Archive | October 25th, 2014

The Battle for Palestine ”3”


Special Report: For nearly seven decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has fed into growing Mideast extremism, now including hyper-violent Islamic fundamentalism. But does this tortured history offer any hope for a peaceful future, asks ex-U.S. diplomat William R. Polk in the last of a three-part series.

By William R. Polk

To address the quest for peace in Palestine, I begin with events at the end of the 1967 war. In that engagement, Israel had occupied the Sinai Peninsula right up to the edge of the Suez Canal. It then seemed likely to me that in defeat the Egyptian government would be prepared to bend on the attitude that President Gamal Abdel Nasser had proclaimed on the eve of the war. He realized that Egypt needed peace and wanted to recover its lost territory. Nasser had been sufficiently shocked by his defeat that he had at least pro forma resigned.

In several articles, I had laid out what I thought could be the shape of an agreement. Some of these were read by then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger. Rockefeller was seeking the Republican presidential nomination and told Kissinger that he wanted me to be his Under Secretary of State.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. (Photo credit: Jim Wallace of the Smithsonian Institution)

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. (Photo credit: Jim Wallace of the Smithsonian Institution)

However, when Nixon was nominated, Kissinger left Rockefeller and went to work for Nixon, who won the presidency in November 1968. During the transition period, Kissinger was designated to be director of the National Security Council and, in December 1968, asked me to discuss the possibility of a peace treaty with President Nasser.

At Kissinger’s request, I flew to Cairo, spent some hours with Nasser and the head of his national security council, and returned to report that I thought a deal was possible. Kissinger then asked me to return to Cairo “and push as far as you can get toward a peace treaty.”

The main issues to be included in such a treaty on the Egyptian side had to be: Egypt (1) adhering to the treaty that would make the Enterprise Passage at the Straits of Tiran legally an international waterway; 2) demilitarizing the Sinai Peninsula once it was returned to Egypt; 3) moving toward free trade with Israel; and (4) recognizing Israel with all deliberate speed.

In our many hours of discussion, Nasser agreed with these points and corrected in red ink the draft I wrote between the times when we were actually meeting.  He went further: he cabled Kissinger, who had moved into the White House, asking him to meet me urgently.

Kissinger’s Rebuff

When I met with Kissinger and handed over the draft peace treaty, he expressed no interest and would not even read it. I was absolutely astonished. I pointed out that this agreement was what the U.S. government had been seeking for many years and was a unique opportunity to bring peace to the Middle East. Kissinger said he was busy, but that if I left the treaty on his desk, he would read it when he had time. That time never came.

The opportunity to move toward peace was lost. Fighting along the Canal continued. As a result in the following months, at least 30,000 more people were killed.

As I wrote in my second essay in this series, it was Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir who took the next step in the summer of 1970, seeking a ceasefire on the Suez Canal. She asked me to mediate.  I did. The ceasefire went into effect shortly before Nasser’s death on Sept. 28, 1970.

Nasser had been a jealous ruler. Most of the “Free Officers” with whom he had seized power in 1952 had long since retired; some were actually under house arrest; and during his 18 years in power no rivals had come to the fore. The old regime was dead; the only large political party, the Wafd, was just a memory; the Muslim Brotherhood, a phantom; and the always tiny Communist Party, a joke.

Sadat’s Rise

At his death, the two strongmen of Nasser’s entourage compromised with one another by putting forward for the presidency a colleague whom they thought to be an amiable, unambitious, maladroit figure. Anwar Sadat had been publicly scorned by Nasser and was the butt of many an Egyptian joke. He was famous for affecting a military uniform illuminated with almost as much ribbon and brass as America’s later General David Petraeus. One of the leading Egyptian commentators described him to me as “Charlie Chaplin playing James Bond.” But it was Sadat who would carry the quest for peace to the next stage.

I first met Sadat when Nasser allowed me (as then a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Council) to go to Yemen during that country’s civil war. Sadat was infuriated that Nasser had allowed me to visit Yemen, even allowing me to visit the battle zones, and was astonished when Nasser’s brother-in-law, Field Marshal Abdul-Hakim Amr, unrolled before me the maps of a planned Egyptian sweep of the royalist rebel area.

Sadat was convinced that I must be a spy and later, with the encouragement of Henry Kissinger, made life in Egypt impossible for me. These issues are peripheral to my account here but can be accessed in my book, Personal History (Washington: Panda Press, 2003).

After taking power in the wake of Nasser’s death, Sadat held a weak hand in the peace process: Egypt had catastrophically lost the 1967 war. The formerly industrialized cities along the Suez Canal were in ruins; the part of the army that was not bogged down in Yemen had been gutted; the economy was prostrate; Egypt’s major oil field was being drained by the Israelis; the Suez Canal was closed; and the major source of hard currency, tourism, was dead. Hotels were empty.

Worse, the trend was downward: the “postwar war of attrition” was hurting Egypt badly and preventing reconstruction along the Canal while the already terrifying population/land ratio was daily worsening. In foreign relations, Egypt had few friends. It was deeply divided from both Syria and Jordan. Finally, an Israeli army was just a hundred miles from downtown Cairo.

It would be hard to think of a worse combination, but there was yet another factor that was, perhaps, even more debilitating. It was Egypt’s (and the rest of the Arab world’s)  psychological-ideological turmoil. The Arab quandary is so crucial to the events that follow — right up to today — that I must take a detour to explain it; indeed, without an understanding of it, the events of the next years, and those of today, make little sense.

The Intellectual-Psychological Context

The intellectual-psychological context in which Arabs have operated evolved in five stages:  first, centuries-old teachings and more recent organizations to resurrect Islamic “purity;” second, through the early Twentieth Century, partly Christian-led particularistic nationalism (Arabic: wataniyah); into, third, secular pan-Arabist (Arabic: qawmiyah) and Baathist (Arabic: Bacath) nationalism; fourth, into “Arab socialism” (Arabic: ijtimaciyah);  and finally into today’s Muslim “militantism” ( Arabic:jihadiyah).

Toward the end of the Eighteenth Century, Muslims were experiencing the “impact of the West.” That is, they were beginning to be challenged commercially by the growing European economy,culturally by Western-inspired changes in taste and style, and militarily by the intrusion of Western soldiers. In response, a number of independent, non-official religious scholars and missionaries set in motion social and intellectual movements that, with intermissions, remain strong today. Although they differed from one another in their interpretation of their traditional norms, these scholars and missionaries all took positions in what is known today as Fundamentalism (Arabic:Salafiyah).

The Salafis went back for their inspiration to the dour Eighth-Ninth century scholar Ahmad bin Hanbal of Baghdad who preached a strict interpretation of the Islamic heritage and sought to prevent innovation (Arabic: bidac ah). His most influential successor was the uncompromising Fourteenth Century jurist Ibn Taimiyah. These were the Muslim thinkers who laid the basis for the thought of the Egyptian theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood and today’s Muslim Fundamentalists including Gaza’s HAMAS, Sayyid Qutub.

In the view of such men as Hanbal, Taimiyah and Qutub, Islam was a coherent system in which the distinctions Westerners draw between the secular and the religious were themselves travesties. For them Islam was an all-encompassing way of life. Since they believed that it had been laid down by God in the Quran and was elaborated by the actions and saying of His “Messenger” Muhammad, the pattern of life and belief were, by definition, perfect and immutable.

To change or even to allow change was, therefore, a sin against God. Additions which had occurred over the centuries since the Quran was delivered needed to be purged.  There was no justification for adaptation to changing circumstances.  What God decreed had nothing to do with ephemeral human foibles; it was eternal and immutable.

It is perhaps not irrelevant that the classical Arabic word for “to change” (ghaiyara) is not neutral, like the English word, which can be for the better or for the worse. Its basic meaning, applied to milk, meant “to sour” or “go bad,” or as more generally applied “to be adulterated” or “become unwholesome.”

Following Islam

Islam, the revivalists pointed out, is exact. It demands affirmation of the unity of God (tawhid) and denial of any sharing (shirk) of His majesty; men are not to exploit one another so taking interest (riba) is forbidden; Muslims are enjoined to help one another so everyone must pay a welfare tax, (zakat); all must abide by the law (shariah) which derives from  the Quran or from the actions and sayings (hadith) of the Prophet; as brothers (Ikhwan) Muslims are forbidden to kill one another; they should perform the pilgrimage (hajj) in which Muslims from all over the world assemble to express their faith, exemplify their unity and draw strength from one another; and Muslims are commanded to struggle (perform jihad) in the cause of God (fi sabili’llah) to create the community (ummah) He had ordered.

The comparison to Judaic law is striking: in both, there are two laws, the law of the Book (the Quran and Torah) and the interpretation of legal scholars (muftis and Rabbis); each spelled out in great detail the laws of what one must do and what one must not do (huddud and halakha) and both assert that they are God-given, everlasting and unalterable.

And Islam was not only clearly set out in the Quran but had evolved over the centuries an impressive body of law — as did Judaism and Christianity — that anchored its beliefs in practice. Thus, just as Christian theologians reached back for precedent to such early Church fathers as Tertullian in the Second-Third centuries, Saint Augustus in the Fourth-Fifth centuries and Saint Dominic in the Twelfth-Thirteenth centuries, so traditionalist Muslims drew on Hanbal and Taimiyah. They did not know the inspirer of the Inquisition, Dominic, but, in his emphasis on original meaning, ritual purity and stern discipline, he was not far from Hanbal or Taimiyah. Dominic agreed with the Muslim salafis on an uncompromising rejection of innovation (Arabic:bidacah ; Church Latin: innovatio).

Like Judaism, Islam contained vestiges of earlier beliefs and practices. The Old Testament and the Quran both reflected primitive tribal Hebrew and Arab societies, and the codes they set forth were severe. The Old Testament aimed at preserving and enhancing tribal cohesion and power while the Quran sought to destroy the vestiges of pagan belief and practice. Both were authoritarian theocracies.

Over the centuries, Islam outgrew its original isolation and came to deal with or incorporate diverse societies and beliefs. Thus, in practice, it became more ecumenical and put aside or modified some of its original concepts. A major adjustment was tolerating Hindus, who as polytheists were the ultimate enemy of the unitarian Muslims. Despite their beliefs, they were eventually treated as though they were “People of the Bible.”

Among themselves, Muslims fragmented into sects and so violated the injunction of unity of faith, even fighting one another despite their proclaimed brotherhood. And local customs were incorporated into the practice of Islam. These and other modifications were seen by “true believers” as perversions. So, from time to time, some Muslim jurists have sought to “go back” to the original or “pure” message as they believed their ancestors had received it. Similar attempts at “return” were advocated by Protestants in Sixteenth and Seventeenth century Europe, Old Believers in Seventeenth and Eighteenth century Russia, and Middle Eastern reformers in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.

In America, New England Puritans implemented a draconian, Biblically-based legal code, complete with lashings, burnings and stoning to death for such crimes as adultery, sodomy and blasphemy. Today’s militant Muslim Fundamentalists, similarly, have insisted on a literal interpretation of early Islamic practice or even, like the Taliban, implemented pre- or non-Islamic tribal customs (Pashtu:ravaj) or, like some African Muslim societies, such non-Islamic practices as infibulation.

‘True Believers’

As we see throughout history and in today’s events, “true believers,” each in their own religion, have little tolerance for those who follow other gods or who worship the same gods in different ways or under different names. Until quite recently, Catholics and Protestants hated one another with more fervor than either hated Jews or Muslims. In the Seventeenth century Thirty Years War, they virtually destroyed Europe, killing nearly four in each ten of one another.

Similarly, throughout the history of Islam, Sunnis and Shias have massacred one another.  Today’s Sunni Muslim “ISIS” regards Shia Muslims just as the Catholic Inquisition regarded Protestants. Among “true believers,” difference is often lethal.

Even worse than difference is “near belief.” Throughout history, heretics have everywhere been considered more dangerous than true outsiders. We perhaps forget that the First Crusade was not against Muslims but against a European Christian heresy, the Cathars. The Inquisition spent most of its energy sniffing out Christian deviation, crypto-Jews and Muslims who only pretended to be Christians.

Today, what so infuriates the Fundamentalist Muslims about the Druze, Alawis, Yazidis and other Shia sects is that they are “almost Muslims.” That is, they are deviants within, but on the fringes of, the Islamic family. So Islamic revivalists struggle, often violently, for unity anchored in religious purity.

With this background, I can now turn to how these fundamental aspects of the Muslim experience were manifested.

Arab Search for Guiding Principles

I begin, as Muslim Middle Easterners did, with the basic concept of salafiyah, a difficult concept for outsiders to comprehend. The word itself comes from the Arabic verbal “root,” salafa, that can be translated as “to take the lead” but also “to keep pace with” and “to return to origins.” (Arabic delights in such complexities.)

Westerners usually place the emphasis on “return,” that is, on “backwardness.” There is justification for this interpretation, but the implication as shown in the three seemingly contradictory translations I just gave is “return to first principles in order to advance.”

If this seems awkward or unlikely, consider the European counterpart of Salafiyah. Protestant reformers in Sixteenth and Seventeenth century Europe also thought that going back to origins was necessary in order to advance. That concept sparked the great commercial and intellectual revolution in Holland, Belgium and North Germany that laid the basis for modern Europe.

The Salifis were not so interested in commerce as the Lutherans, Calvinists and their various offshoots; their underlying objective was to recapture the power and dignity of the days when Islam was a world leader. They believed that by stripping away the shroud of dark ages and returning to “purity,” that is to the original, God-given practice, they could advance toward a dignified, powerful and religiously-ordained future.

Several of these Salifis created vast, enduring and far-flung societies — virtual religious empires — that were the most vigorous and popular movements of their times. And, as I will illustrate, what they thought and did, for better or for worse, remain significant today.

Among their leaders from the Eighteenth Century were the Arabian Ahmad ibn Abdul Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism); the Algerian/Libyan Muhammad bin Ali as-Sanusi (the founder of the North African Sanusi Brotherhood); the Sudanese Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi (the founder of the African Mahadiyah movement); the Iranian Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (who inspired nationalist movements all over the Ottoman-Turkish, Qajar-Iranian and Mughal-Indian empires); and the Egyptian theologian Muhammad Abduh (whose students taught millions of young Muslims all over Asia and Africa).

Until fairly recently, we in the West have known little of these men and their movements, but they were as influential among their peoples as Luther and Calvin were among Westerners. And, as we shall see, their influence is growing among today’s 1 billion Muslims.

The Western Encroachment

The early Muslim movements did not stop the “impact of the West” nor did they appeal to the Christian and Jewish populations of their areas. The Christians and the Jews eagerly accepted the Western intrusion and generally profited materially, intellectually and politically from it.

However, toward the end of the Nineteenth Century some, mainly Lebanese Christian members of the small educated elite, began to try to find a system of belief that could overcome religious difference. The cause remained essentially the same as earlier salafiyah: protection again Western intrusion but they focused more sharply on the political challenge.  They thought — or at least hoped — that, if they dropped or at least obscured the criteria of religion and focused on something they all could share, they could gather together and become strong. The philosophical or emotional answer, they thought, was the same one that was then rallying Christians in Italy, Germany and France and the Jewish peoples of central and eastern Europe — nationalism.

As I have written in my second essay, nationalism, as understood by the Arabs, was at first a geographically limited concept. The word adopted to encapsulate “nation” also meant “dwelling” or by extension “village” (Arabic: watan). Ironically, it is a reasonable Arabic translation of the word “national home” used by the early Zionists (Hebrew: heimstaät).

The Zionists used “national home,”  as they said, to avoid frightening the British by admitting that they aimed to create a nation-state in Palestine. That was not the intent of the Arabs. They wanted to frighten the British and French into leaving their lands. For that purpose they had to devise a different concept and use a different word. It took them years to find a stronger rallying point, concept and word.

Seeking Unity

A different rallying point, concept and word came into use more or less coincident with the rise to power of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The word, taken to mean “pan-Arabism,” was also drawn from classical Arabic. It was qawmiyah. 

Qawmiyah was a curious choice because it is the abstract form of  qawm, a “clan,” an even smaller group than a village, but it was the group to which each individual owed absolute loyalty. That loyalty was the quality that the greatest of the early Arab historians, Ibn Khaldun, called “social cohesion” (Arabic: c assabiyah). When it existed, societies became powerful; when it faded, they perished. So in that fundamental sense it suggested what the Arabs hoped that nationalism would mean to their society: unity.

Arabs are more devoted to their language than any other people I have ever known so not surprisingly another word came to men’s lips in the 1940s. The word was “baath” (Arabic: bacath), meaning roughly “awakening,” and as it became filled with meanings and associations, it signaled the rise of a new movement, a new answer, to the Arab dilemma.

The Baath movement grew out of a discussion group that was formed in Damascus on the eve of the Second World War by French-educated Syrian intellectuals. Immediately after the war, they formed a small but vigorous political party. Authoritarian — it agreed with Rousseau that men had to be forced to be free — and like some contemporary European ideologies, it was somewhat mystical. But above all, pan-Arab unity (Arabic: ittihad’ul-Arab) was its goal.

To move toward this goal, it defined “Arab” culturally rather than religiously. Thus, in the quest for unity, it sought to efface the old distinctions that, it believed, were the principal cause of Arab weakness. Also exciting to the postwar generation of Middle Easterners was that it took up social and economic issues and thought of itself as a Socialist movement.

What it meant by that is somewhat vague — it identified with the then popular movements associated with men like Nehru — and like them was determined to root out both the European colonists and their native heirs. The Baath movement spread to Iraq in the 1960s and was taken up by some of the Palestinian leaders.

Like the other nationalist quests — the particularistic nationalisms of the several states, wataniyah,and the pan-Arabism of qawmiyah — Baathism sundered on the different problems, cultures and objectives of the Arab states. The reasons were profound but allow me an anecdote illustrating the divisive results of the colonial-imperial heritage:

Failure of Nationalism

In 1952, the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored a meeting of prominent Arab intellectuals from around the Middle East. Few had ever met any of the others. All were Arabic speakers, but much of the discussion had to be held in English or French because the Iraqis and Jordanians were accustomed to English terms; the Syrians and Lebanese were accustomed to a French vocabulary; the Egyptians were divided between French for intellectual matters and English for dealing with the goods and services of the West; and the one Libyan, to Italian.

This is a common experience throughout Asia and Africa. Up to the present, the Indians, Pakistanis and people of most of the former African colonies similarly think in and are more familiar with the languages of their former European masters than with their own heritage or the language and thought of their neighbors. This heritage of colonialism permeates their cultures, their economies and their politics. So it was with the Arabs. Everyone believed in ittihad’ul-Arab but each defined it and sought it in his own “vernacular.” While this may seem recondite, it cuts to the quick of modern politics.

Nationalism under whatever name failed to meet the popular objectives of achieving strength, dignity and unity. Many modern Arab thinkers drew the lesson from their failures that their society had to be revolutionized from the bottom up: peasants and the urban poor had to be educated; standards of living had to be improved; diseases wiped out; industries created; land distributed and a new sense of belonging cultivated. To many this suggested what was understood as socialism (Arabic: ijtimaiyah); to some, as very briefly in Iraq around 1960, it required even more radical means like Communism or at least some sort of model inspired by the Soviet system.

Nationalism of various varieties and “Arab socialism” were the prevailing ideas and thrusts of movements of the 1960s. Each had its adherents and its aspirations. Each failed to deliver what the Arabs sought. If one could pick a date for the dividing line, it was the catastrophic defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 war. It is perhaps germane that 1967 marked the 40th year of Moses’ “time in the wilderness” to remake his people. I turn now to look at what was happening apart from the Palestinians in the Arab states.

Role of the States

None of the Arab states was comfortable with the Palestinians. Even when they agreed with the long-term aim of recovering Palestine, they feared that the Palestinians would act precipitously and so get them into conflicts with Israel for which they were unprepared. Consequently, the Palestinian leaders periodically traded the drawing rooms of presidents and kings with prison cells.

The King of Jordan was the most consistently involved in Palestinian affairs. Following the 1949-1950 war, he realized that the Jordanian army would never be able to defeat the Israeli army. His army was a primarily Bedouin force that had been established to keep order among the desert tribes. It lacked the manpower, the weapons and the skills for modern warfare.

Consequently, King Hussein, following in his father’s footsteps, undertook virtually nonstop secret negotiations with Israel to work out one modus vivendi after another. Like all Middle Eastern secrets, these covert operations were discussed in every cafe.

King Hussein also suffered from the fact that the relatively secure principality of Transjordan had become the kingdom of Jordan by the incorporation of the Palestinian West Bank. While most land was still Jordanian, most of the population had become Palestinian. The Palestinians were less interested in protecting Jordan and its king than in recovering their homeland.

