative that looms on the horizon if the occupation and the Israeli expansionism close off the alternative for national self determination in part of Palestine.

Justice is an important factor in the evaluation of these alternatives, but it is certainly not the main or dominant consideration. It would seem to this writer that a major reduction in the suffering of the Palestinian people is the major consideration, though I certainly agree that the Palestinians have the moral right to hold out until they determine that they are being offered an alternative that meets their minimal requirements, as determined by them as an organized community.

The ‘justice’ factor which is often mobilized around this issue has very elastic qualities. The appearance of militant anarchists in our midst, many of whom have performed tremendous work against the Wall, suggest that in addition to the two-state and the one-state solution, we will have to discuss the no-state solution. Even if we come to believe that such a social form of organization, i.e., a society without any state power, would be qualitatively more just than any other solution, we will simply and gently discard it, as impracticable. Practicality is a factor in the discussion of even the most theoretical and ideological spheres of activity. As a matter of fact, any serious discussion of justice in a political framework, really refers to attainable justice.Playing by Davis’ Rules

From this point on we will stop being unruly and accept as graciously as possible Davis’s assumption that, on our way to the elimination of colonialism in Palestine, we have encountered a serious problem in the definition of the colonizers.

The path to the elimination of colonialism is presented as a rather simple affair. We will establish a constitutional system based on a number of clear principles. The state formation will be secular and based on a complete separation of religion and the state. The state will be democratic and outlaw any form of discrimination based on national, ethnic, religious or gender status. Citizenship is the core of the relationship between the individual and the state. All the citizens are equal, and this promises formal equality and this formal equality promises real equality, i.e., the negation of colonialism and colonialist domination.

As a matter of fact it is quite easy to recognize Davis’ utopia. It is the modern, Western European - United States liberal democratic republic.

Davis seems rather intent on suggesting this model to the Palestinians and the other Arab countries. He is quite certain that Western [bourgeois] democracy is the next step forward for all societies.

There are a number of serious problems with this model.

One of the more striking remarks by an important Indian post colonialist intellectual about the analysis of Indian society is that this subcontinent of one billion people is presented as something that is ‘not yet’ (Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe). The reference is of course to that extreme form of Euro-centrism which assumes, right from the start, that all societies are tending to develop in this, its own, direction and it is only a matter of time before they reach this point. Then assuming that this is ‘where we are going’ it remains for the ‘enlightened’ Euro-trained intellectuals to point out the right path. This is, of course, what I would call justified criticism of historicism. (Historical materialism would, I hope, refuse to anticipate any historical process without specific data and evidence.)

Now, the first and most striking characteristic of these free, democratic, republican and secular societies is that they enjoy a relatively high standard of living based on their historical role as colonizers. Inadvertently, we have found the really serious colonizers, the ’secular democrats’ who murder, rape, conquer, cheat and enslave whole continents. On the basis of this pillage and the wealth accrued by it, an organized deal is worked out with broad sections of the aristocrats of labor and a social contract is produced based on democracy, secularism, universal citizenship, one man one vote and all the rest.

We do have a problem. The historical foundations of liberal democracy are such that they block the path, historically and currently, to their repetition as the only sure path to the promised land. Davis has shown us the promised land, but it is not anywhere near.

Things are not going too well either in the metropolitan center. The existence of universal citizenship in modern society hints at the very devaluation of the actual role of citizenship in conditions of advanced capitalism. The real process is the concentration of sufficient power in the ruling class as to allow it to use, misuse and abuse democratic processes so as to empty them of their intended content and role.
[See in this respect “Democracy Against Capitalism,” Ellem Meiksins Wood, Chapter 7).

Davis’ liberal democracy will be truly liberal and truly democratic because it is an a-historical utopia. Only as such can it enable Davis to propose a new political and academic narrative to the Palestinians and other oppressed people.

Ironing Out A Wrinkle in Davis’ Utopia

The problem that concerns Davis in this paper is the fact that he feels that we must have, in order to promote a new narrative concerning the conflict and its solution, a better definition of the colonizers in Palestine. Davis, working on the new narrative seems to believe that, in accordance with current fashion, the main problem is lining up the signifier and the signified.