Thus, Jordan became the first center of the Palestinian militant groups; they, in turn, justified their existence by their conflict with Israel; that in turn made it more necessary for the King to deal with the Israelis. The cycle was vicious and soon led to the attempt by the Palestinians to take over Jordan in 1970. In “Black September” 1970, Hussein released his army against the Palestinian and killed perhaps 10,000 of them before securing agreement with the Palestinian leadership that it and its armed groups would leave Jordan for Lebanon.

In Lebanon, there were already about 300,000 Palestinians. While most of them were congregated in huge camps and did not participate directly in Lebanese politics, they constituted about one in each six inhabitants. With the arrival of the leadership, they gradually became a state within the Lebanese state.

A Delicate Balance

This, in turn, frightened the Lebanese and threatened to upend the delicate balance that the French had established among the Lebanon’s religiously defined ethnic groups. The Lebanese army, itself a reflection of Lebanon’s social mosaic, simply broke up. Each community formed its own militia. The most vigorous was the Maronite population which spawned armed forces known as the Kataib(Arabic for “regiments”).

Worried by this development, the president of Lebanon who, by the Constitution was a Maronite Christian, invited a Syrian army peacekeeping force to establish virtual control over the country in 1976. But one section of the Kataib led by a disaffected army major broke away and was armed, funded and established a separate military fief on the Israeli frontier, out of reach of the Syrians, by Israel.

The Kataib was an authoritarian, ultra-nationalist militant movement modeled on the Falange Fascist movements in 1930s Europe. It viewed the Palestinians as the obstacle to its domination of Lebanon. To overcome them, it had to make common cause with Israel.

The Palestinians precipitated conflict with Israel in a long series of “incidents,” among which was a significant raid on northern Israel in March 1978. A few days later, on March 15, the Israeli army invaded south Lebanon.

The move astonished the Carter administration, then in the midst of the Camp David peace negotiations. Acting with unusual determination, the U.S. took the matter to the UN and secured both a motion demanding Israeli withdrawal and creating “the United Nations International Force in Lebanon.” UNIFIL was to monitor Israeli withdrawal but was given authority only to protect itself and was not even given adequate arms to do that. Israel paid it little attention. Israel did not withdraw and refused to allow UNIFIL into the frontier zone.

Emboldened by the entry of Israel into Lebanon, the Kataib militants began to try to push the Syrians out. The Syrians struck back and, for the first time, an Arab state asked Israel to come to its aid. Israel did, but its limited actions solved nothing and, after a long series of clashes in June 1982, Israel massively invaded Lebanon.

Brushing aside UNIFIL and paying no attention to an almost unprecedented unanimous Security Council resolution demanding withdrawal, it reached the outskirts of Beirut. There it ran into Palestinian forces.

Syria’s Worries

During these events, Syria warily watched. What happened in Lebanon was not only economically crucial to Syria but the Syrians remembered that the French had earlier used Lebanon as a bastion from which to control their country. They believed that Lebanon was rightfully a part of “Greater Syria.” So their intervention, at the request of the Lebanese government, had seemed a historically justified event.

Lebanon was a risky place for Syrian action. While it might act as a buffer to Israel, its increasingly active Palestinian community could turn it into a battleground with Israel.

The Baathist Syrian regime was at least as hostile to the Palestinian “freedom fighters/guerrillas” as the Jordanians and Lebanese. Yasir Arafat had been a guest in a Syrian prison and later the Syrian leader, Hafez al-Assad, had not only stopped his air force from assisting the PLO when it was being attacked by the Jordanian army in 1970 but in 1976 even assisted the Kataib in its vicious attack on a refugee camp that cost thousands of Palestinian lives.

Later, in 1983, the Syrian regime invited to Damascus Arafat’s arch enemy, Abu Nidal, the man who had organized the murder of Arafat’s “ambassador” to the Israeli peace party, Issam Sartawi. When Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir asked me to negotiate a ceasefire on the Suez Canal in the summer of 1970, the head of the Egyptian national security council told me that President Nasser would need to have the support of at least one of the leaders of the Palestinian combatants. I flew to Jordan and spent some hours with Sartawi. The day after Nasser made his speech that triggered the deal on the ceasefire, Sartawi issued a statement approving it. I recount the episode in myPersonal History (Washington: Panda Press, 2003).

Strategic Issues

Beyond personal antipathies — always so evident in Arab affairs — were strategic considerations. The PLO existed to fight Israel and that above all the Syrian regime did not want. Hafez al-Assad feared that a new war might be the end of his regime or even of Syrian independence.

Although its agricultural area on the Golan Heights had been conquered by Israel, the Syrian regime was determined that Golan not be a theater for Palestinian guerrilla warfare and essentially banned the PLO and other Palestinian groups from activity there. Additionally, it tightly controlled its 300,000 to 400,000 Palestinian residents, and where possible it sought a compromise with Israel according to the resolutions of the United Nations. At the same time, the regime turned to Russia for resupply of the equipment that Syria had lost in war and for protection through what became a mutual security treaty.

During these years, Egypt had gone its own way. Following the death of President Nasser, his place was taken by Anwar Sadat. From being the weak, compromise candidate, Sadat was transformed by the structure of the Egyptian state and the nature of the Egyptian tradition into a pharaoh.

When those who had chosen Sadat tried to recoup their power on May 13, 1971, he used the army to squelch them. The price he had to pay for his victory was giving the army the equipment it needed to rebuild after the debacle of 1967.

Sadat wanted peace. But he realized that to have accepted Israeli terms for peace before the army had tried and failed to avenge the 1967 defeat, would probably have caused some “younger Sadat” to overthrow him. Even if that did not happen, the Israeli terms would have turned Egypt into an Israeli economic colony. So he applied to Russia for arms and to the UN for support.

From Russia, Sadat got the arms along with large numbers of “advisers,” technicians and guardians. From the UN, despite American opposition, in July 1973, 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council voted to “deplore” continued Israeli occupation of Egyptian territory; but the United States vetoed the resolution. That was the end of the peace initiative.

Seeing Sadat’s weakness, as General Itzhak Rabin told me, Israel upped the price of peace.

Demanding Surrender

As Rabin admitted, the Arabs could not accept these terms so they must, in effect, surrender and accept what Israel would give. Rabin was right. Sadat could not accept Israeli terms and, on the advice of his general staff, prepared for war.

Reflecting on these points, I was sure (once again) that war would break out in a few months. This time, I thought it likely that in desperation, Egypt would strike. Most of those observers whose opinions I then respected agreed and so did the Russians. Ironically, the more Sadat warned of the danger of war, the less he was believed. But arms were arriving in early 1973 in both Egypt and Syria in increasing quantities and improving quality. Even Yugoslavia began to furnish Egypt with new anti-tank missiles.

By June 1973, we now know, Sadat and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad had agreed on a plan and had picked a date. Subsequently, King Hussein of Jordan joined the group. Oct. 6, 1973, was to be their “D-Day.” As the Jewish Yom Kippur it seemed a favorable moment and as the anniversary of one of the most important events in early Islam, the Battle of Badr, it seemed auspicious. Israel precipitated the war by shooting down eight Syrian aircraft off the Syrian coast on Sept. 13, but the plan was already in motion.

The Egyptian strategy was to create a war of sufficient magnitude that the world powers would have to intervene in their own interests. It never, for example, included an attack on Israel itself but only on the occupied areas. Indeed, the battle plan was the major cause of their defeat: they stopped their troops only ten miles into Sinai at places they could not defend. The Egyptians, at least, never thought they could defeat Israel.

Egypt lost the 1973 war, but giving the army its chance freed Sadat to try another approach. He offered to go to the UN with all the Arab states’ leaders (and some unidentified Palestinians) to negotiate a peace “based on respect for the legitimate rights of all the people in the area,” to stop the fighting “provided Israel returned to the June 5, 1967 lines.” He got nowhere.

Sadat was desperate. The Egyptian public was increasingly hungry and blamed the government for food shortages, massive unemployment and corruption. So, Sadat set in motion a series of secret meetings with Israeli officials that set the terms for his remarkable diplomatic gesture: Sadat flew to Jerusalem in Nov. 20, 1977, to address the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and urge the cause of peace. I turn now to what he encountered in Israel and faced in its strategy.

Strengthening of Israel

As we have seen, what became the state of Israel was already a unified, modern society by the middle of the 1930s. All that changed thereafter was a continuing growth of capacity. Population soared at the end of the Second World War and Israel received major infusions in the following years. After 1989, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev allowed emigration, about 1.5 million Jews left the Soviet Union and nearly a million of them went to Israel.

According to the Orthodox Rabbinate, about one in four of these people were not “Jewish” but were a mixture of Jews and others, and both biological and historical studies indicate that many were not of Semitic heritage. The medieval empire of the Khazars in Central Asia had sought to establish a distinct position for itself in a neighborhood of Greek Orthodox Christians and Muslim Iranians, Turks and Arabs by adopting a different religion: the rulers and probably the bulk of the population adopted Judaism.

Even in the modern period, under Soviet rule, there was a Jewish republic in the Soviet system. A sort of Soviet “Israel” was established by Stalin in 1934 to enable Russian Jews to promote their own culture. Known as Yereyskaya, it was in the Far East on the frontier with Manchuria. The capital city was Birobidzhan. At its height, it contained nearly a quarter of a million Jews, but most emigrated so that  the population today is almost entirely ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.

A number of other Jewish populations (the Mountain Jews, aka the Juhuro , and the Georgian Jews) existed in Central Asia. The biological relationship of these peoples to Sephardic, Ashkenazi and Oriental Jews is controversial but, apart from physical appearance which varies markedly, differing susceptibility to certain illnesses has been observed.

The latest note is Nicholas Wade’s “Genes suggest…” in The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2013. It appears that a significant part of the Russian Jewish population is not of Semitic origin. Intermarriage with and/or conversion to Judaism by such peoples as the Berbers is documented; less well studied is the origin of African, Indian and Chinese Jews.

But the Israeli “Law of Return” considered the Soviet Jews to be Jews and so rightful immigrants. The one in six Israelis who are culturally Russian has profoundly affected Israeli society and politics, making the Israel of the Twentieth-first Century very different from the Israel of the Twentieth Century.

Israel’s Expansion

By 2014, the Israeli Jewish population reached approximately 6.2 million. Most Jews now live in the area designated by the UN resolutions as Israeli, but about 540,000 live on the West Bank and East Jerusalem which were designated by the UN resolutions and ceasefire agreements as Palestinian. An additional 20,000 live in the disputed Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. About 1.7 million Israelis are Palestinians. (Jordan’s population was then roughly 8 million and Lebanon’s 4.5 million.)

The land of Palestine has always been short of water, and, despite large-scale efforts at water management and massive draw-downs of aquifers — Israelis use at least three times as much water per capita as Jordanians — the Israelis have not been able to “make the desert bloom.” Less than 14 percent of the land is classified as “arable” and less than 4 percent can be permanently cropped. (This compares to Jordan’s 1.97 percent of arable land and slightly less than 1 percent of permanently cropped area. Most of Jordan, like Egypt, is desert.) The demand for more water is a key factor in Israeli policy.

The Israeli population is young with a median age of just under 30; four in each ten Israelis are below the age of 25. These figures give Israel a large military potential. Taking the portion of the population aged 16 to 49 as fit for military service, Israel can draw on 1.8 million males and 1.7 million females. Each year an additional 62,000 males and 59,000 females reach military age.

The Gross domestic product (GDP) of Israel in 2013 was $274.5 billion (roughly eight times the GDP of Jordan or Lebanon) which made it the world’s 49th richest country.

As these figures indicate, Israel is a rich, technologically advanced country which has captured world markets in advanced military equipment, pharmaceuticals and the more traditional cut diamond trade. It actively encourages (particularly Jewish) tourism both to earn foreign currencies and as an aspect of its security and economic policies.

Israel benefits greatly from foreign investment and even more from the overseas Jewish communities’ donations. These benefits have resulted in recent years in a growth rate of nearly 5 percent per annum. Absent major war, the economic future appears bright.  Perhaps the most significant new development has been the discovery of large deposits of natural gas off the Mediterranean coast.

Despite these favorable conditions, about one in each five inhabitants (mainly Oriental Jews and the Israeli Arab citizens) live below the poverty line. In mid-2011, significant protests were mounted about income inequality and inflation. In fact, income inequality and poverty rates are among the highest of OECD countries.

Israel’s Assets

The basic resource of Israel is a highly educated, strongly motivated and cultural unified Jewish majority of its population. As I have mentioned in the previous essay in this series, this enables the government to mobilize military forces in hours that would require weeks or even months in its Arab neighbors. The small size of the country enables it to shift its military force from front to front to achieve “theater dominance.”

Moreover, Israel holds the military “trump card.” From the early 1960s, if not before, Israel was working on the design and production of nuclear weapons at a secret site at Dimona. In a variety of ways, including espionage, it acquired crucial information and materials from France, the U.S. and South Africa. Relations with South Africa, then a repressive, segregated state that viewed its black population much as the Israelis viewed the Palestinians, were close. South Africa also offered help on developing and testing nuclear weapons and even sent troops to help patrol Israel’s West Bank frontier.

The Guardian published on May 24, 2010, a crucial document on Top Secret negotiations between then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and South Africa Defense Minister P. W. Botha. What they were planning was among other things a violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The document was found in the South African government archives, after the fall of the white supremacist regime by Professor Sasha Polakow-Suransky, who subsequently published it in his The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Alliance with Apartheid South Africa. Peres denied his participation.

On Sept. 22, 1979, Israel probably conducted at least one atmospheric nuclear test whose characteristic double flash was detected by an American satellite. Israel is thought to have conducted other tests in or off the coast of South Africa.

At least by 2003, Israel had deployed nuclear-tipped American cruise missiles on its submarine fleet.  Israel has neither denied nor confirmed its nuclear arsenal, but it is believed to have a large inventory (perhaps 200 or more) of nuclear devices along with chemical and biological weapons. [On American involvement see Amir Oren, “Newly declassified documents…” Haaretz, Aug. 30, 2014.]

Foreign Help

A major additional resource for Israel has been its ability to draw financial, education and commercial preference from governments. American contributions of various kinds to date total well over $100 billion. Israel has also received preferential treatment on contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and at least one branch of Israel’s government, its intelligence organization, is largely funded by the CIA. To address how these attributes impact upon relations with the surrounding Arab countries and with the Palestinians, I turn to the Israeli national strategy.

As I have laid out in my second essay in this series, the fundamental Zionist strategy to found the state of Israel has been continued by the state of Israel: it was and is to acquire land on which to settle Jewish immigrants. This was embodied on the eve of the 1947-1949 war in what was known as “Plan D.” Tactical implementation of the strategy varied according to circumstances over the years, but the central thrust of the policy remained: Israel wanted land without non-Jewish people. To accomplish this goal it was prepared to adopt any tactics regardless of legality or world opinion.

In addition to hundreds of separate actions — attacks on villages, confiscation of land, expulsion of populations and planting of settlements — the strategic guidance of the principal Israeli officials and statesmen can be seen in the following statements.

During the build-up to the 1973 war, when Egypt alienated the Western powers by seeking a military alliance with Russia, Prime Minister Golda Meir set the terms of what Israel would demand in a settlement. Israel would 1) retain that part of Syria it had conquered (the Golan Heights); 2) would keep control over the West Bank and probably force much of the Palestinian population out; 3) would tie the Jordan economy to Israel by allowing Jordan access to its ports at Haifa and Gaza; 4) would keep and perhaps incorporate the Gaza strip; and (5) would retain a sizable area around Sharm ash-Shaikh adjacent to the Straits of Tiran where the war had begun. At that time, Israel appropriated an additional 400 square miles of the occupied West Bank.

Dayan’s Hard Line

General Moshe Dayan, the minister of defense during the 1973 war, later described what might be called by analogy to the Nineteenth Century British policy in Afghanistan as the Israeli “Forward Policy.” Focusing on the Golan Heights, he told a confidant that the Israelis “would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and it knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor [driver] to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was.”

Dayan anticipated that after the Israeli army, on his personal order, seized Golan in 1967, the “Israeli farmers would waste no time settling on the fertile land, making it difficult [for the Government] subsequently to withdraw. … They didn’t even try to hide their greed for that land,” according to Rami Tal who kept the talk secret for 21 years and then published it in the weekend supplement to the newspaper Yedioth Abronoth. It was then quoted by Serge Schmemann as “Firestorm Over the Golan,” International Herald Tribune, May 12, 1997.

As I noted above,  General Itzhak Rabin, the chief of the Israeli general staff and later ambassador to Washington and still later prime minister, told me, Israel had used its victory in the 1973 war to “up the price” of peace.

It then included face-to-face negotiations to achieve “reconciliation” to the existence of a Jewish independent state; completely open frontiers with free trade and maintenance of Israeli overwhelming military superiority without any interference by UN peacekeeping forces. Rabin admitted that the Arabs could not accept these terms so they would be driven to surrender and accept what Israel would give.

Skipping ahead several years, General Ariel Sharon, then minister of defense, in a speech at Tel Aviv University on Dec. 15, 1981, laid out the adaptation of the basic strategy to the new situation created by the growth of Israeli power and the transfer of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestine Authority to Lebanon. The strategy was expanded to occupy south Lebanon and completely destroy the PLO.

In fact, although Sharon did not spell this out, the objective was even more inclusive. According to the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, “The true objective of the war … was the destruction of the powerful political and intellectual center of Palestinian nationalism that had developed over the years in Beirut.” That is, it was to “decapitate” and demoralize the Palestinians. That was the first part of Sharon’s plan. [See “The Turning Point in Israel,” The New York Review of Books, Oct. 13, 1983. During its withdrawal, the Israeli army packed up and took to Israel the “memory bank” the Palestinians had been assembling as their national archives. See my The Arab World Today (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 352.]

Arranging Lebanon

As Sharon laid out, the second part of his plan was to install a Maronite Kataib government. This government, owing its position to Israel, would sign a peace treaty. Then, third, Israel would “encourage” the remaining West Bank Palestinians to “transfer” to Jordan. This would have the effect of opening the entire West Bank to Jewish settlement, turning Jordan into “Palestine,” and so ending Palestinian claims on Israel.

Sharon recognized that these moves would convulse Jordan; consequently, Israel would intervene there to install a government that would also sign a peace treaty. Finally, these moves  would leave Syria isolated and would force Saudi Arabia to compromise, thus making Israel the predominant Afro-Asian power. [Sharon’s talk was published as a  Government press bulletin in Jerusalem on Dec. 15, 1981, and was summarized by Robert Neumann in Foreign Affairs  62(1983).]

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon on June 6, 1982, six months after Sharon’s speech, set his plan in motion.

Overall, in each of the statements on Israeli strategy, it is clear that the American slogan of trading “land for peace” was never seriously considered; land was always the primary goal of Israeli strategy. Emptying the land of its Palestinian inhabitants was the goal of Plan D in 1948 and remains the underlying Israeli policy today. Everything else was tactics.

I now briefly focus on the experience of the Palestinians during these years.

FATAH, the PLO and Quest for Statehood

The failure of the Arab states in the 1973 war gave the Palestinians their first clear shot at achieving statehood. Before that time, they had been scattered, isolated and mutually hostile bands operating with little effect on the Israeli borderlands. It was the states, not the Palestinians, that mattered.

As I wrote in my second essay, the national movement was composed of two major organizations. The first was FATAH (Arabic: Harakat at-Tahrir al-Falastini). Like a number of Middle Eastern political movements, it grew out of student discussion groups. Its early members were professional men among whom the leader was Yasir Arafat. He was to play the major role in Palestinian affairs for the next 30 years.

Very different in origin and character was the second group, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (Arabic: Munazzama’t-Tahrir al-Falastini). The PLO had been founded in 1964 by the Arab states and was more or less superimposed on the Palestinians. The stated aim was to engage in armed struggle against Israel while the unspoken purpose was to control the divergent groups of Palestinian militants. Its titular leader, who never really established leadership, was a Palestinian who had joined the diplomatic service of Saudi Arabia.

Also different was the way the two organizations mobilized themselves for the struggle. While the PLO formed a standing military force, the Palestine Liberation Army, FATAH was inspired by and tried to copy what its leaders thought had given the Algerian national movement its power. This turned out to be a misunderstanding and was so important in the development of the Palestinian movement that I must clarify it. As head of the American government task force on Algeria, I had access to everything that the American government could find out about the war; later I researched all available public materials to write the chapter on Algeria in my book Violent Politics (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).

The Algerian standing army never engaged the French army; it spent its time in exile in Tunisia. The fighting was done by small fighting  groups (Arabic diminutive: kutaib) of less than a hundred Algerian men and women scattered throughout Algeria’s districts  who fought with guerrilla tactics; in the cities the fight was carried on by even smaller cells that used terrorist tactics. Their aim was to drive the French out of Algeria by making staying there unacceptably expensive both financially and politically for them.

Expelled to Tunisia

None of this worked for the Palestinians. They tried to find their “Tunisia” in both Jordan and Lebanon but were driven out of both, ironically finally to the real Tunisia. Nor could they establish either Kutaib or terrorist cells inside Israel; such attacks as they could mount were always from external bases. Finally, whereas the one million or so European settlers in Algeria could go to France or elsewhere, most of the several million Israelis believed that Israel was their final destination.

But, like the Algerians, the Palestinians thought of their organization as a state in the process of being born or, perhaps more accurately at least in their hopes, a state in the process of being recognized. In fact, the PLO was a coalition of eight separate and ideologically heterodox bands that were loosely tied together by a sort of parliament, the Palestine National Council (Arabic: al-Majlis al-Watani al-Filistini).

Following the defeat of the Arab states in the 1967 war, the PLO underwent a radical change: building on the organization’s strength as a national movement dedicated to guerrilla warfare, Yasir Arafat’s FATAH gained control of the PLO at the 1969 National Council meeting in Cairo. From that time until his death in 2004, Arafat was the recognized leader.

As the best informed and most able of the observers of the movement, Eric Rouleau, wrote, by the 1980s, “Fatah, the core and mainstream of the PLO … represents some 80 percent of the Fedayeen and probably a like percentage of the Palestinian population at large.” [See “The Future of the PLO,”  Foreign Affairs, Fall, 1983.] Eric Rouleau was born an Egyptian of Jewish background who, as the Middle Eastern correspondent of the French newspaper Le Monde won the respect and trust of Arafat (and remarkably of his rivals and enemies) in half a century of reporting. He later became the French ambassador to Tunisia.

From the FATAH/PLO perspective, the Jordanian monarchy was both an antiquarian residue of colonial times and a virtual Israeli puppet. But Jordanian territory offered the potential for Palestinian survival as a nation and a base for guerrilla operations that might lead to the recovery of at least a part of Palestine.

So, as I have mentioned, the Palestinians in the spring of 1970 steadily encroached upon the prerogatives of the Jordanian state. Someone, thought to have been a Palestinian, tried to assassinate King Hussein; the PLO mounted attacks on government buildings; and more or less officially the PLO demanded that the King dismiss a number of senior officials including his uncle who was head of the army.  The King then realized that he would have to destroy the PLO or be destroyed by it. He unleashed his army in September — “Black September” — which, after killing perhaps 10,000 Palestinians, drove the rest out of Jordan.

With Jordan closed to them, the PLO moved to Lebanon where it thrived. The pluralism of Lebanese society made entree  for the leadership easy and the existence of numbers of refugee camps in which some 300,000 Palestinians lived gave them a niche. In fact about one in six residents of Lebanon was a Palestinian. But, the Palestinians soon overplayed their hand and built resistance to themselves that would have particularly tragic consequences.

Military Changes

During their time in Lebanon, the Palestinians changed both the structure and tactics of their armed forces. Arafat decided that the PLO armed forces should convert from a guerrilla force to a regular army and that they should stop their attacks across the frontier. The first made them much more vulnerable to the Israeli air force and army and the second did not prevent the Israelis from attacking. Israel invaded in 1982.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the new tactics, the PLO fought a hard fight. It had taken Israel only six days to defeat the Arab armies in 1967 and just three weeks in 1973, but Israel required ten weeks in Lebanon to defeat the PLO.

Beirut proved no easy prize. Besieged, the Palestinians held out for more than two months despite massive Israeli air and artillery bombardments and the cutting off of water and electricity. Both Lebanese and Palestinian casualties were heavy. Finally, under an agreement brokered by the United States, the leadership and nearly 15,000 Palestinian combatants departed for exile in Tunisia and other Arab states.

What they left behind in Lebanon was a disaster. Once PLO soldiers had departed, the refugees in the camps were defenseless. The U.S. government had guaranteed their safety, but did not lift a finger when, two weeks later on Sept. 16, the Palestinian refugees were butchered by the MaroniteKataib under Israeli control and with Israeli assistance.

The Kataib massacred well over a thousand civilians, mainly women and children. General Sharon subsequently admitted that in addition to having the camps under the control of his forces, he had arranged that they lighted flares to assist the Kataib. So shocked was world opinion that, too late, the U.S. rushed in a Marine detachment which, subsequently frequently clashed with Israeli troops.

In Israel, too, the reaction was one of astonishment and disgust. Some 350,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the government. A senior government official, the military governor of the West Bank (a former colleague of mine), resigned and 1,000 Israeli army reservists requested not to be assigned to Lebanon.

The massacre and Sharon’s role in it were investigated by a justice of the Israeli Supreme Court who recommended that three senior officers, including the chief of staff, be relieved of their command and that Sharon be removed from office. Sharon refused.

Intifadas and the Evolution of the PLO

Palestinians, by then numbering nearly five million , scattered in camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, impoverished and dependent upon the UN relief agency, UNRWA, were beginning to realize that they were represented by an always distant, high living and nomadic establishment.

Tales of corruption among the leaders spread, and step by step Yasir Arafat gave up the Palestinian objectives which he had proclaimed and on which he based his legitimacy. Those of us who visited the camps and talked with the “inmates” — they were virtual prisoners — heard everywhere sounds of growing anger. Conferences at which the leaders made speeches seemed to many with whom I spoke not only irrelevant to their lives but even sick jokes. Arafat had begun to be regarded as an Arab Quisling.

For the meantime, the Israelis pushed ahead with their programs and in a growing variety of ways treated the Palestinians much as Germans had treated the Jews and the Boers had treated the Bantus in South Africa. For years, the Palestinians just ducked. They could do little else, but their very weakness invited further repression.

As Ben Gurion said of them already in 1947, the “only thing left for them to do is to run away.” During my first visit to Palestine in 1946, I spent a weekend with some Jewish friends I had met on the ship going from New York. Among the group were several sabras, Jews born in Israel. At one point in our discussion, the issue of the tragedy of the German Jews came up. To my astonishment, the Sabras expressed little sympathy. The Holocaust victims, one said, just “marched tamely to their deaths. They should have fought. We would have.”

I think that attitude was transferred to the Palestinians. Having just acquiesced, they invited repression. Many Jews simply despised them for their weakness.

Palestinian Badges

Jewish memories of the European oppression had become distant. During the 1980s, settlers in the new Israeli town of Ariel forced the local Palestinians to wear badges inscribed with the Hebrew words for “Foreign Worker.” When three Jewish reporters came to investigate, Ariel townsmen beat them up. Then, when the Israeli press pointed out how bitterly Jews had resented being forced to wear identifying labels (yellow stars) in Europe, the town changed the wording but kept the badges. [The New York Times, June 3, 1989, Alan Cowell, “Documents Given to Arabs.”]

For years,  Jewish settlers on the West Bank had formed vigilante “intervention forces” that the government armed and authorized to act as auxiliary police. These groups were well known for searching,  raiding and intimidating Arab villagers while the more extreme groups acted as terrorists.

On the national level, an American, Rabbi Meir Kahane, was involved in various terrorist attacks. When some of the Jewish terrorists also began to attack Jews, the Israeli police moved against them.

Among both Jews and Arabs, anger was endemic. But, despite all the warning signs, the sudden explosion of Dec. 8, 1987, caught everyone by surprise.

Like many explosions, the revolt was triggered by a relatively small event. An Israeli army truck ran into a civilian car in one of the huge Gaza refugee camps and killed four Palestinians. The story spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza that it was no accident but yet another in the many and increasingly vicious ways the Israelis treated the Palestinians. That is, they saw the event as proof of what they already believed.

So began what has been called “the First Intifadah.” Like many Arabic words, intifadah is more complex than the usual translation, “uprising,” suggests. It incorporates the notion of violence,  a shaking (of the body) and also forcing a person to pay back what is owed, so “retribution” and, in a more primitive sense, to plumb the bottom of a well.

The Palestinians were not being incited by their self-appointed leaders. Professor Don Peretz reported that “army intelligence officers whom I met concluded that the uprising was indeed spontaneous, not caused by outside agitators or programmed by PLO directives from abroad.” (Foreign Affairs, Summer 1988)

Rising Up

The Intifadah was a popular uprising: workers, on their own, stopped going to jobs on Israeli farms and workshops, refused to ride in cars with Israeli license plates, wrote graffiti calling for resistance on walls in Jerusalem and wherever they could reach, even barricaded streets and (subconsciously or consciously picking up the David and Goliath theme) began to use slingshots to stone Israeli police and soldiers.

The Israeli government struck back with massive force. Minister of Defense General Yitzhak Rabin sent 80,000 soldiers into the affected areas and authorized them to fire live ammunition into demonstrators. As he told New York Times correspondent Anthony Lewis, “‘The first priority is to use force, might, beatings…’ As the policy was explained by an analyst in the Jerusalem Post, ‘beating suspected protest leaders ‘is considered more effective than detentions.’ A detainee is released after 18 days unless there is evidence to hold him and ‘he may then resume stoning soldiers. But if troops break his hand, he won’t be able to throw stones for a month and a half.”

As John Kifner reported in The New York Times on Feb. 25, 1988, breaking bones is “a new, officially declared policy of the Israeli army and the police.” David K. Shipler reported in The New York Times that the head of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations called the beatings “an offense to the Jewish spirit” that “betrays the Zionist dream.” He cabled the Israeli president, “We plead with you to bring this madness to an end.” (U.S. Jews Torn Over Arab Beatings,” Jan. 26, 1988)

But there was little criticism in the American Jewish community. Some groups reported that contributions had actually increased and “some have called wanting to arrange education and fund-raising parties, asking who from the army can come and speak.” Mr. Rabin denied responsibility but Colonel “Yehuda Meir, who is being court-martialed for reportedly ordering his troops to arrest Arabs and then break their arms and legs,” said that he was acting according to orders from Mr. Rabin who was then Minister of Defense. The Israeli Parliament decided not to investigate. [New York Times, “Israel Declines to Study Rabin Tie to Beatings, July 12, 1990]

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that “hospital and clinic records showed that 197 people had been treated for fractures because of beatings in [just the first] three days” of implementation of the new policy. Additionally, there were a number of reports of security police beating Palestinian suspects to death.

A New Cycle

And it wasn’t only the regular security police who acted: the army admitted that it allowed teenage Jewish paramilitary trainees to beat Palestinian detainees with clubs, breaking their bones. The young Israeli trainees were developing attitudes and “skills” that would affect the rest of their lives. Since for 16 months during 1988 and 1989 all the schools and colleges were closed, young Palestinian men and women had little to do but nurse grudges and throw stones. The cycle of hatred had moved to the next generation of both Palestinians and Israelis. The breakdown of humanism ultimately had impacts on everyone.

Casualty, wounding and demolition statistics are variously reported, but even the minimal figures are staggering. During those months 25,599 Palestinians were injured and at least 430 were killed, 48 were expelled across frontiers, 176 houses were blown up or bulldozed by the IDF and 6,599 Palestinians were imprisoned.

The activities of the United Nations “Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories” were restricted, but it reported on Oct. 24, 1988, quoting Knesset Member Dedi Zucker as saying in a speech at the Knesset that in the previous ten months, “1,999 Arabs had been injured from beatings with truncheons, causing breaking of bones, 647 were injured from gas and 979 from shooting. During the same period 44 houses were demolished without trial, leaving 600 people homeless.”

Acting on the report, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 43/21 of Nov. 3, 1988, in which it  “Condemns Israel’s persistent policies and practices violating the human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, such acts as the opening of fire by the Israeli army and settlers that result in the killing and wounding of defenceless Palestinian civilians, the beating and breaking of bones, the deportation of Palestinian civilians, the imposition of restrictive economic measures, the demolition of houses, collective punishment and detentions, as well as denial of access to the media [and] …

“Demands that Israel, the occupying Power, abide immediately and scrupulously by the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, and desist forthwith from its policies and practices that are in violation of the provisions of the Convention…”

In the months following the initial outburst, the killings and beatings continued. To what end, one may ask? The consensus of observers including Israeli intelligence services and the chief of the Israeli General Staff was that the Palestinians perceived a mortal challenge of such magnitude that their reaction to it forged it into a nation. Even the normally passive Israeli Arabs joined. The UN investigation noted that “For the first time … the Arab population of Israel held a strike in sympathy with the population of the territories…”

‘Schools of Hatred’

What then happened were developments that were common among other repressed communities. Prison camps became “schools of hatred” in which the politically active communicated their beliefs and experiences to the new arrivals and, like the earlier Jewish terrorist group, the Irgun, and the dissident Russians under Stalin with their samizdat, the Palestinians began to circulate among themselves mimeographed newspapers and articles. They were avidly read and also helped to focus public opinion on the intifadah. The audience was there.

As Robert Friedman wrote (New York Review of Books, March 29, 1990) “Every refugee family I met in the occupied territories had at least one son in prison, in the hospital or dead.” In the 20 years after 1967, 300,000 Arabs had been  arrested.

The Israeli chief of staff was reported on June 17, 1989, on Israeli radio saying that the uprising could not be resolved militarily “short of mass deportation, starvation or genocide.”

Meanwhile, living conditions of the Palestinians continued to deteriorate. By 1988, Gaza, which is about twice the size of Washington D.C. but is mainly desert was bulging with 650,000 people. It would soon double. And the Israeli government estimated that over half of the occupied territories had passed into the hands of Israel or Israeli citizens by 1986.

During these years, a sequence of well-publicized meetings took place between the PLO and the Israeli government — in Madrid, Oslo, Camp David, Taba, Annapolis and elsewhere. I will skip over them as they were more public relations affairs than substantive meetings. They also seemed like meaningless events to the Palestinians who again took up their slingshots and rocks in what is known as the Second Intifadah .

Like the First Intifadah, so the Second  Intifadah was ignited by what seemed to the Israelis and even to Yasir Arafat and other senior members of the PLO an unimportant event: the outstanding Israeli “hawk,” Ariel Sharon,  on Sept. 28, 2000, went to al-Aqsa Mosque (the Haram ash-Sharif) as he said “to show that it was still under Israeli sovereignty.”

Muslim Palestinians saw his act as an attack on their religion, also demonstrating how out of touch the PLO leaders were with the Palestinians. Furious, they threw themselves into the insurrection.

The Second Uprising

The Second Intifadah was even more violent than the first. Thousands of Israeli Jewish citizens attacked the Israeli Arabs and their property while the Israeli army attacked Palestinians. The police used live ammunition and helicopter gunships against stone-throwing youths. Fairly detailed records were compiled by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but, despite a UN Security Council order (which, that time,  was not vetoed by the United States), the Israeli government tried to block a UN Human Rights Council investigation and refused to cooperate with it.

The UNHRC investigation was under the chairmanship of  Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa. Other members were Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at LSE; Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur in 2004; and Desmond Travers, a former colonel in the Irish Defence Forces and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations.

The Mission made an “inclusive approach to gathering information” with on-site interviews of  scores of officials and ordinary people and by accessing satellite imagery and video and other films. It included extremely detailed accounts of the events and related each to international law, conventions and treaties. The Report was published on Sept. 25, 2009.

The Israelis were furious. Both they and their mainly Jewish supporters in America and Britain put extraordinary pressure on the members of the team to alter their findings.

Goldstone, a notably sober, experienced and fair-minded man, who although himself Jewish, was accused of anti-Semitism. He cracked under the strain. In a letter to the editor of The Washington Post on April 1, 2009, he disavowed what he and the other team members had found.

The other members of the team, themselves distinguished investigators, were outraged and reaffirmed their findings. Indeed, since the report was so exhaustive, it is difficult to see how Goldstone could meaningfully have retracted its findings, which were accepted by  the UN General Assembly, the UNHRC, the European Union and the relevant non-governmental organizations.

The Report makes clear that the Israeli intent was not only to kill the Palestinian leadership, an echo of Ariel Sharon’s stated policy during the Lebanon campaign, but to make Gaza unlivable by destroying food: “the only purpose [of destroying a mill] was to put an end to the production of flour in the Gaza Strip.” (§ 50, 915-927); water (§52,1022); housing: “3,354 houses [were] completely destroyed and 11,112 partially damaged (§53,67); power sources (§65,187) and sewage treatment (§971). The Committee pointed out (§57,67) that these measures particularly harmed children, large numbers of whom were already “stunted” and in poor health from lack of an adequate diet.

Women were “detained in degrading conditions, deprived of food and access to sanitary facilities, and exposed to the elements in January without any shelter.” (§57) Women and children as well as men were used as human shields (§58).

“The Palestinian men who were taken to detention facilities in Israel were subjected to degrading conditions of detention, harsh interrogation, beatings and other physical and mental abuse.” ( §59) This treatment was “contrary to fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human right law. … Such acts are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and constitute a war crime.” (§60) “Hospitals and ambulances were targeted by Israeli attacks.” (§68)  “Some 280 schools and kindergartens were destroyed.” (§70)

Settler Violence

The Report found that “Settler violence in the West Bank in the period preceding the Israeli military operations in Gaza … [is a result of] Israel’s decade-long policy of facilitating and encouraging the settling of its citizens inside occupied Palestinian territory, defined as transfer of population and prohibited by international humanitarian law.” (§1384)

Casual and unnecessary cruelty was repeatedly evident. One civilian who had been shot in front of his family was “pleading for help from his wife, children and relatives … [but they] were under a very credible threat of being shot themselves if they came to his help, and [they] were compelled to abandon him on the road to bleed to death. ” (§742).

“The Mission found in the above incidents that the Israeli armed forces repeatedly opened fire on civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities and who posed no threat to them.” (§ 800)

Overall, the Report pointed out that “Israel’s military operation in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 … fits into a continuum of policies aimed at pursuing Israel’s political objectives. … Many such policies are based on or result in violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.” (§1877); “the policy of blockade that preceded the operations and that in the Mission’s view amounts to collective punishment  intentionally inflicted by the Government of Israel on the people of the Gaza Strip. …

“These measures were imposed by Israel purportedly to isolate and weaken Hamas after its electoral victory in view of the perceived continuing threat to Israel’s security that it represented. Their effect was compounded by the withholding of financial and other assistance by some donors on similar grounds. Adding hardship to the already difficult situation in the Gaza Strip, the effects of the prolonged blockade did not spare any aspect of the life of Gazans.” (§1878). About 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis lost their lives.

These patterns of behavior were not in isolation. Already in 2003, according to UN Relief and Works Agency Commissioner General Peter Hansen in “Hungry in Gaza” (The Guardian, March 5, 2003) “Palestinians are suffering in the main from micro-nutrient deficiencies” that cause children to “fail to grow and develop normally; their cognition is damaged, often severely and irreversibly, and their immune systems are compromised.”

He continued, “The stark fact is that almost a quarter of Palestinian children are suffering from acute or chronic malnutrition.” Independent journalist accounts confirmed this: Haaretz, Sept. 3, 2006, Gideon Levy, “Gaza’s Darkness.” The Independent, Sept. 9, 2006, Patrick Cockburn “Palestinians forced to scavenge for food on rubbish dumps.”

In a Dec. 15, 2007 article in The Washington Post, entitled “Sealed off by Israel, Gaza Reduced to Beggary,” Scott Wilson reported that “The Israeli government is increasingly restricting the import into the Gaza Strip of batteries [even for hearing aids for the 20,000 hearing-impaired children], anesthesia drugs, antibiotics, tobacco, coffee, gasoline, diesel fuel…”

In The Guardian in a Dec. 21, 2008 article entitled “Israeli blockade ‘forces Palestinians to search rubbish dumps for food,’” Peter Beaumont noted that the UN Relief and Works Agency had compiled figures showing that 51.8 percent of Gaza’s then 1.5 million inhabitants lived below the poverty level.

More Talking

Yet, even during the fighting, conferences and secret meetings continued to be held. Outside the PLO leadership, these seemed just puffery or even efforts to enhance the wealth and power of Arafat and his colleagues. One faction of the “executive committee” of the Parliament, the Palestinian National Council, (PNA) revolted. Its dissident members decided that there was no hope for any kind of compromise with Israel. They charged Arafat and his colleagues with equivocating, delaying and compromising while the Israelis moved ahead, step by step, to implement their long-term strategy.

This judgment was seconded by outside observers.  For example, Jackson Diehl, the deputy editorial editor of The Washington Post, wrote in The New York Times on July 23, 2002, that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had already made a Palestinian state impossible. Diehl cited the trend: since 2000, Sharon had created 44 new settlements and poured in nearly $100 million in subsidies for settlers as well as building supporting infrastructure including new roads and walls “that are advertised as security measure but will have the practical effect of roping off new tracts of land for settlement expansions.”

Undeterred, the PLO leadership continued to agree to accommodations with Israel. The best known of these resulted in the Oslo Accords that led to the formation of a new organization the Palestinians called the Palestinian National Authority (Arabic: As-Sultah al-Wataniyah al-Filistiniyah).  The Israelis omitted the word “National.” Established on May 4, 1994, it agreed to recognize Israel and to stop resistance in areas under its control.