Our Palestinian friends must at some point learn that this problem has been debated by the Jewish entity in Palestine ad nausea. The consensus both on the left and the right seems to be that Israeli Jewish community, national grouping, entity, ethnic group or for short the ‘Israeli Jews’ is a perfectly adequate way to define this group which is problematic in almost every other sense than this simple statement of fact. The fact is the Jews are also defined in different and parallel circumstances as those who practice the Jewish religion creates absolutely no problem, because it is the secular connotations that are in effect regarding the major elements of the relationships between Jews and Arabs. It is also of little or no importance, for the purposes of this definition that the Israeli government employs racist policies – based on anti-Jewish legislation under fascism in order to discriminate against Palestinian Arabs in Israel, unless one wishes to argue, and Davis certainly does not claim this, that calling Israeli Jews, Israeli Jews is the root of Israeli racism.

Now comes the strange part. Davis thinks that it would be quite helpful if we convinced the Jews to stop considering themselves Jews and define themselves as Hebrews. Davis seems to think that building up narratives and formulating them for specific purposes is essentially a subjective project, and he is quite wrong about this, but this is not the main problem with this suggestion.

Been There Done That

A tiny ideological, intellectual and cultural movement in the Israeli Jewish community has been promoting the idea that the Jews in Israel are Hebrews for decades. Their argument is simple: the true nature of this people evolved in direct contact with the Land of Israel. But alas, their Hebrew essence distilled in direct contact with the soil of their homeland was disfigured and distorted over the long agony of the Diaspora. (See Ron Kuzar, Two Brief Introductions to Hebrew Canaanism,

Now the Canaanite movement which advanced these ideas, never had any success against the Jewish-Zionist establishment because it tried to build a regional power base, based on the non-Arab peoples of the region, to restore the Hebrew empire.

Identifying the Jews who came to Israel in modern times with the ancient tribe of Hebrews is a Zionist ploy, par excellent of mythic proportions. Almost 50% of all the propaganda garbage about the renewal of the Jewish people in its ancient homeland is based on this myth. The Zionist and the Canaanites did meet one bit of common ground. The both declared in a style bordering on classic anti-Semitism that little or nothing of value emerged from the Jews in the Diaspora and their contribution to civilization depended first and foremost on the conquest and control of the Land of Israel – Palestine.

The current potential popularity of ‘Hebrew’ over ‘Jewish’ is that many Zionists consider the Hebrew designation as superior. However, the Jewish community already has a distorted sense of superiority. Why try and cultivate it?

The Political Significance of this Discussion at this Time

I felt it a point of honor to debate with Davis, as best I could, regarding the issues that he raised. However, I cannot leave this subject without expressing my deepest concern as to the real significance of this slogan advocating a ’secular democratic state’. Noam Chomsky had this to say in an interview held last spring:

Q. What do you think of a single-state solution, in the form of a democratic, secular state? Do you think such a solution is desirable today? Is it realistic today?

“There has never been a legitimate proposal for a democratic secular state from any significant Palestinian (or of course Israeli) group. One can debate, abstractly, whether it is “desirable.” But it is completely unrealistic. There is no meaningful international support for it, and within Israel, opposition to it is close to universal. It is understood that this would soon become a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority, and with no guarantee for either democracy or secularism (even if the minority status would be accepted, which it would not). Those who are now calling for a democratic secular state are, in my opinion, in effect providing weapons to the most extreme and violent elements in Israel and the US.”

[Interview with Noam Chomsky; Znet; March 30, 2004. Questions by Stephen R. Shalom and Justin Podur]

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Unholy Alliance in the Holy Land

George W. Bush made another feeble attempt to show some sort of ‘even handedness’ between Israel and the Palestinians in his recent address to the United Nations. However, the very hard facts on the ground give daily evidence that Israel’s hard line policy of intransigence towards the international community and international law is funded, sponsored and politically supported by the United States.

Israel is maintaining and even intensifying its policy of targeted assassinations from the air. Every few days we are informed by the Israeli army that it has ‘eliminated’ such and such ‘terrorists’. Both Israeli and Palestinian sources then confirm that additional Palestinians, including women and children, were killed or injured for just being in the vicinity. Targeted assassination has become a routine affair and the fact that Israel had ‘progressed’ to the use on different occasions of smarter and smarter bombs and even unmanned aircraft missiles for this purpose hardly evoked comment. This extra-judicial means of execution, whereby the Israeli army can kill almost any Palestinian any time and any place, has not caused a ripple in the U.S.-Israeli relationship - though there might have been a negative comment about this sort of activity filed away somewhere in the U.S. Department of State.