A subsequent meeting divided “Arab Palestine” into three parts: the PNA/PA was to exercise limited authority in the West Bank and Gaza over what were designated as Zone A (the urban areas) and Zone B (rural areas). Area C, which was to remain under Israeli control, included the growing number of Israeli settlements, the restricted roadways that laced the West Bank and the whole Jordan valley area. East Jerusalem was excluded from the Accords. The dots of territory put under PNA control have been likened to an archipelago and made a future contiguous “state” impossible.

Emergence of Hamas

A detailed account of the happenings of these years between the First and Second Intifadahs in which Palestinian society was convulsed. would add little of lasting import except for one development: the advent of the Gazan offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, HAMAS (Arabic: Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyah), the “Movement of Islamic Resistance.”

Meanwhile secret negotiations between the PLO leadership and the Israelis continued. They were revealed by a “whistleblower” in 2008.  Ziyad Clot, a French lawyer of Palestinian origin who was on the staff of the PLO team, concluded that “the ‘peace negotiations’ were a deceptive farce whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU capitals.

“Far from enabling a negotiated fair end of the conflict, the pursuit of the Oslo process has deepened Israeli segregationist policies and justified the tightening of the security control imposed on the Palestinian population as well as its geographical fragmentation. Far for preserving the land on which to build a State, it has tolerated the intensification of the colonisation of the Palestinian territory. Far from maintaining a national cohesion, the process I participated in, albeit briefly, proved to be instrumental in creating and aggravating divisions amongst Palestinians.

“In its most recent developments, it became a cruel enterprise from which the Palestinians of Gaza have suffered the most. Last but not least, these negotiations excluded for the most part the great majority of the Palestinian people: the 7 million-Palestinian refugees. My experience over those 11 months spent in … [the PLO headquarters] confirms in fact that the PLO, given its structure, was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests.”

[Clot published his account in Paris under the title Il n’y aura pas d’Etat palestinien or “There will be no Palestinian State” (Paris: Ed. Max Milo, 2010). Other information was published in 2011 by the Israeli magazine 972. Aljazeera got access to 1,700 files containing thousands of pages of memos, emails and minutes. Also see The Guardian, Jan. 23, 2011Seumas Milne and Ian Black, “Secret papers reveal slow death of Middle East peace process.” They comment that “The overall impression that emerges from the documents, which stretch from 1999 to 2010, is of the weakness and growing desperation of PA leaders.”]Subsequent events have made clear that many Palestinians agreed with Clot’s assessment of the PLO leadership, but if not the PLO, who would lead them?

Salafiyah Redux

Having tried early Islamic fundamentalism, such nationalist movements as wataniyah, qawmiyahand Baathism and having at least flirted with socialism or ijtimaiyah, some Arab thinkers and much of Arabic society has come full circle. Seeing the failures of all the ideologies, many Arabs and particularly the Palestinians began to think that all that was left for them was the Islamic core.

So this must take us, as it took the Palestinians — and increasing numbers of peoples all over the Middle East, Africa and Asia — back to salafiyah.

Today, as we are daily informed by the media, many Middle Easterners are picking up the spirit if not exactly the form of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth century salafi movements. We think of theirs as a religious movement, and in part it is, but, like various Christian “Born Again,” “Tea Party,” Evangelist and Creationist movements, it is broader than religion: today’s Islamic Fundamentalism is a militant populist movement.

Today, as in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, many Muslims see an appeal to arms as the only means to defend Islam against the impact of the West. We see this in the Ikhwanu’l-Muslimin(Egypt and elsewhere), HAMAS (Gaza), Hizbullah (Lebanon), ISIS, IS or ISIL (Syria and Iraq),Mujahidin and Taliban (Afghanistan and Pakistan), Islamic Courts Union or Itihadu’l-Muhakim al-Islamiya, and Ash-Shabab (Somalia), the Moro Front and Abu Sayyaf (the Philippines); al-Qaida(Yemen) and others throughout Asia and Africa. Most of these groups have either cast off or subordinated “nationalism” in their campaigns.

From today’s vantage point, it is arguable that Gamal Abdel Nasser, who more or less embodied the Arab nationalist movement, was already in the 1960s fighting a rearguard action against the Islamic challenge. While he and his close associates earlier on flirted with the Muslim Brotherhood, he and the Brotherhood came to recognize one another as deadly enemies. It was Nasser who first outlawed the Brotherhood and hanged its leading theologian, Sayyid Qutub.

His successor, Anwar Sadat, briefly flirted with the Brotherhood and tried to use them against his Leftist opponents, but after he signed a peace treaty with Israel, he was assassinated by a member of one of its offshoots, the Tanzimu’ l-jihad (“Organizing the Struggle”). Sadat’s successor, Husni Mubarak, also briefly sought to identify with the Brotherhood but then cracked down on them when their strength was revealed in the elections of 2005. They went on to win the Egyptian presidential elections of 2012 and held power until overthrown in a military coup d’état on July 3, 2013.

Overthrowing Hussein 

Meanwhile, in Iraq, Saddam Hussein dominated the completely secular, Baath-inspired government until overthrown by the American invasion. The Bush administration then installed a Shia Muslim regime. That Shia virtual theocracy is now engaged in a deadly struggle with a violent Sunni theocracy. In Syria, the Baath government has been at war since 2011 with a variety of fundamentalist movements. The various Muslim revival or fundamentalist groups regard the nationalists as their worst enemies.

In a recent pamphlet which was probably issued by ISIS, we read: “As for the [the Middle Eastern] nationalists, the Baathists, and the democrats, they have afflicted the Islamic community [Arabic: the Ummah] by corrupting religion and by the ghastly destruction of souls. That which Saddam [Hussein], [Hafez al-] Asad, [Husni] Mubarak, [Saudi King] Fahd, the Socialist Party in Yemen, and others did with regards to this destruction of souls alone surpasses those killed in all of the wars of the jihadis in this century.” [I have dealt with this in “Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism.” It is posted on my website]

Almost everywhere the secular nationalists are in retreat and are being challenged or even replaced by Salafi organizations. Among the Palestinians, HAMAS is the standard bearer. (As the then-New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges wrote, in Foreign Affairs, January/February 2001, Palestinian mobs burned shops and hotels selling alcohol — owned by Arafat’s corrupt and despised Palestinian Authority.”

In Gaza, Israel covertly helped HAMAS in order to weaken the PLO while HAMAS accepted support for its own purposes, but their objectives were incompatible. [See Wall Street Journal, Jan. 24, 2009, Andrew Higgins, “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas.”]

Attacking Gaza

HAMAS was violently opposed to the Oslo Accords which Israel sponsored. As the Israelis began to realize the dangers of the Fundamentalist challenge, they attempted to murder the HAMAS leader, Khalid Mashaal in September 1997. Other “targeted killings” followed and were “avenged” by the August 2001 blowing up of an Israeli restaurant in Jerusalem. Tit for tat, other killings would follow.

But in January 2004, HAMAS leaders, Shaikh Ahmad Yasin and Abdul Aziz ar-Rantisi, offered formulas to end the confrontations and murders. They offered to put aside the refugee “right of return” and to end “resistance” during a 10-year truce in exchange for Israeli recognition of the state of Palestine pre-1967-war boundaries. Israel rejected these offers as a subterfuge, killed both men in 2004 and carried out a number of attacks on Gaza. Then in 2005, it withdrew its troops from Gaza but kept control of the air and sea portals.

HAMAS won the Palestine legislative election on Jan. 25, 2006, and, after a brief rapprochement with FATAH, took over the government of Gaza in the spring of 2007. Almost immediately, Israel, the EU and the U.S. froze all Palestinian accounts (mainly derived from taxes) and cut off all other funding.

Then, Israel prepared to attack Gaza which it did in what is known as “Operation Cast Lead” on Dec. 27, 2008. That campaign was followed in 2012 by “Operation Pillar of Defense” and in 2014 by “Operation Protective Edge.”

These massive attacks pulverized Gaza, killing thousands of people and wounding tens of thousands more. The last campaign, “Operation Protective Edge,” that started on July 7, 2014, is now under investigation by a new UNHRC team. I will await its findings before further comments.

In the meantime, the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs tells us that Gaza now contains 1.8 million people, over half of whom are children and about half of whose housing was destroyed. Roughly seven in each ten Gazans go to sleep each night hungry. Somewhat over 100,000 were pushed out of their area when Israel closed off a three kilometer wide area along its frontier.

A Possible Future

Speculation on the future beyond the following few months is more a parlor game than a  serious undertaking, but it can contribute the basis for a judgment on what is probable or even possible. Here is how I see the main elements for the foreseeable future:

First, Israel is today and will remain far more unified, determined and strong than the Palestinians and all their sometimes allies.

Second, what do the two sides want?

Israel has always aimed to establish the Jewish state, the Judenstaat, on all of Biblical Palestine. As the early Zionist leaders drew their map, Biblical Palestine included what is today Israel, parts of southern Lebanon and Syria (which it understood were the main sources of the water it realized it would need) and most of the relatively fertile land of what was then Trans Jordan.

The Palestinians took much longer to articulate their objectives. As I have suggested, they had to spend their “time in the wilderness” before they did. Today, their objective is to “return” to the area defined, variously, as the status quo of 1919, 1950 or 1967 and thereupon to establish their state.

I put “return” in quote marks to alert the reader that there is really nothing to which the refugees can return to. Most of those now alive never knew Palestine and those who do remember their childhoods there would no longer be able to find what they remember: villages have been plowed under, neighborhoods rebuilt, picnic sites paved over. In memory, every tree has become a forest, every house a palace, every village a city.

Third, what are the chances for either of the two sides to accomplish its objective?

Israel will continue to have overwhelming advantages. The discovery of what appears to be a major gas field off the coast will further enhance Israel’s economy, probably making possible conversion of salt water for the irrigation of more land.

Israel will continue to be aided by the foreign Jewish communities and foreign governments, and such aid will become less crucial to Israel as its already strong economy continues to grow. Therefore, it will be less susceptible to foreign pressure or guidance. Israel’s army and air force, supported by its own military-industrial complex, will remain overwhelming, but in the new HAMAS and Hezbullah forms of asymmetrical warfare, their ability to “conquer” has diminished. They will continue to win battles but will not be able to establish a lasting “victory.” Thus, Israelis must expect a troubled and probably increasingly violent future.

The Palestinians will not be able to force their way back into what is now Israel, but they will endure. As a chief of the Israeli general staff put it, a military victory over them is not possible; the only alternatives are “genocide, expulsion or peace.” They now number about five million people of whom roughly half are children. Within a few more years, the population will double again.

Current events suggest that Israeli peace advocates, a tiny minority already, and European and American liberals, eventually, may increase pressure on Israel to allow the Palestinians at least marginally more scope. But this will be insufficient to enable them to accomplish their objective.

Is Compromise Possible?

Fourth, is a compromise between what each side wants politically possible? I think the short answer is “yes, but…” The key elements are these:

While Israel has always been determined to expand into all of “Biblical Palestine” and settle it with Jews, it has varied its tactics to work within what was feasible at any given time. I believe that will continue to be its policy. The policy of creating “facts on the ground” through the West Bank settlement policy has not only impacted upon the Palestinians but also narrowed the scope for the Israeli government.

Consequently, while the government might agree to allow some measure of Palestinian autonomy or even independence, the amount politically feasible would be limited. The Palestinian tactics of resistance and terrorism have further limited what any elected Israeli government can afford to do. Thus, any Israeli government would advertise any compromise as, at best, an interim measure. I doubt that any conceivable Israeli government, given Israel’s wealth and power, will go further.

The Palestinian leadership in recent years has shown (secretly) a willingness to compromise. That is, in part, the reason for the decline of support among Palestinians for the PLO as an organization and personally for Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. There are recent indications that a more respected political movement, known as “The Future”  (Arabic: al-Mustaqbal) which is inspired by Marwan Barghouti may make some form of compromise acceptable to the Palestinian public.

Barghouti has been called in the Israeli press the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. Like Mandela he has spent much of his life — 18 years — in prison and a further seven years in exile in Jordan. Barghouti has announced that he has been seeking “peaceful coexistence between the equal and independent countries of Israel and Palestine based on full withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.” [The Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2002.]

What we do not know are two crucial things: first, would enough Israelis find this attractive to shift the government’s position and Israel’s long-term strategy. Second, can even a Palestinian Mandela overcome the deep sense of hatred, shame and nostalgia among his people. I think it is likely that the Palestinians would rather suffer more than give up their dream. As some have said, “we can afford to lose more blood. We have more blood. And we are more ready to lose it than the Israelis.”

The Failed Options

Fifth, discussion for years has focused on the “one state” and “two states” proposed solutions.” I find it difficult to believe either will work. Here is why:

In the “one state,” the Palestinians would be a subjugated minority with few rights and little security — they will be the “Jews” of an Israeli Germany or an Israeli Imperial Russia, subject to pogroms, cooped up in ghettos, imprisoned or driven into exile. Even those who think of themselves as “Israeli Arabs” will remain, in the eyes of the real Israelis, just Arabs.  They, their children and their grandchildren are likely to be drawn into the struggle and along with the other Palestinians will probably come to be thought of as subversive. If they resist, their resistance will call forth reprisal. Peace or even stability is unlikely in that direction.

In the “two states,” those living in Palestine (the remnants of the West Bank and Gaza) would be condemned to perpetual poverty. They will have almost no usable agricultural land and virtually no water. They would be cut off from markets for what little they could produce. They could have no hope of manufacturing because they would have little access to energy.

Even the limited money they could earn would continue to be closely controlled and often blocked by the Israeli Central Bank as it now is. They will have limited access to health facilities, educational institutions and even contact with one another. Segregated as they are and will be (for security reasons) by restricted zones, walls, roadways and check points, they will be constantly humiliated and infuriated. They too would periodically resist or strike out in fury and so draw upon themselves reprisals. And so too the cycle of violence would continue or even escalate.

Sixth, if both of these “solutions” are unlikely, what is likely?

The first is “no state.” This is what the Israelis really want. This would require that the remaining Palestinians leave what is left of the West Bank and Gaza. To go where? To refugee camps or wherever, the Israelis don’t care. A reading of all Israeli actions underlines the Israeli intention to make life as unattractive for the Palestinians as world opinion allows. It has not so far worked. There are more Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza today than there were in 1947. But some Israelis see this as an even more urgent reason to press harder.

The second alternative, which of course many Palestinians want, is to recreate Palestine as a full-fledged state. This would require that the Israelis “to go back where they came from.” The Arabs day-dream of their relations with the Israelis in a parallel to the Crusades. The Crusaders stayed a long time but finally left. The more recent parallel is to the “French” (many of whom were not French at all) pieds noirs in Algeria. It took a century but they too finally left.

As I have said, while it is likely that some, even many, Israelis will return to Europe or go to America — New York is said to have a larger Jewish or joint Israel-American population than Jerusalem — the ones who stay behind will be absolutely determined to remain. The Palestinian dream is just that, a dream.

The third alternative is a continuation of events of the last half century — periodic warfare interspersed with rebuilding as the population of the two societies grows. Israel has demonstrated the capacity to inflict massive pain on the Palestinians; sooner or later, the Palestinians will learn how to inflict substantial pain on the Israelis. But my hunch is that few will look ahead to more than just living with the discomfort.

Consequently, I conclude that, barring unforeseen events or the unlikely advent of a new will to peace and a new understanding of what is required to achieve it, the future is likely to be a continuation of the past: periodic warfare, resistance and repression, ceasefires but no peace, lives on both sides of fragile and disputed frontiers full of fear and hatred.

We would be prudent to prepare for more and worse Gazas.

Posted in Palestine AffairsComments Off on The Battle for Palestine ”3”

The Battle for Palestine ”2”


Special Report: After the Holocaust, Europe acquiesced to the Zionist settlement of Palestine and turned a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing that cleared Arabs from the land, as ex-U.S. diplomat William R. Polk describes in the second of a three-part series.

By William R. Polk

The British Foreign Secretary told Parliament on Feb. 18, 1947, that “there is no prospect of resolving this conflict by any settlement negotiated between the parties.” Further, he said, according to the League of Nations mandate, the legal basis for Britain’s rule over Palestine, Britain did not have the authority to partition the country as everyone thought would be necessary.

Thus, the British government had decided to turn the problem over to the United Nations. The Foreign Secretary did not mention, but it was obviously a significant factor, that Britain could no longer afford to keep nearly 100,000 troops employed in an increasingly vain effort to keep the peace in what was in comparison to India a relatively unimportant area.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister

In response to Britain’s request, the UN Secretary General on April 2, 1947, asked that the General Assembly (UNGA) take up the question of what should be done about Palestine. Five of the member states thought they already knew what to do: Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia proposed “The termination of the Mandate over Palestine and the declaration of its independence.” Their motion was rejected by the UNGA which instead, voted to establish a “Special Committee for Palestine” (UNSCOP) to recommend a different solution.

It should have been sobering to the members of this, the last in the long line of inquiries, to hear the British delegate say, “We have tried for years to solve the problem of Palestine. Having failed so far, we now bring it to the United Nations, in the hope that it can succeed where we have not. If the United Nations can find a just solution which will be accepted by both parties, [we would] welcome such a solution [but] we should not have the sole responsibility for enforcing a solution which is not accepted by both parties and which we cannot reconcile with our conscience.”

UNSCOP was to be composed of a diverse group, representatives of Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia. As diverse as the committee was, its members shared one characteristic: none of them knew anything about Palestine. And they could not expect that they would get a “balanced” view since the representative of one party, the Palestinians, decided to abstain from collaboration with UNSCOP.

In the absence of a Palestinian voice – combined with the general ignorance of the members of the Committee and sporadic demonstrations in Palestine against its inquiry – the Jewish Agency dominated the proceedings.

Seeking Balance

Despite these problems, UNSCOP set out, or at least signed, a generally fair and informative appreciation of “the Elements of the Conflict” in its Report to The General Assembly. In summary, it portrayed two populations, one European, technologically advanced, united and determined, numbering about 600,000, and the other, numbering 1,200,000, Asian, divided both religiously and geographically into about 1,200 self-reliant, self-governing communities as well as “native quarters” of the few cities, suffering from all of the inherited problems of colonialism.

This population lived in one small (26,000 square kilometer/10,000 square mile) area of which “about half … is uninhabitable desert” with seasonal and limited rainfall and access to ground water only from fragile and (what ultimately have proven to be) endangered aquifers. Palestine was almost totally without minerals other than the potassium and sodium salts of the Dead Sea. The delegates must have thought there was little to divide.

UNSCOP accepted as given, probably on legal advice, that it should work within the intent and functioning of the League of Nations mandate. In retrospect curiously, UNSCOP did not apparently consider the utility of negotiating with and between the Palestinians and the Zionists. Nor, as in various contemporary and subsequent instances of decolonization did it regard the majority community as the presumed legal heir to the colonial government. Only the Arab states thought of turning the “case” over to the International Court.

Viewing the mandate document as tantamount to a constitution for Palestine, UNSCOP emphasized that the Mandatory Power (Britain) had been obliged to “secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home,” to “facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions” and to “encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish Agency … close settlement by Jews on the land” while it “speaks in general terms only of safeguarding or not prejudicing the ‘civil and religious rights’ and the ‘rights and position’ of the Arab community in Palestine.”

In attempting to balance these unequal obligations, the Committee observed, the “Mandatory Power has attempted, within the limits of its interpretation of the ‘dual obligation’ of the mandate, to provide some satisfaction of Arab political desires,” but such moves “were generally rejected by the Palestinians and vigorously opposed by the Zionists.”

UNSCOP was told that the Zionists demanded the right of “return” for European Jews in numbers defined only by the “economic absorptive capacity of the state.” The Zionist representatives declared, however, that “The immigrant Jews [would] displace no Arabs, but rather [would] develop areas which otherwise would remain undeveloped.”

Promises of Peace

In an earlier communication (March 19, 1899) to an official of the Ottoman Empire, Theodore Herzl had written that the Zionist movement was “completely peaceful and very content if they are left in peace. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing to fear from their immigration. … Your Excellency sees another difficulty, in the existence of the non-Jewish population in Palestine. But who would think of sending them away? It is their well-being, their individual wealth which we will increase by bringing in our own.”

The basis of the Zionist claim to Palestine was, as from the beginning of the movement in Theodore Herzl’s words, “Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home.”

In a separate opinion, the Representative of India held that the Jewish contention that they were the “original” natives was both historically questionable and, if held to be the basis of a legal claim, would be a recipe for chaos since virtually all modern states would be open to similar claims based on ancient history.

As he wrote, “To found their claim on their dispersion from Palestine after a period of approximately 2,000 years, whatever religious sentiment may be attached by them to the land occupied by their Prophets, appears to me to be as groundless as anything can be. A multitude of nations conquered various countries at various times and were eventually defeated and turned out of them. Can their connexion, however long, with the land which they had once conquered provide them with any basis after the lapse of even one century?

“If this were so, Moslems might claim Spain, which they governed for a much longer period than the Jews had governed part of Palestine … [moreover] this claim  cannot be made by those who were subsequently converted to Judaism. Khazars of Eastern Europe, Turco-Finn by race, were converted to Judaism as a nation about 690 A.D. Can their descendants possibly claim any rights simply because the ancestors of their co-religionists had once settled in Palestine.”

There is no indication that UNSCOP as a whole reacted to the Indian delegate’s demarche. But it was, in part, foreshadowed by the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee which “postulate[d] the ‘natural’ right of the Arab majority to remain in undisputed possession of the country, since they are and have been for many centuries in possession…”

The Arab Higher Committee also made two further arguments: first, that “the term ‘Arab’ is to be interpreted as connoting not only the invaders from the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, but also the indigenous population which intermarried with the invaders and acquired their speech, customs and modes of thought in becoming permanently Arabized.”

It is the descendants of this mixed group, they said, who the current Palestinian “natives.” And, second, they claimed “acquired” rights, which derived from the various British promises during and immediately after the First World War. Thus, the Palestinians “have persistently adhered to the position that the Mandate for Palestine, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration, is illegal.”

Disputing Arab Claims

UNSCOP found the Arab claims weak. It held that the Palestinian claim to “natural” rights is flawed by the fact that “they have not been in possession of it [Palestine] as a sovereign nation … [and] Palestinian nationalism, as distinct from Arab nationalism, is itself a relatively new phenomenon.”

Moreover, Great Britain “has consistently denied that Palestine was among the territories to which independence was pledged.” Finally, the Committee noted that the 1936 Royal Commission had pointed out that “there was a time when Arab statesmen were willing to consider giving Palestine to the Jews, provided that the rest of Arab Asia was free. That condition was not fulfilled then, but it is on the eve of fulfilment [sic] now.”

UNSCOP admitted that “the Jews would displace Arabs from the land if restrictions were not imposed … [And found that since this] would seem inevitable … continued development of the Jewish National Home … envisages the possibility of a violent struggle with the Arabs.” It concluded by quoting Lord Balfour saying that “The general lines of [the Balfour Declaration] policy stand and must stand.”

So, UNSCOP recommended that following the British withdrawal, there should be a short interval during which time Palestine and the incipient Jewish state would be held under some sort of trusteeship while Palestine would be prepared to be partitioned into two states that would continue to be unified economically.

Meanwhile, the living circumstances of 250,000 or so displaced European Jews would be alleviated. The Committee ducked the question of whether or not that meant that the Displaced Persons would be allowed to enter Palestine. Finally, it noted that violence, carried out until recently “almost exclusively” by “underground Jewish organizations” would “render increasingly difficult the execution of the solution to be agreed upon by the United Nations.” But it offered no means to lessen the violence or to avoid the likelihood of war.

After reviewing the reports, listening to emotional appeals by various delegates,  individuals and groups and following orders transmitted by their home governments, the delegates to the UN General Assembly voted (Resolution 181) on Nov. 29, 1947, 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions,  despite strong opposition by Arab member states, to recommend partition of Palestine. The key feature was that it awarded the incipient Jewish state, whose citizens-to-be owned or controlled less than 6 percent of the land, 55 percent of the Mandate.

On the Ground in Palestine

The General Assembly had issued its verdict but it left open the question of how to actually carry out the resolution when no UN-controlled military or police forces were available. As the British delegate warned the General Assembly, Britain’s “84,000 troops were leaving. And they had proved insufficient to maintain law and order, in the face of a campaign of terrorism waged by highly organised Jewish forces equipped with all the weapons of the modern infantryman.”

To appreciate the full meaning of the UN General Assembly decision, I consider it in the context of in four interacting categories:

First, the British military force began to disengage not only overall but selectively from cities, towns and camps. As it did, it opened areas that became essentially free-fire zones. The British commander reasonably took the position that his priority was to keep his soldiers out of harm’s way.  They should be evacuated as quickly and as safely as possible.

What happened after they had left, or even what happened during the process of their leaving, was not their responsibility. Thus, as they vacated their former positions, one at a time, they necessarily if inadvertently favored one side or the other. Where they could, they tried to protect the residents; thus, for example in the city of Tiberias, they evacuated the nearly half of the residents who were Palestinians. Thus, they acted to protect the Palestinians but effectively turned the city over to the Jews. Overall, their actions necessarily favored the Zionists.

Second, the Arab states loudly and repeatedly proclaimed the responsibility to protect the Palestinians. However, until after the legal end to the Palestine mandate, they could not intervene. Doing so would have constituted an act of war against Britain, and the British would not allow them to move. So in the months between the beginning of the British withdrawal and May 15, 1948, they were effectively immobilized.

Legality was not the only reason. There were two other reasons for the inactivity of the Arab states. The first reason for their inactivity was that they were weak. Egypt and Iraq were effectively under British military occupation since their abortive revolts against the British (Iraq in 1941 and Egypt in 1942), and their armed forces were kept small, disorganized and ill-equipped. Corruption sapped their logistics while purges of officers suspected of political ambition or nationalist ardor weakened their command structures.

When the Iraqi army was sent to Palestine, many of its soldiers were not adequately armed, and some were without uniforms or even suitable footwear. The Egyptian army was the butt of British jokes – it was said to be the largest army in the world, judged by the girth of the officers. They were scorned as inferior colonials. The army had only cast-off British equipment. Morale was naturally low.

The only reasonably effective Arab military force was the Jordanian Legion which had been designed to patrol the desert and to provide income for Bedouin tribesmen who were its recruits. It was composed of only four battalions and one (as yet untrained) artillery unit. It had no transport and little ammunition. Moreover, it was not a “national” force: it was under the command of British officers.

No Effective Leaders

None of the Arab governments was an effective leader in its own country. King Farouk was generally despised by educated Egyptians; the mass of Egyptians lived on the edge of starvation; Egypt was already a “country of crowds” with roughly 1,000 people on each square kilometer of inhabitable land; disease was common and life expectancy was short.

Like the Egyptians, the Iraqis had troubles of their own. And they thought their governments were a big part of their troubles. The King of Iraq was a little boy who was under the control of a much hated regent who was regarded as a puppet of the British. Only Trans-Jordan’s Amir Abdullah seemed popular among his mainly Bedouin subjects.

The second inhibition was that the leaders of the Arab states were divided by personal ambitions. Each pursued his own goals. King Farouk’s Egypt wanted to take over at least Gaza to anchor the Sinai Peninsula while Abdullah had secretly worked with the Zionists for years to get their support for his incorporation of “Arab Palestine.” Neither he nor Farouk were interested in the Palestinians.

Farouk confiscated military equipment destined for Abdullah. Each ruler espoused a different Palestinian faction. In short, jealousies, ambitions and personal quarrels were of much more importance to them than their declared protection of the Palestinians. Thus, the Arab states had no unified strategy and did not seek, even separately, to work with such forces as the Palestinians mustered.

Realizing their incapacity, the Arab states got the Arab League to offer on March 21, 1948two months before the Mandate was due to lapse, a compromise peace. They offered to take in the thousands of Jewish “illegals,” whom the British were holding on Cyprus, as citizens of their countries and urged that, rather than being divided as the UN had voted, the whole Mandate area be put once again under a trusteeship.

That proposal was briefly considered by the U.S. government which realized that a dangerous and destructive war, which was likely to harm American interests, was inevitable if the UN decision were implemented.  The American “retreat” infuriated American Zionists who mounted a political attack on the Truman Administration, with articles in The New York Times castigating officials for “duplicity,” “shoddy and underhand turnabout” and “a shocking reversal.”

The Truman Administration quickly backed down. What the Administration did was a replay of the Feb. 14, 1931 British Government disavowal of its White Paper, based on the Hope-Simpson Report, that would have limited Jewish immigration.

A Weak Military

Third, the Palestinian cause attracted volunteer fighters — a category of combatants we see in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq — who began to infiltrate the Mandate before the British left. Some of them were displaced Palestinians who had been in exile since they had fought against the British in the 1936-1938 “revolt.” Most were from other Arab countries. They are believed to have numbered about a thousand by the end of 1947 and rose to perhaps 3,000 in the next year.

How effective these volunteers were is in doubt. Some carried out terrorist acts, particularly against Zionist targets in the area the UN had designated as the Arab Palestinian state, but the record shows that while they were brave, they were not decisive. In the village structure of Palestine, they were alien. In some villages which still sought to remain neutral, they were unwelcome.

Overall, the Palestinians had little military capacity. The intelligence agents of the Jewish Agency had been monitoring the Palestinians for years and reported in detail on their arms, organizations and sources of supply:  they reported that the Palestinians had no arms production capability except in primitive bombs, few and mostly antiquarian rifles, usually with only 20-50 bullets a gun, practically no heavier weapons, no mortars, no machineguns, no artillery, no armored vehicles and no aircraft — their only potential source of supply, Britain, embargoed arms sales to them.

Perhaps even more important, they had no cadres of trained troops, no staff, no planning and no command-and-control organization. Perhaps most important, they had no intelligence sources in the Jewish community. Their only significant military leader was killed on April 8, 1948.

Villages operated independently and so, as the Israeli military intelligence reports confirm, “Villages in 1948 often fought — and fell — alone, the Haganah was able to pick them off one at a time in many districts. In many areas there was not even defensive co-operation between neighbouring villages, since relations between them, as often as not, were clouded by clan and family feuds.”

In short, the Palestinians had no significant military capacity. They were a typical colonial society. Already before May 1948, they had suffered at least 5,000 casualties. While the Israelis talked of the threat of an Arab-inflicted holocaust, “They were fully aware that the Arab war rhetoric was in no way matched by any serious preparation on the ground.”

Hidden Realities


Fourth, in every category, the Zionists had overwhelming superiority. Since much of the information in this section was sternly denied for years I have checked what I have collected against the two major and more recent Israeli accounts, both of which were derived from Israeli military and political archives.

For years honest discussion of the Palestinian refugee issue was virtually impossible in print — being almost certain either or both to get the historian labeled as an anti-Semite or to cause his books to be effectively banned in book stores. (Both happened to me.)

It came as a “bomb shell” in 1987 when the Israeli journalist, Benny Morris, published The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. He had been given access to the Israeli archives — the first time ever — and used them to document, at least partially, the Israeli expulsion of the Palestinians.

In 2004, in a second edition of his book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, he took a less neutral position on the issues he had discussed. Morris had set out his contention that “The Palestine refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab. It was largely a by-product of Arab and Jewish fears and of the protracted, bitter fighting that characterised the first Israeli-Arab war.”

Other Israeli scholars, notably Ilan Pappe in his 2006 book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,expanded, corrected and developed the research of Morris. Pappe shows conclusively that what Morris saw as more or less accidental — the exodus of the Palestinian people — was a strategy inherent in Zionism from the beginning and implemented deliberately, brutally and effectively according to what in the Israeli archives is known as “Plan D” (Tochnit Dalet).

I have drawn extensively on both books for this part of my essay because, drawn as they are on Israeli government and army sources, they are incontrovertible. I have, of course, drawn also on a variety of other, including British official, sources.

A Longstanding Plan

From Ottoman times, the Jewish community, the Yishuv, had thought of itself as a proto-government and from the establishment of the League of Nations Mandate “all institutions were built with an eye to conversions into institutions of state.”

The British government dealt with and recognized the “Jewish Agency” as a de facto government which is how the Yishuv regarded it. Thus, it was able to make decisions that would be carried out. It had departments headed by ministers under a leader, David Ben-Gurion, who was virtually a head of state.

The Yishuv was literate, highly motivated, relatively wealthy and able also to draw upon European and American financial, political and personnel support. In short, it was a modern Western society and one with a multi-state capability.

The Yishuv had long had an agreed strategy: from the late Nineteenth Century, the Zionist leaders worked toward making Palestine into a Judenstaat. While in public, they disguised their long-term objective, using the subterfuge homeland (heimstätte), among themselves their aim was never in doubt. There was never, in private communications, serious consideration of either a bi-national state in which Arabs would also live or a smaller state in a partitioned Palestine.

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the Zionists claimed the southern part of what became Lebanon and most of the agricultural area of what became Trans-Jordan as well as the major sources of water for the Mandate area. Trans-Jordan was divided from the Mandate of Palestine in 1922 to resolve the dilemma created by the French when they invaded Syria and overthrew its newly proclaimed independence.

The brother of the deposed ruler of Syria, Amir Abdullah, had marched into what became Trans-Jordan intending to fight the French. To stop him, the British in effect bought him off by establishing him in Amman. The British also asserted that this action would honor the commitments made to the Arabs to recognize their independence. Jordan was not to be subject to the Balfour Declaration and Jews were forbidden to buy land there.

Ben-Gurion’s Strategy

The basic element of Zionist strategy was spelled out by the Zionist leader, David Ben-Gurion just after the publication of the Royal Commission Report in 1937 when he wrote privately to his son, “We must expel [the Palestinian] Arabs and take their places … and if we have to use force — not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places — then we have force at our disposal.”

The force at the disposal of the Yushiv began to be established in 1920 when the collectives (Hebrew: kibbutzim ) set up semi-formal and part-time security guards units (Hebrew: HaShomer). In 1936, in response to the Arab nationalist revolt, the British enrolled some 5,000 Jews into what became the paramilitary wing of the Jewish community. This evolved into the Haganah that would evolve into the Israel Defense Force.

Under a British military expert, the soldiers were trained in guerrilla and counterinsurgency warfare. In what may have been the first punitive mission against a Palestinian village — a kind of tactic the British had long used in India and along the Northwest Frontier to suppress nationalist revolts — a joint British-Haganah expedition in June 1938 attacked a Palestinian village on the Lebanese border.

During the early part of the Second World War, when a German break-through appeared likely, the British enrolled, trained and equipped Jewish military formations and incorporated individual Jews into its Middle East intelligence organization. By about 1942, some 15,000 men were serving in the British army in some capacity. In addition, fearing what might happen if the British were unable to hold off Erwin Romel’s Deutsches Afrikakorps, the Jewish Agency in 1941 formed a “special forces” corps or shock troops known as Palmach (Hebrew: p’lugot mahatz).

But the Jewish leadership never forgot that its long-term enemy was Britain. Ben-Gurion and others soft-pedaled the long term and emphasized self-restraint (Hebrew: havlagah). This policy provoked a revolt within the Haganah by a group that came to be known as the Irgun Zva’i Leumi.

Deniability of Terrorism

The Irgun was inspired by Ben-Gurion’s rival, Vladimir Jabotinsky, who set out what was then the extreme right-wing of the Zionist movement (and later became today’s Likud Party). It favored an all-out war on both the Palestinians and the British. (The Irgun, in turn, would be split when Abraham Stern led about 200 of its members to form an even more radical and violent group called the Lohamei Herut Yisraeli or “Stern Gang.”)

These radical, terrorist groups, although differing somewhat in their philosophy, remained under the control of the Haganah High Command. While the Zionists publicly denied it, the British published (Cmd. 6873) intercepted Jewish Agency telegrams proving that it was using Irgun and the Stern Gang to carry out actions it wished to disavow.

As one telegram put it: “We have come to a working arrangement with the dissident organisations, according to which we shall assign certain tasks to them under our command. They will act only according to our plan.”

Perhaps the most remarkable element of the growing power of the Yishuv was in the field of intelligence. Already in 1933, a rudimentary organization had been created. A professor at the Hebrew University proposed that the Jewish National Fund make an inventory of Palestinian villages. His idea called for a dynamic, constantly updated, “map” of Palestinian society. It was a mammoth task.

As Jews from Iraq and other Arabic-speaking countries began to arrive, they were often assigned to this organization; then in 1944 a training school was established at Shefeya to train Hebrew-speaking operatives in Arabic and Palestinian culture and who were sent into every Palestinian village to identify potential enemies, map entry routes, inventory weapons, etc. In short, the agents produced an “appreciation” comparable to the CIA’s National Intelligence Studies but were much more detailed. They shaped the 1946-1949 campaign and determined the outcome.

International Volunteers

The Jewish Agency and overseas Zionist organizations also recruited European and American volunteers. These men and women were much more numerous than the Arab volunteers. More important, they included highly trained people, some of  whom had flown for the RAF or the USAF,  commanded ships of war in the Royal Navy or the U.S. Navy or worked in high technology intelligence (such as code-breaking and wireless interception).

By May 1948, the Haganah numbered 35,700 standing troops of whom 2,200 were the Special Forces of Palmach. That is, as Benny Morris pointed out, the Yishuv army numbered some 5,500more soldiers than the combined strength of the regular Arab armies and paramilitary Palestinian forces. In addition, Haganah could draw on 9,500 members of the paramilitary youth corps.

By July 1948, when the Haganah was renamed the Israel Defense Force, it had 63,000 men under arms. Perhaps more important than numbers, it had a command-and-control capability that allowed it to conduct division-size or multiple-brigade, operations. No Arab force even remotely approached its power.

The size and organization of manpower was matched by weaponry. While the British embargoed arms sales to both sides, their actions particularly affected the Arabs.

The Yishuv got around the British embargo in four ways: first, it worked with the local Communist Party to effect an arms purchase deal with Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union; second, it used some of the money it received from Jewish organizations in Europe and America to buy arms; third, it raided British army depots in Palestine and Europe; and, fourth, it had already begun producing in its own workshops such weapons as mortars, sub-machineguns, heavy machineguns, and the particularly devastating and terrifying flame throwers.

These activities gave the Yishuv an overwhelming advantage. Finally, it achieved “aerial superiority” when, on March 27, 1948, it employed its first airplanes, some provided by South Africa and others stolen from the RAF.

As the Jewish army chief of staff Yigael Yadin proudly told Israeli officers in the last weeks of March 1948, “Today we have all the arms we need; they are already aboard ships, and the British are leaving and then we bring in the weapons, and the whole situation at the fronts will change.”

Expulsion of the Palestinians and War

Expulsion of the Palestinians began before large-scale fighting between the Jewish forces and Palestinian paramilitaries and at least three months before the withdrawal of the British forces and the arrival of Egyptian, Iraqi and Trans-Jordanian army units. From late 1947 until 1949, it was expulsion that set the terms of combat.

Beginning in October 1947, Yishuv leader (and later Prime Minister) David Ben-Gurion established a sort of politburo that came to be known as “the Consultancy” to guide the armed forces into action to establish the Judenstaat. (A detailed account of the “Consultancy” with the plans and the actions it called for is far too long to be included here. It is laid out with citations in Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, pages 27-28, 39-126. The existence of all of these plans and what they called for was vigorously denied for half a century.)

The Consultancy inherited a plan of action to take over the Mandate that had been drawn up already in 1937. This was known as Plan A. In 1946, Ben-Gurion ordered the intelligence unit of the Haganah to revise the plan. Various changes and refinements were made in Plan B and what became known as Plan C (Hebrew: Tachnit Gimel ) emerged.

Plan C laid out the strategy of the various military forces of the Yishuv “against rural and urban Palestine the moment the British were gone.” The envisaged offensive called for “killing the Palestinian political leadership, killing Palestinian ‘inciters’ and financial supporters, killing those Palestinians acting against the Jews, killing senior Palestinian officers and officials in the Mandate regime, damaging Palestinian transportation, damaging sources of Palestine economy (water wells, mills), attacking Palestinian villages and clubs, coffee house, meeting places, etc.,” according to the intelligence studies that were already drawn up.

A refined version, Plan D, was approved on March 10, 1948. As Ilan Pappe wrote, it “sealed the fate of the Palestinians within the territory the Zionist Leaders had set their eyes on for their future Jewish state … [it] called for their systematic and total expulsion from their homeland. … Each brigade commander received a list [based on the intelligence ‘map’] of the villages or neighbourhoods that had to be occupied, destroyed and their inhabitant expelled, with exact dates.

“These operations can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in the rubble) [to prevent the villagers from returning] … in case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state.”

Systematic Cleansing

Beginning in April 1948, as the British troops were withdrawn, area by area, attacks on villages were increased. Ben-Gurion put aside the UN partition plan and ordered his troops to carry out as much as possible the ethnic cleansing of all of Palestine.

Pappe wrote: “Every brigade assigned to the operation was asked to prepare to move into Mazev Dalet, State D, that is, to ready themselves to implement the orders of Plan D: ‘You will move to State Dalet, for an operative implementation of Plan Dalet,’ was the opening sentence to each. And then the villages which you will capture, cleanse [Hebrew: tihur] or destroy will be decided according to consultation with our advisors on Arab affairs and the intelligence officers.

“Judging by the end result of this state, namely April-May 1948, this advice was not to spare a single village … the operational orders did not except any village for any reason. With this the blueprint was converted into military order to begin destroying villages.”