Sunday night, September 19, 2004, an Israeli army helicopter missile killed a ‘Hamas militant’ from the Shati refugee camp. Hospital sources reported that they treated six wounded bystanders who were returning from a mosque. (Ha’aretz, September 20, 2004) A rather routine affair: no need for all the complications related to identification and accusation, no need for a court, a judge or any trial. No prosecution, no deliberation, just plain execution. The technical basis for this sort of thing is the possession of an arsenal of smart bombs, since it would be impossible to maintain that an individual had actually been targeted unless Israel was using one of the high-precision smart bombs.

Just a day later, Ha’aretz correspondent, Aluf Benn reported (Ha’aretz, September 21, 2004) that the U.S. is selling 5,000 smart bombs to Israel. Benn lists the bomb sizes, including, “500 one-ton bunker busters, 2,500 ‘regular’ one-ton bombs, 1,000 half ‘tonners’ and 500 quarter ‘tonners’… [Israeli] government sources said that the deal did not face any difficulties, despite the use Israel made of U.S. made F-16’s in some of the assassinations…the IDF used a one ton bomb to kill a senior Hamas officer, Salah Shehada, in July 2002 an assassination that also took the lives of fifteen Palestinian civilians, including children.”

This morning on Israeli radio, Ariel Sharon reiterated Israel’s thinly veiled threats to assassinate Yasser Arafat ‘at a time and a place that is convenient to us’. The U.S. President, for his part, preferred a more diplomatic approach and called on the world to stop supporting Arafat. The justification for the ‘targeted elimination’ of terrorists who were originally defined as ‘ticking time bombs’ now covers any and all Israeli enemies and opponents. This policy is conducted with the technical ordnance supplied to Israel by the United States. Sharon says that he has the right to assassinate Arafat whenever he sees fit. Sharon doesn’t care if the international community will conclude that his threats are actually Washington’s real policy towards the elected leader of the Palestinian people.

For Whom These Bunker Busters?

Washington is pushing the United Nations to take action against the Iranian plans to create nuclear fuel. The U.S. is trying to prevent Iran from developing its capacity to produce atomic energy for civilian purposes by arguing that the relevant scientific processes can also then be used to create atomic weapons. However, the Iranian steps seem to be well within the country’s rights under the relevant international agreements. The U.S. and other countries refuse to be bothered by ‘formalities’, which support the Iranian position. But if the U.S. and its Western partners really wanted to speak to the heart of this matter, it would require them to address the very serious challenge of banning nuclear bombs from the entire Middle East. This involves, of course, the ‘little problem’ of the existence of a serious atomic stockpile of nuclear weapons in Israel. All eyes focus on the Israeli role, but not in the way that one would assume. The United States, instead of opposing the Israeli atomic arsenal, grants total and unqualified protection to Israel’s atomic status, directly encouraging the atomic arms race in the region. The U.S. is now playing a new and very dangerous game. It is threatening Iran by proxy and considering a strike against it by surrogate.

After Iraq, the United States appetite for another land war in the region has been greatly diminished. But, the Bushites don’t like to admit failure. “Some American analysts warn that the international community has only a year or two to stop the Iranian program from achieving self-sufficiency.” So what can be done? “One concern is that Israel, a member of the International Atomic Energy that has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is presumed to have nuclear weapons, may decide to take the matter into its own hands, if diplomacy fails from deterring Iran from becoming a nuclear power.” The information is from an article, by International Herald Tribune correspondent, Graig S. Smith, who goes on to comment on the bunker busters supplied to Israel: “Those bombs could be used to destroy Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.” (IHT, September 22, 2004) Israel ‘may take matters into its own hands.’ But the Israeli hands are not empty – they hold United States bunker busters. It is just plain convenient for the United States to have in Israel an ally (an “enforcer”) which operates beyond the borders of international legality. This is the essence of the ’special relationship’ between the two countries