Eventually, of the roughly 700  Palestinian villages in what became Israel, 531 were to be destroyed in addition to 30 which had already been destroyed. (About 600 villages remained in “Arab Palestine,” that is, on the West Bank — which was held by the Jordan Legion — and in Gaza — which was held by Egyptian forces.) Before the British withdrawal had been effected, about 250,000 villagers had already been uprooted.

The Palmach commander Yigal Allon’s words were transcribed in the diary of David Ben-Gurion: “There is a need now for strong and brutal reaction. We need to be accurate about timing, place and those we hit. If we accuse a family — we need to harm them without mercy, women and children included. Otherwise, this is not an effective reaction. During the operation there is no need to distinguish between guilty and not guilty.”

The Deir Yasin Massacre

The best-known attack was by the Irgun and the Stern Gang, operating under the orders of (and in conjunction with) the Haganah, on the Palestinian village of Deir Yasin on April 9, 1948. The attack replayed the Nazi destruction of Lidice.

Already before the destruction of Deir Yasin, a member of the Defense Committee (Yosef Sepir) had warned his colleagues that the non-Jewish world might see the destruction of villages as an echo of the German destruction of the little Czech farming village of Lidice on June 10, 1942, in retaliation for the murder of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich.

At Lidice, all the adult males and most of women were then murdered and the site was plowed under to be “forever blotted from memory.” The comparison of the two may be odious but it is hard to avoid.

Ilan Pappe summarized: “As they burst into the village the Jewish soldiers sprayed the houses with machine-gun fire, killing many of the inhabitants. The remaining villagers were then gathered in one place and murdered in cold blood, their bodies abused while a number of the women were raped and then killed… [One survivor, then a boy of 12 later] recalled, ‘They took us out one after the other, shot an old man and when one of his daughters cried, she was shot too. Then they called my brother Muhammad, and shot him in front [of] us, and when my mother yelled, bending over him — carrying my little sister Hudra in her hands, still breastfeeding her — they shot her too.’”

Terror is of little use if it is not known; so the Irgun called a press conference to announce the slaughter at Deir Yasin. What happened in Deir Yasin was repeated time after time and became a part of the “whispering campaign” that was employed by the Haganah intelligence agency to stimulate Palestinian flight. The villagers were, of course, terrified and so exactly carried into effect what the campaign sought.

As General Yigal Allon of Palmach said, “The tactic reached its goal completely … wide areas were cleaned.”

Disinforming Americans

Following Deir Yasin, Ben-Gurion telegraphed Amir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan to disclaim responsibility. More important, a “disinformation” campaign in America sought to blame the Arab states for the expulsion of the Palestinians.

One, fairly typical, demarche was a pamphlet submitted to the UN General Assembly and widely quoted in the American press in December 1951. Its author and publisher were not named, but some pages of the pamphlet were signed by a number of notable Americans including Reinhold Niebuhr, Archibald MacLeish, Paul Porter (who had headed the Palestine Conciliation Commission), former President Roosevelt’s principal foreign affairs adviser, Sumner Welles, together with various senior churchmen and academicians.

Attached to their message was backup material. The pamphlet’s key charge was that “The record shows that it was an evacuation planned by the Arab war leaders and the Arab Higher Committee for the three-fold purpose of: 1. Clearing the roads of the villages for an advance of the Arab regular armies; 2. Demonstrating the inability of Jews and Arabs to live side by side. [and] 3. Disrupting services following the end of the mandate.”

Those who questioned the account given in this and similar materials published in the campaign were charged as anti-Semites.

As the enormity of the human tragedy of Palestine began to be realized, if not by the public at least by governments, the UN Security Council decided to appoint a negotiator to try to stop the fighting.

It turned to Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte whose record included saving some 31,000 people, including 1,615 Jews, from German concentration camps during the Second World War. He was unanimously appointed (UNSC Resolution 186) on May 14, 1948, to mediate the war, and the outstanding Afro-American scholar and official Ralph Bunche was assigned as his deputy.

Working from Cyprus, Bernadotte negotiated two truces and outlined plans both for settlement of the war and for the creation of a United Nations agency to care for the refugees. As they evolved, the “Bernadotte Plans” called for a two-state solution — a Jewish state and an Arab state — with economic union.

Bernadotte also proposed readjusting frontiers according to population — that is, the Jewish state would have to give up substantial areas (including the Negev) which were overwhelming settled by Arabs — and he called for Jerusalem to be given a special status as a multi-faith world heritage site. (The UNGA voted in December 1949 to internationalize the city in Resolution 194.)

Killing the Messenger   

On the issue of the Palestinian refugees, Bernadotte was even more outspoken. To the fury of the Jewish leaders, he reported to the UN on Sept. 16, 1948, that “It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.”

Folke Bernadotte was murdered the next day by a hit squad of the Stern Gang, allegedly on orders of its leader and later Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Bernadotte’s task was taken up by his deputy, Ralph Bunche.

Bunche wisely recognized the two realities of the Arab side of the Palestine war: the first was that the Palestinian people, now scattered over virtually the whole of Western Asia had no ability to negotiate on their own behalf, and the second was that the Arab states, their self-proclaimed protectors, were incapable of working together.

So during the spring and summer of 1949, Bunche worked separately with Israel and each of the four Arab states — Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Trans-Jordan, which from April 1949 was known as Jordan. Iraq had withdrawn from the war and did not take part in the negotiations to bring about an end to the fighting.  For his work, he was awarded the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize.

Bernadotte’s and Bunche’s lasting legacy was the creation of a UN organization to care for the refugees. Relief efforts were begun in the summer of 1948 and in April 1950 a new organization, UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was created. It began its long life with 896,690 Palestinians on its rolls.

While the intent was to create opportunities for at least some of them to start new lives, the grim reality was that they could only be kept alive. They each received assistance of less than $27 yearly for food, medicine, clothing and shelter.

First-Hand Accounts

In 1950, I spent two weeks in one of the camps in Lebanon talking with the refugees and wrote articles on what I learned. In one of the articles I described an encounter with a young man who had been paralyzed. Lying in his cot, he entertained and was waited on by a group of children. He built for them a model airplane and arranged that it dropped pebbles on his bed.

As he told it and as I described it, the children played as though being killed by the bombs, something they had observed in real life. But the editors at The Christian Science Monitor, echoing the prevalent American view of the war had the children only “seeking shelter from the bombs.”

UN relief provided an average of 1,600 calories of food/day. But, if the physical diet was meager, the emotional diet was noxious. It consisted of a blend of exaggerated memories and unrealistic hopes.

Few refugees could find jobs. Idleness was a dry rot in adults. And a new generation was born that knew little beyond camp life. Within a few years over half the refugees were less than 15 years of age. They were becoming the modern version of Moses’s followers’ time in the Wilderness.

Trying to Leave the Wilderness

The Palestinian and Arab states’ “Time in the Wilderness” lasted many years. The Palestinians emerged from their expulsion a beaten, humiliated, divided people. The miserable refugee camps recreated the divisions of villages. Each watan remained just a piece of the little “nations” (Arabic:awtan the plural of watan).

Those who sought to deal with “the Palestine problem” had to deal not with the Palestinians but with the Arab states. But the Arab states were themselves, in the Biblical phrase, broken reeds “whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it.”

As the Palestinian nationalist leader and a founder of the League of Arab States, Musa Alami wrote, “In the face of the enemy the Arabs were not a state, but petty states; groups, not a nation; each fearing and anxiously watching the other and intriguing against it. What concerned them most and guided their policy was not to win the war and save Palestine … but to prevent their neighbors from being predominant, even though nothing remained except the offal and bones.”

Such public opinion as there was (and such press as was free to express it) turned bitterly against the rulers of the states. Demonstrations broke out, government officials including the prime minister and chief of police of Egypt were assassinated while riots, attempted bombings and threats were almost daily occurrences.

In Syria, the government was overthrown in an army coup d’état in 1949, and its leader was quickly ousted by another group. In Jordan in July 1951, the newly proclaimed king was murdered by a Palestinian. Then, on Jan. 26, 1952, “Black Friday,” mobs raced through Cairo, burning, pillaging and killing. It became obvious that no Arab government could cope.

Recognition that more was wrong with Arab society than government was spreading. Explicit was the conviction that corruption, poverty and backwardness were both the inheritance of decades of imperialism and also that they were the results of structural defects in Arab society. These defects were not caused by events in Palestine, but they were highlighted by the shock of the Arab defeat there.

Arabs everywhere agitated for change. Each state cracked down on its critics but, ironically, the divisions of the “Arab World” into states — one of the sources of weakness — made criticism of neighbors attractive to rival governments.

“A new wind blows,” wrote a long-time English colonial administrator. “Poverty and ignorance can lie down more or less happily together, but not poverty and education. That nowadays is likely to be an explosive mixture.”

An Egyptian Revolt

The explosive mixture was first set off in Egypt. On July 23, 1952, the “Free Officers,” under the leadership of Gamal Abdul Nasser, who as a young officer had experienced humiliation in Egypt’s campaign in Gaza, ousted the King.

Nasser was not an uncritical supporter of the Palestinians. He was, however, a dedicated believer in Arab nationalism. For him the Palestinian and Egyptian emphasis on the village “nation,” the watan,was a part of the Arab problem; what was needed, he thought, was to move beyond that narrow concept toward “pan-Arabism” (Arabic: qawmiyah).   

Only if the Arabs could rise above parochialism, as the Jews had done with their national ideology, Zionism, could the Arabs play a significant role in world affairs, achieve a minimum degree of security or even overcome the humiliation of Palestine. [Regarding the impact of Zionism, see Shlomo Sand’s ground-breaking The Invention of the Jewish People (London: Verso, 2009)]

So, while Nasser dealt, or tried to deal, with a variety of domestic Egyptian and Arab World issues during his lifetime as well as with stormy relations with Britain, France and the United States, Palestine was never far from his mind.

Indeed, it could not be. If he or other Arab leaders forgot, Israel and the Western states reminded them sharply. When U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles visited the Middle East in 1953, seeking to enlist the Arab states’ kings, dictators and presidents in his anti-Soviet crusade, he found them turning always from what he saw as the threat of the USSR to what they thought of as the threat of Israel.

Despite the armistice of 1949, the borders of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt were constantly being breached by raids and counter-raids, intelligence probes, commando attacks and “massive retaliations.” They numbered in the thousands. All along the frontiers of Israel was a “no man’s land.”

The UN established a “Mixed Armistice Commission” to assess blame and to try to stop acts of aggression, but it was not effective. So some in America thought that a new approach must be found. And some thought that it had to be sought in Egypt.

The Israeli military intelligence organization was worried that Secretary Dulles’s obsession with the Soviet threat might lead him to promote some sort of rapprochement with Egypt. To head this off, the Israelis, with the help of members of the Egyptian Jewish community, decided to undertake a “spoiling” operation in the spring and summer of 1954.

Code-named “Operation Susannah” and popularly known as the “Lavon Affair,” the operation carried out a number of bombings and other acts of terrorism in Egypt. Included among them was the bombing of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) building in Alexandria, Egypt. The plan was to blame the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood; its aim was to turn Americans against Egypt by demonstrating that the Egyptians were dangerous terrorists.

The attack was botched and the agents were caught. Israel denied the episode, information on it was suppressed, but the Israeli government resigned. It implicitly admitted its involvement when in 2005, it decorated the attackers.

The Suez Crisis

Raids and counterattacks continued. One seminal Israeli raid was in February 1955 when the Israeli army attacked the Egyptian military headquarters in Gaza and killed more than 60 Egyptian soldiers. Apparently that raid so alarmed the Egyptians that they realized that they needed more and better military equipment.

Since the Western powers were supplying Israel, Egypt turned to the Soviet Union, just as the Zionists had done eight years before. That move, in turn, alarmed the Eisenhower administration.

Briefly put, it set in motion a sequence of events in which the U.S. (on July 20, 1956) withdrew its offer to help finance the major Egyptian development project, the High Dam; in riposte (on July 26) Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal; after a fruitless series of talks, Israel, joined by Britain and France, attacked Egypt (on Oct. 29). That was the Suez Crisis.

Both the shape of the British-French-Israeli “collusion” and the results of their action were then obscure, but President Eisenhower memorably spoke of the existence of “one law” under which all nations must live. To the annoyance of Secretary Dulles, he forced the three states to withdraw.

[Recounting the sequence of events in these years would lead me far afield and excessively lengthen this account so I refer the reader to my book, The Arab World Today which is the 5th edition of my book, The United States and the Arab World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991).]

America’s brief turn against Israel resulted in the UN proclaimed ceasefire of Nov. 7, 1956, and the creation of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to act as a buffer between Israel and Egypt.

Those who ultimately paid for the attack were the Jewish minority communities of the Arab countries. Then suspect as active or potential traitors in the increasingly nationalistic Arab societies, long-time resident Jewish communities came under pressure. Many Jews, with Israeli help and encouragement, left. Some went to Israel.

On the other side, the Suez war made Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser the Arab hero. This suggested to Dulles that Nasser might be turned into the leader of a move toward peace. To find out, Dulles sent one of Eisenhower’s close friends, Robert Anderson (who later would become Secretary of the Treasury), to discuss terms with Nasser.

The initiative was a disaster: neither Anderson nor Nasser understood what the other was saying. So the meetings were short, the understandings limited and the decisions evasive. The “Anderson Mission” was diplomacy at its worst. But, since both sides realized that disclosure of the talks could be politically ruinous, they agreed to keep them secret.

Still treated as “Top Secret” and tightly restricted, the CIA account of the talks was one of the first batches of papers I read when I joined the U.S. government in 1961. The price of super secrecy was evident in them: no one had time or scope to figure out what the other was saying, as Nasser admitted to the CIA’s Kermit Roosevelt. It was evident in the papers that Anderson did not understand what Nasser was saying. As a colleague of mine quipped, “if I had been part of that mission, I would want it to be kept secret too!”

Failure of the talks was followed by a new round of coups, revolts and regional wars. The late 1950s was a time of Arab political upsets (particularly the Iraqi coup d’état of 1958, which was predicted by Richard Nolte, a later U.S. ambassador to Egypt, and me in a widely read article inForeign Affairs, “Toward a Policy for the Middle East,” which appeared two weeks before the coup.)

The late 1950s was also a time of American lethargy as Mr. Dulles’s anti-Soviet pacts fell apart. Only the Israelis seemed to know what they wanted and how to get it.

Yet, it appeared to the incoming Kennedy Administration in 1961 that at least in one respect John Foster Dulles had been right: only President Nasser was capable of making peace. So President John Kennedy put an ambassador who was known and liked by the Egyptians into Cairo, sent the most “liberal” man in his entourage (Gov. Chester Bowles) and me to talk openly with Nasser and instructed me to prepare a draft Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. (It was the first of three I was to draft in years to come.)

At the time, most observers and certainly the American officials regarded the Palestinians as mere bystanders. They were not thought of as having any serious capacity to make either war or peace.

Israel Moves Further Ahead

Israel’s first major task was to create a unified Jewish society from a deeply divided population. The Oriental Jews, as the Israeli-American scholar Nadav Safran wrote, “differed sharply in relevant historical background, culture, education, motivation, and even physical appearance from the European Jews.” Perhaps even more significant was their historical memory. Whereas European Jews had long suffered from anti-Semitism, the Oriental Jews lived as self-governing “nations” (Turkish:milleyet) in protected environments.

As Safran rather ponderously wrote, they “lived within a surrounding society that was itself organized for the most part on a regional and communal basis. Even where the host society’s traditional structure had begun to crumble under the impact of nationalism and modernization, the bulk of the Jews had not yet been called upon to make the kind of drastic adjustments to that society that gave rise to the sort of dilemmas European Jews faced.” That is, the cause of Zionism, anti-Semitism, was a Western, not a Middle Eastern, phenomenon. [See Israel: The Embattled Ally(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978) 91-92.]

And, of course, Oriental Jews had not experienced the Holocaust. So, one aspect of the “nation building” of Israel was to transfer to them the European Jewish experience. As several observers have commented, this involved the creation of a “Holocaust Industry.”

In addition to the constant and powerful emphasis on the Holocaust as a unifying historical memory, the Hebrew language was made into a powerful nationalizing force. To prosper in Israel, one had to speak, read and write Hebrew. Not unlike America, where immigrants dropped their former languages, dress and habits to become “American,” so in Israel arriving Jews rushed to become Israelis.

Education was the seedbed of the new nationalism and new nationhood.

Education had always been among the most laudable features of the Jewish experience.

The Western Jewish society was virtually completely literate, and from the beginning, it had more engineers, physicists, chemists, doctors and technicians than all of the Arab states and the Palestinian society combined. But among the Oriental Jews, more than half of the women and a quarter of the men were illiterate and by 1973 only one in each person in each 50 had graduated from university.

The founding of world-class universities and research institutions was the crown jewel of Israel. There was also a powerful military-industrial complex which enabled Israel to become one of the world’s major suppliers of weapons. It began in the Mandate and was fed by universities and research centers. From the 1950s, it also was subsidized by the United States which purchased equipment from it and shared technology with it.

Getting Secrets

And, where the sharing was not complete enough, Israeli agents penetrated American security – as in the case of the Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard – as well as other nations to obtain advanced and particularly dangerous weapons. The nuclear weapons technology of both America and France were successfully targeted. From at least 1961, Israel had acquired nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

In the field of foreign affairs, Israel used its arms industry and intelligence expertise to build relationships in both black African countries and white (Boer) ruled South Africa. Its main concern, however, was with the United States where it developed powerful alliances with lobbying groups.

This activity was the subject of a series of hearings conducted in 1963 by the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs under the chairmanship of Sen. William Fulbright on Israeli established and sponsored lobby groups that were considered to be foreign agents.

Another Israeli advantage was the Yishuv, its military command or its intelligence forces, which had a modernizing effect that was already evident in 1947 and became more so in the wars fought between the Arabs and Israel in 1956, 1967 and 1973. In each encounter, the Arabs were defeated decisively as Israel displayed military capacities of a different order.

Not only did Israel have sophisticated command and control techniques, including ground control for aircraft, but, given its social cohesion, it could increase its army from a standing force of no more than 50,000 to 300,000 in about 48 hours. I once was taken by the Israeli government to visit a tank brigade south of Tel Aviv that was maintained by only 200-300 men but could be put into action with 3,000 men in a few hours.

Wiping Out Arab Villages

Yet, from the Israeli perspective, perhaps the most important change in its national development was the wiping out of Palestine. Hundreds of villages were plowed under; the farm lands of many were converted into parks; old buildings, mosques and churches were bulldozed; roadways were changed; new maps were produced that no longer showed the old landmarks.

In a lecture, reported in Haaretz on April 3, 1969, Moshe Dayan acknowledged this policy, saying that “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I don’t blame you, since these [old] geography books no longer exist. Not only the books do not exist — the Arab villages are not there either.”

Foreign journalists who tried to find the old villages, like Observer correspondent Sarah Helm and BBC and Guardian correspondent Michael Adams, were attacked as anti-Semites and had trouble even publishing their accounts. [See Christopher Mayhew and Michael Adams’ Publish It Not(London: Longman, 1975).]

Some Israelis even denied the existence of the Palestinians. Prime Minister Golda Meir was quoted in the London Sunday Times (June 15, 1969) as saying that “There was no such thing as Palestinians. … They did not exist.”

Palestinian Seek the Initiative

Much has been written about the ugliness, drama and diversity of the events of the 1950s and 1960s and of the brutality, audaciousness and variety of the actors. There is a vast literature on this topic, but much of the intelligence information is “tactical,” dealing with how to apprehend or kill the various actors.

So complete is the focus on the dramatic aspects of these years that the underlying themes are often obscured. Yet, while the era’s events are only of transient interest, the themes have had an enduring impact.

As I have written, the Palestinians could be likened to Moses’ followers, former slaves whom he sought to turn into a warlike people by keeping them for two generations in the wilderness. Like all analogies, the comparison is not exact, but it is suggestive: the Palestinians had not been slaves but were a colonial people who had not yet received the stimulus of nationalism, and, while the camps in which they had been gathered were not exactly a “wilderness,” they were as isolated and as destitute as Moses had intended for his people. Moses thought his people needed 40 years to be transformed; by roughly 1967, the Palestinians had suffered 20 years.

In those years, three themes become evident. The first theme is that during those first 20 years the Palestinians recreated the diversity and mutual incompatibility of the Palestinian village society and also were shaped by the diversity and regional differences of the camps.

Moses was right: 20 years was not long enough for a new and unified society to emerge. After 20 years, the Palestinians were still unable to work together. Their Israeli enemies profited from and encouraged their mutual hostilities, but the Palestinians lent themselves, almost eagerly, to the Israeli objective.

The second theme is the effect of the brutality of the conflict. From at least 1950, warfare along the frontiers had been endemic. It had also been as ugly as the Seventeenth Century’s European Thirty Years War. Not only abduction, torture, rape and murder of men, women and children, but also mutilation filled the reports of the UN Mixed Armistice Commission.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of these events in shaping the attitudes toward one another of the Palestinians and the Israelis. Starkly put, the Israelis regarded the Palestinians asuntermenschen while the Palestinians regarded the Israelis as monsters. Wounds were constantly opened and rubbed raw by thousands of incidents year after year.

Squeezing the Palestinians

The third theme is that during those years, few of the Palestinians had found “space” in which they could be peacefully active. Some actually prospered, at least financially, by moving to the oil-rich countries of the Gulf but at the cost of withdrawing from their people. Even the most successful realized that they had no future in their diaspora. They had acquired only what the Jews called anachtaysl and the Arabs knew as a mahal — a temporary resting place.

And, as they competed with natives for jobs, contracts and wealth, the Palestinians found themselves the objects of local hostilities similar to those the Jews had suffered in Europe. While foreign propagandists insisted that the Arab states “absorb” the Palestinians, the natives regarded the Palestinians not only as foreigners but also as reminders of the Arab disgrace (Arabic: nakbah) in the 1948-1949 war.

Since there was no forum in which the Palestinians could be constructively active, those Palestinians whose names we remember turned to the weapon of the weak, terrorism. Middle Easterners would be hypocritical to claim the high ground of morality on terrorism. On terrorism, the Jews had led the way, and the Palestinians eagerly followed in their footsteps.

Terrorism is undoubtedly an ugly policy, but when other means of action are not available it has been adopted by people of every race, creed and ideology. [I offer proof of this in my book Violent Politics (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).]

Some of the former Israeli terrorists, having emerged victorious in their fighting against the British and the Palestinians, became leaders inside the Israeli government, just as former Algerian terrorists merged into the Algerian government. In a way, both were to become role models for at least some Palestinians.

By the 1960s, however, it was evident to the Palestinians that the small and ephemeral rival groups of anti-Israeli paramilitaries (Arabic: fedayeen) were not effective either politically or militarily. The reason why is simple. France could afford to leave Algeria — indeed it could not afford to stay — but the Israelis had nowhere to go and were determined to stay.

Fruitless Violence

So the dozens of Palestinian groups engaged in fruitless bouts of violence. The best known were the September 1970 “Hijack war” by the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” the “Black September” attack of September 1972 on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in revenge for the destruction of two Palestinian villages, the flamboyant murders of  the Venezuelan “Carlos the Jackal” and other incidences.

That these actions were pointless and drew opprobrium upon all the Arabs had become evident to the Arab states by September 1963, so the Arab states collectively agreed to form the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It is noteworthy that it was the Arab states (from above) rather than the Palestinians (from within) that took this step.

But, a group of some 400 Palestinians under the auspices of King Husain of Jordan met in Jerusalem where they took the step of actually setting up the organization. The objectives of the PLO were set in terms that the Palestinians generally approved — elimination of Zionism, destruction of Israel, self-determination for the Palestinians, and the right of return to the Palestinian homeland.

The PLO “constitution” did not proclaim statehood. It would be a decade before it demanded that status. Initially, indeed, the PLO was only a confederation of different, even opposing, Palestinian groups and could operate only on the sufferance of non-Palestinians.

The closest they came to having a territorial state was that they were recognized as having a notional claim to territory under Israeli occupation; Jordan did not recognize their authority on the West Bank nor did Egypt recognize their authority in Gaza. In effect, the PLO was relegated to a sort of observer status on the issue of Palestine.

The PLO’s largest component — eventually reaching about 80 percent of the membership — was FATAH (the reverse acronym of the Arabic: Harakat at-Tahrir al-Falastini).

Arafat’s Emergence

While its origins and early activities are necessarily obscure, we know that it grew out of meetings of a group of Palestinian refugees in Gaza led by Yasir Arafat, who had been born in Gaza and, although he spent his early life in poverty, trained as an engineer.

Arafat could have secured a job in the oil-rich Arab states, but he set his sight on Palestine. Having studied in Egypt, he probably joined the Muslim Brotherhood. Then forced to leave in 1954, he spent the next ten years moving through the refugee camps, recruiting followers and broadcasting his message “that the Palestinians had to take their destiny into their own hands and start harassing Israel.” [See Yahosifat Harkabi, Fedayeen Action and Arab Strategy, (London: Institute for Strategic Studies, 1968). General Harkabi, head of Israeli military intelligence and a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was probably the best outside observer of FATAH.]

As Arafat’s group coalesced, the members set about indoctrinating the Palestinian community with a series of pamphlets. Their fundamental thesis was that the only feasible action of the Palestinians was guerrilla warfare.

In this, Arafat and most Arabs drew on the lesson of the Algerian war of national liberation. Thus, they argued that the role of the conventional Arab states’ armies was largely irrelevant, just as the so-called External Army of the Algerians (which had sat out the war in Tunisia and Morocco) had been; what counted in Algeria and would count in the Palestine conflict, they believed, was the informal or guerrilla forces that were known in Algeria as the for “neighborhood” or “popular” (Arabic: wilaya) forces.

Beginning in 1966, the paramilitary forces of, FATAH carried out raids on Israel from bases in Syria. The Israeli government repeatedly warned Syria that it risked a massive Israeli retaliation.

In the first days of May 1967, Soviet intelligence passed to the Egyptian government information that Israel was preparing to attack, and this estimate seemed confirmed by a speech on May 12 by the Israeli prime minister.

Old enmities between the Arab states, no matter how bitter, were brushed aside as the crisis expanded. Even Kuwait, usually a cautious observer rather than an active participant, put its tiny armed forces at the disposal of the Egyptian general staff, and at an Arab League meeting all the members declared their support.  The Middle East rushed toward war.

Toward the 1967 War

Here I must turn back from FATAH to the Arab states and particularly to Egypt. During the years following the 1952 Israeli-French-British attack on Egypt at Suez, Egypt had built a much larger and more competent army and with Soviet help had equipped it.

But, it seemed to me at the time, that it had two fatal weaknesses: first, it was obsolescent. It was essentially a Second World War army whereas Israel had an ultra-modern force, and, second, it was divided.

Most of the best units of the army were then in Yemen fighting the royalist guerrillas. But Nasser had accepted the assurance of his principal military adviser that the army was so strong that the Israelis would not dare attack it. He was wrong and should have known better.

That assessment led Nasser to play the dangerous game of brinkmanship which he was not equipped to play. He was partly pushed beyond reason by the Syrian and Jordanian governments and to a lesser extent by the Palestinians. They taunted him for cowardly hiding behind the UN force (UNEF) that patrolled the Sinai Peninsula.

Partly in an emotional personal reaction, Nasser decided to replace UNEF with Egyptian troops. The flashpoint was at the Straits of Tiran which was legally Egyptian — the ship channel, Enterprise Passage, is just 500 meters off the Egyptian mainland, — but it  was of crucial importance to Israel as the only access to its port at Elath. Foolishly, Nasser “miscalculated.”

He announced that “Under no circumstances will we allow the Israeli flag to pass through the Gulf of Aqaba. The Jews threaten war. We tell them you are welcome. We are ready for war, but under no circumstances will we abandon any of our rights. This water is ours.”

All of the angers, frustrations and humiliations of the Arabs for the previous 20 years showed in that emotional statement. For Israel, it was tantamount to a declaration of war. But for the strenuous urging of the U.S. government, Israel would have immediately attacked.

Remarkably, the governments of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union each tried to pressure Nasser into backing down. At the time, I warned that he would not or perhaps even could not. He was less able to do so when the normally cautious King of Jordan embraced him and Egypt’s policy. Meanwhile, President Lyndon Johnson told the Israeli government that he was prepared to break the blockade with American naval power.

In the flurry of diplomatic activity, the U.S. government believed as late as the evening of Saturday, June 3, that the crisis had passed.

War Comes

Walt Rostow, who was then head of the National Security Council, arranged a briefing for me with senior State Department officers, all of whom asserted that the danger of war had passed. I thought this was nonsense and wrote a memorandum explaining why.

Rostow promised to give my analysis to the President and secretaries of State and Defense. In it, I predicted Israel would attack within 72 hours. I was wrong. War began in 36 hours.

Two hours after dawn on Monday, June 5, fighter bombers of the Israeli Air Force caught the Egyptian Air Force on the ground and largely destroyed it. With mastery of the air, the Israeli army crushed the Egyptian forces in Sinai; then it turned on Jordan and threw the Jordanian army back across the Jordan River; and in a furious assault it destroyed the bulk of the Syrian army and reached the suburbs of Damascus.

Incidental to the attack against the Arabs was an Israeli attack on America. On June 8, 1967, Israel attempted to sink the U.S. Navy ship, the “Liberty” — the first time since Pearl Harbor that an American naval ship was attacked in peacetime. The attack showed both that the Israelis were prepared to “bite the hand that fed them” and that the U.S. government was willing to be bitten without even saying “ouch.”

The why behind the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty has long been debated. But Israel had secrets that it didn’t want the world to know. Among them, Israelis were executing bound Egyptian prisoners of war (which the Liberty overheard the Israelis discussing on the radio) and they had attacked a UN convoy. Johnson called back aircraft that were going to the aid of the Americans because he didn’t want to stop the Israelis.

While the Israelis, lamely, said the attack was an accident, they knew the ship was part of the U.S. Navy; they inspected it for eight hours and then Israeli jets and ships fired into it with machineguns, cannon and rockets and set it afire with napalm and launched torpedoes at it.

Clearly, they were attempting to sink it and the fact that they particularly targeted the life rafts suggests that they hoped there would be no survivors. They killed 34 U.S. service men and wounded 171. The surviving crew members were threatened with courts-martial if they discussed what had happened and the key intelligence materials including intercept tapes were kept secret for the next 35 years.

Other than the drama and the pain, what was the long-term import of this incident? If I were an Israeli policy planner, as I have been an American policy planner, I would discount all future American protests and warnings.

After all, if the U.S. government did not react strongly to an attack on one of its ships with the killing of uniformed sailors, would it react forcefully to lesser provocations? Apparently, that message was not lost on Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Second Arab Disaster

The war was a disaster for the Arabs and particularly for the Palestinians: In these encounters, the Arab states armies suffered the loss of about 25,000 men which, given their populations was proportionally equivalent to the loss of about 5 million Americans. About 175,000 Palestinian refugees were forced to flee once again and 350,000 additional people were turned into refugees. The humiliating defeats infected the “Arab street,” as journalists like to call the general public, with a sullen and tenacious hatred.

As a result of my accurate prediction of the war and because of my relationship with McGeorge Bundy to whom Johnson turned over the Middle East problem, I was called to the White House on June 5, 1967, to write a plan for a ceasefire and a subsequent peace treaty.

Johnson made both tasks impossible by deciding not to allow negotiations with the Egyptians. That was to be one of the several opportunities to bring the long war to an end. For better or for worse, it was missed and the fighting spread.

I had resigned from the Policy Planning Council in 1965 and was then Professor of History at the University of Chicago and President of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs.

An amusing personal note: I had purposely not kept up my security clearance because I wanted to be free to write completely independently. So when I arrived at the White House, I had to be escorted to the office that was assigned to me. It had been Lyndon Johnson’s office when he was Vice President. But all the furniture was taken out so I spent the first few hours sitting on the floor.

I took this as proof that unlike the 1956 Suez crisis, there was no “collusion” on the 1967 war. I was given, I believe, access to all the materials the President and Bundy were receiving. But my stay lasted only a day. When Johnson decided not to negotiate, I returned to Chicago.

A New Direction

Arafat saw the defeat of the Arab states and particularly of Jordan in the war as an opportunity. Once more, he thought, the Palestinians must take the lead: rather than being led (and unified) by the states; it would be the historical role of the Palestinians to lead (and unify) the Arab governments.

Nasser appeared to be a spent force; Assad in Syria had proven weak and vacillating; King Husain’s covert deals with Israel had not saved him; and Lebanon seemed irrelevant. Arafat’s FATAH took control of the PLO.

After the 1967 war, the second disaster for the Palestinian people, the refugee community grew to some 1,375,915. And, from the bitter defeats of the armies of Syria, Jordan and Egypt, the Palestinians drew the lesson that they were on their own.

But Israel’s victory appeared, paradoxically, to create a new vulnerability: having battled for a strategically secure frontier, Israel had acquired a strategically insecure population. Arafat saw this in the context of what was then exciting to the Palestinians, the Algerian defeat of the French.

In that battle less than 13,000 Algerians defeated 485,000 French soldiers. By using guerrilla tactics, they wore down the French and got them to leave. Arafat thought the Palestinians might be able to do the same.

The confrontation with Israel had to be, Arafat maintained, a war of attrition. It was bitterly fought at first, but the cost was too high for Jordan to bear. Fearing that the PLO would use the conflict to take over Jordan and turn it into a Palestinian state (rather than, as he was prepared to allow, the Palestinians being or becoming Jordanians) King Husain rounded on the PLO with his largely Bedouin army.

Black September

To the Bedouin, the Palestinian cause was irrelevant while loyalty to the king was obligatory. On June 9, 1970, there was an attempt to assassinate King Husain, attacks were carried out on the royal palace and the national radio station and at least 60 foreigners were taken hostage.

Next the PLO demanded that the King dismiss his uncle as commander of the armed forces. The King complied. The final act in the drama was the hijacking of four commercial jets whose passengers were held hostage in the second week of September 1970.

It was a hijack too far. The king had to respond or abdicate. He responded. The Jordanian army rampaged through the refugee camps in what came to be called “Black September.” Casualty figures are only estimates but between 5,000 and 10,000 seems a reasonable guess.

In two weeks, the PLO had been crushed. But, wisely, Husain gave the PLO an out: he flew to Cairo to sign a deal with Arafat. Driven from Jordan, the PLO moved its operations to Lebanon where some 300,000 Palestinians lived in refugee camps under the UNRWA flag.

Though the Israelis were glad to get the PLO out of Jordan, they were not disposed to allow it free rein in Lebanon. They attacked the Beirut airport in December 1968 and began a series of further operations in the following months designed to force the Lebanese government to suppress Arafat’s followers.

Suez Ceasefire 

Meanwhile, along the Suez Canal what amounted to “low intensity” war continued. The two armies were just a “stone’s throw” apart along the narrow waterway. Neither could move forward, but neither would retreat. Casualties were mounting steadily without any discernable result for either side. Sniping, augmented by commando raids, was backed up by artillery barrages.

The Israelis realized that nothing was being gained and they wanted to achieve a ceasefire; so Prime Minister Meir asked me to be the mediator with President Nasser. I did and the ceasefire was achieved shortly before his death. The Egyptian leader who once dreamt of Arab unity died on Sept. 28, 1970.

In this middle period of the Zionist experience – marked by the creation of the Israeli state and its successful wars against the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states – the land of Israel underwent an almost total transformation from what had been the British mandate. The transformation involved the arrival of about 1.5 million Jewish immigrants, with nine out of ten coming from Eastern Europe.

Israel’s transformation also benefitted from enormous infusions of American money. In the years from 1947-1973, that money amounted in various forms to over $100 billion or roughly $33,000 for each man, woman and child.

Finding Israeli intelligence very effective, the CIA also underwrote those activities with probably about $100 million a year to gain at least some access to Israeli findings and in return shared with the Israelis the CIA’s own “take.”

Posted in Palestine AffairsComments Off on The Battle for Palestine ”2”

The Battle for Palestine ”1”


From the Archive: You can’t understand the worsening Mideast violence without knowing the modern history of Palestine, a story that begins with European anti-Semitism causing Zionists to claim Palestine for the Jews and to expel the Arabs, wrote retired U.S. diplomat William R. Polk in the first of three parts.

By William R. Polk

What we call the “Palestine Problem” is really a European Problem. No European society treated Jews as full members, and most have ugly records of anti-Semitism. Even relatively benign Western governments exploited, segregated or banished Jews (and such other minorities as Gypsies, Muslims and deviant Christians).  Less benign governments practiced pogroms, massacres and expulsions. European history reveals a pervasive, powerful and perpetual record of intolerance to all forms of ethnic, cultural and religious difference.

Jewish reaction to the various forms of repression was usually passivity but occasionally flight interspersed with attempts to join the dominant community.

When Jews were attacked by Christian mobs during the Crusades, they suffered and tried to hide; when they were thrown out of such medieval cities as Cambridge, they fled to new refuges; when they and the Muslim Arabs were forced out of Spain in 1492, most found refuge in Muslim countries which were far more tolerant of minorities than contemporary Christian societies; when Eastern (Ashkenazi) and “Oriental,” mainly Spanish,  (Sephardic) Jews in small numbers began to reach Germany, Austria, France and England in the Eighteenth Century, many converted to Catholicism; finally, most of the European and American Jewish communities assimilated culturally and by generous public actions sought to prove their social value to their adopted nations.

French diplomat Francois George-Picot, who along with British colonial officer Mark Sykes drew lines across a Middle East map of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, carving out states with boundaries that are nearly the same as they are today.

French diplomat Francois George-Picot, who along with British colonial officer Mark Sykes drew lines across a Middle East map of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, carving out states with boundaries that are nearly the same as they are today.

Generally speaking, they were successful in their efforts in America, England and Italy but failed in France, Germany and Austria. Even when they faced existential threats, there is no record of a serious attempt by European Jews to defend themselves.

In the latter years of the Nineteenth Century, the reaction of the Jewish communities residing in Europe began to change. In part this was because, like other European peoples, Jews began to think of themselves as a nation. This transformation of attitude led to a change from the desire for escape to a temporary haven (Nachtaysl) to permanent establishment in what Theodor Herzl called aJudenstaat, the creation of a separate, faith-based nation-state which was viewed as the permanent solution to anti-Semitism. This was the essential aim and justification for Zionism.

Nineteenth Century Europeans understood and approved of the concept of nation-states but only for themselves; in France, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Balkans, Europe was reforming itself along national lines. However, no European nation-state was willing to tolerate a resident rival nationalism. So Herzl’s call for Jewish nationhood was generally regarded as subversive by non-Jews and was feared by the more established Jewish communities and the religious establishment as a probable cause of an anti-Jewish reaction. These attitudes would remain in contention down to our times.

Keen for Imperialism

Even before the Europeans were imbibing the ideas of nationalism, their ruling classes were thrusting into the Americas, Africa and Asia to create empires. Spain dominated the Americas and was insistent that the ethnic-religious problems of the Old World not be transmitted there so it sought ethnic “purity” of its colonizers; neither Jews nor suspect conversos were allowed. England effectively ruled India beginning in the last years of the Eighteenth Century, and the nature of its colonial government, drawn from the middle class, generally precluded Jewish involvement.

On the contrary, when France invaded Algeria from 1830, it opened its doors to fairly large-scale Jewish immigration from Malta and elsewhere. Germany briefly tried to create an empire in Africa but was stopped by the First World War.

Russia meanwhile was consolidating its Asian empire and in parts of it created Jewish zones in some of which people of non-Semitic backgrounds were absorbed into Jewish culture, but, in the western heart of the Russian empire, anti-Semitism was pervasive and violent. By the Nineteenth Century, Russian Jews were leaving in vast number for Western Europe and the United States. In the last decade of the Nineteenth Century almost 200,000 arrived in America alone.

Despite the differences, we can see that while nationalism was the ideology of choice domestically, imperialism captured the imagination of Europeans in foreign affairs. So how did these two ideologies impact upon what most Europeans regarded as “the Jewish problem?”

In England, we see most clearly what some leading politicians thought might be the answer: encouraging the emigration of Jews from Europe to the colonies. One of the early proponents of this, essentially anti-Semitic, policy was Sir Laurence Oliphant. As he proposed, getting rid of the Jews as neighbors — that is, in England — and thus solving the “Jewish Problem” would foster British trade and help Britain consolidate its empire if they established themselves as colonies in Africa or Asia.

Added to the benefit imperialists identified was the vague but attractive idea held by many fervent Christians that if the Jews returned to the Holy Land, they would become Christian. Thus, support for Zionism seemed to many Europeans to be a win-win policy.

Colonial Neglect

Europeans knew little about the peoples they were conquering in Africa and Asia and did not regard their well-being as of much importance. Americans, let us admit, were even more brutal in dealing with native Americans. So were the Australians with the Aboriginals and the South African Boers with the Bantu. Rich, Western societies generally regarded the poor of the world, and especially other races, colors and creeds,  as subhuman, without claims on freedom or even sustenance.

This was the attitude taken up by the early Zionists toward the Arabs. Even their existence was often denied. The Zionist leader, Israel Zangwill, described Palestine and Zionist aspirations for it as being “a country without a people for a people without a land.”

Zangwill’s was a powerful slogan. Unfortunately, it masked a different reality. Given the technology of the times, Palestine was actually densely populated. The overwhelming numbers of the inhabitants were villagers who farmed such land as they could water. Water, never plentiful, was the limiting factor.

Nomads lived on the edges but they were always few in number, never as much as 15 percent of the natives. They too used sparse resources in the only way they could be used, by moving their animals from one temporary source of grazing to another as rain made possible.

Until massive amounts of money and new technologies became available from the 1930s, population and land were in balance but, of course, in balance on a lower level than in wetter, richer climates where societies had more advanced technologies.

Oliphant, his successors in the British government and others in the French government were not concerned about what their policies did to native peoples.  The British were keen to take the lands of African blacks and to plunder the Indians of India while the French engaged in policies approaching genocide in Algeria. As focused on Palestine, the British sought to solve the problem of what to do with the Jews at the expense of peoples who could not defend themselves — and to benefit from the work of the Jews rather like medieval kings did — rather than to reform their own attitudes toward Jews.

Thus, as Claude Montefiore, the president of the Anglo-Jewish Association, declared on Nov. 30, 1917, “The Zionist movement was caused by anti-Semitism.”

The Deep Cause of War

The two World Wars set the parameters of the “middle term” causes of the struggle for Palestine. Briefly,  we can sketch them under four headings:  first, the desperate struggle of the British to avoid defeat in the First World War by courting Jewish support; second, the struggle of the British both to defeat the still powerful Ottoman empire and to avoid the danger of mutiny of Muslims in their Indian empire; third, the British attempts to “square” of the triangle of promises made during the war to Arabs, Jews and their French allies; and, fourth, the management of a viable “mandate,” as they renamed their League of Nations-awarded colonies.

Taken together, these acts form the “middle term” of the causes of war in our times. They are:

First, in the final period of the First World War, the Russians were convulsed by revolution and sought a separate peace with Germany (the 1917-1918 negotiations that led to the Brest-Litovsk treaty). The Germans’ incentive for the treaty was that it allowed them to shift their powerful military formations from the Eastern front to the Western front. They hoped that in one huge push they could overwhelm the already depleted and exhausted Anglo-French armies before America could effectively intervene.

The Allied High Command thought this was likely. Slaughter of the Allied forces had been catastrophic. At the same time, England faced bankruptcy. It had drawn down its own reserves and exhausted its overseas credit. It was desperate.

So what options did the British have? Let us be clear: whether their assessment was right or wrong is irrelevant because they acted on what they thought they knew. They believed that support for Zionist aspirations would, or at least might, change their fortunes because they thought that:

–The Bolsheviks who had become the Russian government were overwhelmingly Jewish and seeing British support for what was presumably their aspiration for a national home, they would rescind or not implement the contentious and unpopular Brest-Litovsk treaty and so keep the German army from redeploying on the Western front;

–A large part of the officer corps of the German army was Jewish and seeing British support for what was presumably their aspiration for a national home and also being disillusioned by the losses in the war and the way they were discriminated against by the Prussian high command they would either defect or at least fight less hard; and

–The American financial world (“Wall Street”) was controlled by Jews who, seeing British support for what was presumably their aspiration for a national home, would open their purses to relieve the desperate need of Britain for money to buy food and arms. (Again, these British perceptions may have been far off the mark but they were their perceptions.)

This appreciation was the justification for the Balfour Declaration of Nov. 2, 1917. As then-British Prime Minister David Lloyd George later declared, “The Zionist leaders gave us a definite promise that, if the Allies committed themselves to give facilities for the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, they would do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world to the Allied cause.”

British Maneuvering

Second, the Balfour Declaration was not a “stand alone” document: Britain had already sought the support of the predominant Arab Muslim leader. Since the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph had declared support for the Central Powers, Sharif  [“noble descendant of the Prophet”] Husain, who was then the governor of Mecca, was the most venerated Muslim the British could hope to use to accomplish their two urgent objectives: the first was defeating the Ottoman army  (which had just captured a whole British division and was threatening the Suez Canal) and the second was  preventing what their jittery security service was always predicting, another Indian “mutiny”  and/or the defection of the largely Muslim Indian army as a result of the declaration of a jihad by the Sultan-Caliph.

To accomplish these twin aims, the British encouraged the Sharif of Mecca to proclaim his support for the Allied cause and to organize a “Revolt in the Desert.” In return, the British offered to recognize Arab independence under his rule in most of the Middle East.

The British offer was spelled out by the senior British official in the Middle East, Sir Henry McMahon, in a series of official letters of which the first was dated July 14, 1915. The area to be assigned to Husain was essentially “Syria” or what is today divided into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, part of Arabia and Palestine/Israel. This initial offer was subsequently reconfirmed and extended to Iraq by a series of separate declarations and acts.

Although the British government had committed itself to support Arab claims for this area, it also began the following year negotiating with France and the Russian empire for this and other parts of the Middle East. An Anglo-French accord was reached in 1916 by Sir Mark Sykes with M. Georges Picot. Their agreement allocated to France much of what had been promised to the Arabs and designated as an international zone the then Ottoman coastal areas from the Sinai frontier with Egypt including Gaza up to and including the now Lebanese city of Tyre (Arabic: Sour) except for a small British enclave at Acre.

Third, as the war ended and the negotiations began in Paris for a Treaty of Peace, the British had to try to explain, hide or revise these three wartime agreements. They were embarrassed when the new Bolshevik government published the hitherto secret Sykes-Picot agreement, but they managed for years to keep the Husain-McMahon correspondence secret. What they could not hide was the Balfour Declaration. However, they began a process of “definition” of their policy that ran completely counter to what the Zionists had expected.

Zionist Goals

The Zionists, from the beginning, were determined to turn Palestine into a Jewish nation-state (Herzl’s Judenstaat), but, being sensitive to British politics, their leaders denied “the allegation that Jews [aimed] to constitute a separate political nationality.” The word the Zionists proposed for what they intended to create in Palestine, coined by Max Nordau as a subterfuge “to deceive by its mildness,” was heimstätte (something less than a state, roughly a “homeland) to be employed “until there was no reason to dissimulate our real aim.”

Predictably, the deception fooled no one. As Lord Kitchener had remarked when the Balfour Declaration was being debated in the English Cabinet, he was sure that the half million Palestinians would “not be content  [with an Old Testament role as a suppressed minority to be] hewers of wood and drawers of water.” He was right, but few people cared. Certainly not then.

The native Palestinians were not mentioned in any of the three agreements: the agreement withSharif Husain dealt broadly with most of the Arab Middle East while the Sykes-Picot agreement shunted them, unnamed, aside into a rather vague international zone and the Balfour Declaration used the curious circumlocution for them as “the existing non-Jewish communities.” (However, while focusing on Jewish aspirations and avoiding naming the Palestinians, it specified that nothing should be done that would “prejudice” their “civil and religious rights.”)

It was not until 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, that an attempt was made to find out what the Palestinians wanted. No one in Paris knew; so, strongly opposed by both Britain and France, President Woodrow Wilson sent a mission of inquiry, the King-Crane Commission, out to the Levant to find out. Wilson, already desperately ill and having turned over leadership  of the American delegation to my cousin Frank Polk, probably never saw their report, but what the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians  told the American Commissioners was essentially that they wanted to be left alone and if that was not feasible they would accept American (but not British) supervision. The British were annoyed by the American inquiry; they did not care what the natives wanted.

The British were also increasingly disturbed that heimstätte was being taken to mean more than they had intended. So, when Winston Churchill became Colonial Secretary and as such was responsible for Palestine, he publicly rebuked the Zionists for trying to force Britain’s hand and emphasized that in the Balfour Declaration the British government had promised only to support establishment in Palestine of a Jewish homeland. It did not commit Britain to make Palestine as a whole the Jewish homeland.

Echoes of these statements would be heard, because shouted back and forth over the following 30 years, time after time. Ultimately the shouts would become shots.

Irreconcilable Differences

British attempts over the years to reconcile their promises to the Arabs, the French and the Zionist movement occupies shelves of books, filled a number of major government studies and was taken up in several international conferences. The promises were, of course, irreconcilable.

One must admire the candor of Lord Balfour, the titular author of the Balfour Declaration, who, in a remarkable statement to his fellow Cabinet ministers on Aug. 11, 1919, admitted that “so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers [Britain and France] have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which at least in letter, they have not always intended to violate.”

Fourth, having driven out the Ottoman Turkish forces, the British set up military governments. Knowing about these double- or triple-deals, efforts at concealment, post-facto interpretations,  lawyer-like quibbles, linguistic arguments and Biblical allusions, the British commander, General (later Field Marshal, Lord) Edmond Allenby, refused to be drawn into the fundamental issue of policy, declaring that such measures as were being taken were “purely provisional,” but the military government quickly morphed into a British colony, defined by the new League of Nations as a “mandate” in which the imperial power was obligated to “uplift” the natives and prepare them for self-rule.

Practical decisions were to be set by the civil High Commissioner. The first such official was an English Zionist, Sir Herbert Samuel, who came into office to begin large-scale immigration of Jews into Palestine, to recognize de facto a Jewish government (the “Jewish Agency”) and to give Jewish immigrants permission to acquire and irrevocably hold land that was being farmed by Palestinian villagers. I turn now to the transformation of Palestine under British rule.

The Deep Cause of War

The Palestine, which the British had conquered and around which they drew a frontier, had a surface area of 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers) and had been divided among threesanjaqs (subdivisions of a province) of the Ottoman villayet (province) of Beirut. The British had expelled its governors and their civil, police and military officers, who were Ottoman officials, and had established a colonial government.

The population of 752,000 was divided mainly between 600,000 Arabic-speaking Muslims and roughly 80,000 Christians and the same number of Jews. Each group had its own schools, hospitals and other public programs staffed by religiously educated men. The Jews were mostly pilgrims or merchants and lived mainly in Jerusalem, Haifa and the larger towns. Christians, similarly, had their own churches and schools, but unlike the Muslims and Jews they were divided among a variety of sects.

A British study in 1931 found them to include adherents of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Uniate (Melkite), Anglican, Armenian (Gregorian), Armenian Uniate, Jacobite, Syrian Catholic, Coptic, Abyssinian, Abyssinian Uniate, Maronite, Chaldean, Lutheran and other churches. Whatever else the land of Palestine produced, it was certainly luxuriant in religion.

The Palestine that emerged at the end of the First World War was also an heir to the Ottoman Empire because the British had decided that Ottoman laws were still in effect. What these laws mandated would play a major role in Palestinian-Zionist affairs so they must be noted. The key point is that in its later years, the Ottoman empire had attempted various reforms that were primarily aimed at increasing its ability to draw tax revenue from the population.

The most important of these changes was the imposition of quasi-private ownership on the traditional system of land ownership. From roughly 1880 onward, wealthy urban or even foreign merchants, money lenders and officials were able to acquire title to lands by agreeing to pay the taxes.  Similar systems and similar transfer of “ownership” occurred in many areas of Asia and Africa. “Modernization” often came at the price of legal dispossession. So important was this was a concept and a process in future events that it must be understood.

Land in Palestine (and adjoining Lebanon as in Egypt, India and much of Africa and Asia) was an extension to a village. Like the houses, the plots mirrored the kinship structure. If a family tree were superimposed on a map, it would show that adjoining parcels were owned by close relatives; the further away the land, the more distant the kin relationship. One could read into the land ownership pattern the history of births, deaths, marriages, family disputes and the waxing and fading of lineages.

Despite  the Ottoman changes, villagers continued to plow and harvest according to their system. In fact, they did everything they could to avoid contact with the government. They did so because the collection of taxes resembled a military campaign in which their grain might be confiscated, their cattle driven away, their sons kidnapped for military service and other indignities imposed.

In Palestine as in Syria, Iran and the Punjab where the process has been carefully studied, peasants often agreed to have their lands registered as the possession of rich and influential merchants and officials who would promise to protect them. In short, the new system promoted a sort of mafia.

That was the legal system the British found when they set up their government in Palestine. Ottoman tax records specified that large blocs of villages and their lands “belonged” not to village crop farmers but to the influential “tax farmers.”

One example was the Lebanese merchant family, the Sursuks. In 1872, the Sursuks had acquired a kind of ownership (known in Ottoman law as miri) from the Ottoman government for a whole district in the Vale of Esdraelon near Haifa. The 50,000 acres the Sursuks acquired was apportioned among some 22 villages. In return for the title to the land, they agreed to pay the yearly tax which they extracted from the villagers in their multiple roles as tax collector, purchaser of shared crops and money lender. They apparently made at least 100 percent profit yearly on their purchase; the land was one of the most fertile areas in the country.

As an English traveler, Lawrence Oliphant, wrote in 1883, this land “looks today like a huge green lake of waving wheat, with its village-crowned mounds rising from it like islands, and it presents one of the most striking pictures of luxuriant fertility which it is possible to imagine.”

While the law was Ottoman, it corresponded to English practice dating from the Seventeenth Century “enclosures” of commons. The British imposed it on Ireland and enforced it on the Punjab, Kenya and other parts of their empire.

Selling the Land

The Sursuks had purchased the land, according to the records, for an initial £ 20,000. Under the Land Transfer Ordinance of 1920, they were allowed to sell it. So in 1921, the Zionist purchasing agency bought the land and villages for £726,000. The Sursuks became rich; the Zionists were delighted; the losers were the villagers.  Some 8,000 of them were evicted.

Moreover, for the most laudable of reasons — the Zionist regulation that forbade exploitation of natives — the dispossessed villagers could not even work as landless laborers on their former lands. Nor could the land ever be repurchased from the Jewish National Fund which provided that the land was inalienable.

Both anger and greed gripped the Palestinian upper class: some sold their lands for what appeared then astronomical prices, but about 80 percent of all purchases were from absentee owners, like the Sursuks.

In less than a decade, tensions between the two communities reached a flash point. The flash point was then, and continued to the present time to be, the place where the Wailing Wall abutted the principal Islamic religious site, al-Aqsa mosque. For the first time, on Aug. 15, 1929, a mob of several hundred Jewish youths paraded with the Zionist flag and sang the Zionist anthem.

Immediately, a mob of Arab youths attacked them. Riots spread across the country and for the first but far from the last time, Britain had to rush in troops. Within two weeks, 472 Jews and at least 268 Arabs had been killed. It was a harbinger of things to come

The British were deeply disturbed. Riots were expensive; a civil war would be ruinous. So the Home government decided to seek advice on what it should do. It turned to a man with great experience. Sir John Hope-Simpson had been a senior officer in the elite (British) Indian Civil Service, had helped to solve serious problems in Greece and in China and had been elected to Parliament as a Liberal. He was commissioned to find a solution.

Not surprisingly, he concluded that the issues were land and immigration because “the result of the purchase of land in Palestine by the Jewish National Fund has been that the land … ceased to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either now or at any time in the future. Not only can he never hope to lease or to cultivate it, but, by the stringent provisions of the lease of the Jewish National Fund, he is deprived for ever from employment on that land. Nor can anyone help him by purchasing the land and restoring it to common use. The land is mortmain and inalienable. It is for this reason that Arabs discount the professions of friendship and goodwill on the part of Zionists.”

Hope-Simpson pointed out that Palestine was a small territory, only 10,000 square miles of which more than three quarters was “uncultivable” by normal economic criteria; with 16 percent of the good land owned by Jews or the Jewish National Fund.  He thought that the remainder was insufficient for the existing Arab community. Further sales, he was sure, would provoke further Arab resistance and violence. Thus, he recommended a temporary halt to immigration.

Zionist Protests

Infuriated by his report, the Zionists immediately organized a protest movement in and around the government in London and in the English press. Under unprecedented pressure, the Labour Party government repudiated Hope-Simpson’s report and refused to consider his recommendation. From the episode, the Zionist leaders learned that they could change government policy at its source by applying money, propaganda and political organization. Dealing with the ultimate authorities first in England and then in America would become a persistent Zionist tactic down to the present time. Palestinians never developed such a capacity.

The Zionist aim was, naturally, to bring to Palestine as many immigrants as possible and to bring them as quickly as possible. Between 1919 and 1933, 150,000 Jewish men, women and children came to Palestine. In the four years from 1933 to 1936 the Jewish population quadrupled. In 1935, as many arrived as in the first five years of the Mandate, 61,854.

Seeing that the British government had spurned even its own officials and that it would not or could not control either the land or population issues, the Palestinians became increasingly furious. They concluded that their chance of protecting their position by peaceful means was almost nil.

In 1936, a general strike, something unheard of before, turned into a siege; terrorists blew up trains and bridges and armed bands, which also for the first time included volunteers from Syria and Iraq,  roamed throughout Palestine and, most sobering of all, the Arab elite which had worked closely with the British as judges and officials registered their “loyal opposition”:

According to senior Arab officials in the Palestinian government, “the Arab population of all classes, creeds and occupations is animated by a profound sense of injustice. … They feel that insufficient regard has been paid in the past to their legitimate grievances, even though these grievances had been inquired into by qualified and impartial investigators, and to a large extent vindicated by those inquiries. As a result, the Arabs have been driven into a state verging on despair; and the present unrest is no more than an expression of that despair.”

Annoyed but not deterred, the British Colonial Office decided, as it was then also doing in India, to crack down hard on the “troublemakers.” It put Palestine under martial law and brought in 20,000 regular soldiers to be quartered on rebel villages, blew up houses of suspected insurgents and imprisoned Palestinian notables. Over 1,000 Palestinians were killed. But it was clear to the government in London that these were measures could be only temporarily and that more durable (and affordable) policies must be found and implemented. The British appointed a Royal Commission to find a solution.

Seeking a Solution

Echoing what previous investigators had found and recommending much of what they had suggested, the Royal Commission report has a modern ring. It concluded that:

“An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. … There is no common ground between them. The Arab community is predominantly Asiatic in character, the Jewish community predominantly European. They differ in religion and in language. Their cultural and social life, their ways of thought and conduct, are as incompatible as their national aspirations. … In the Arab picture the Jews could only occupy the place they occupied in Arab Egypt or Arab Spain. The Arabs would be as much outside the Jewish picture as the Canaanites in the old land of Israel. … This conflict was inherent in the situation from the outset. … The conflict will go on, the gulf between Arabs and Jews will widen.  (emphasis added)

Agreeing that repression “leads nowhere,” the Royal Commission suggested the first of a number of plans to partition the land.

Partition sounded sensible (at least to the English), but in 1936 there were too many Palestinians and too few Jews to carve out a viable Jewish state. Small as it was to be, the Jewish state would have 225,000 Arabs or only 28,000 less than the 258,000 Jews, but it would contain most of the better agricultural land. (The land expert of the Jewish Agency reported that the proposed Jewish state would contain 500,000 acres “upon which as many people could live as in the whole of the remainder of the country.”)

Partition was immediately rejected by Vladimir Jabotinsky who was the intellectual father of the Israeli terrorist groups, the Stern Gang (Lohamei Herut Yisrael) and the Irgun (Irgun Zva’i Leumi), and the sequence of Israeli leaders,  Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.

He warned the British that “We cannot accept cantonisation, because it will be suggested by many, even among you, that even the whole of Palestine may prove too small for that humanitarian purpose we need. A corner of Palestine, a ‘canton,’ how can we promise to be satisfied with it. We cannot. We never can. Should we swear to you we should be satisfied, it would be a lie.”

The Zionist Congress refused the Royal Commission plan, and patterning themselves on Gandhi’s passive resistance movement, the Palestinians set up a “National Committee” which demanded that the British allow the formation of a democratic government (in which, the Arab majority would have prevailed) and that the sale of land to the Zionists be stopped until the “economic absorptive capacity” could be established.

And they offered an alternative to partition: essentially what today we call a “one state solution”:  Palestine would not be divided, but the current ratio of Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants would be maintained.

The Royal Commission proposal got nowhere: because the Zionists thought they could get more while Palestinian leaders could not negotiate since they had been rounded up and put in a concentration camp.

Blocked from peaceful and non-violent action, the Palestinian leaders  and their followers began a violent campaign against the British and the Zionists. To protect themselves, the British created, trained and armed a Jewish paramilitary force of some 5,000 men. Violence grew apace. In 1938, the Mandate government reported 5,708 “incidents of violence” and announced that it had killed at least 1,000 Palestinian insurgents and imprisoned 2,500.

Neither the British, nor the Zionists, nor the Palestinians could afford to give up. In the middle of the Great Depression, the British could not afford to rule a hostile country from which they expected no return (unlike Iraq, Palestine had no oil); the Zionists, faced with the existential challenge of Nazism and having gone far toward statehood, could not agree to the terms proposed by the Palestinians; and the Palestinians saw in every shipload of immigrants a threat to their hopes for self rule.

So, eight years after the Hope-Simpson report, two years after the Royal Commission another British Government commission (the “Palestine Partition Commission”) was sent to try to redraw the map in some fashion that would create a larger Jewish state.

A Single State

The best deal the partition commissioners could get for the Jewish state was an area of about 1,200 square miles with a population of roughly 600,000 of whom nearly half were Palestinians; to increase the Jewish ratio to Palestinians, the proposed Jewish state would have had to be drastically reduced in size.

A rumor that the British had decided to recognize Palestinian independence had the expected effect: throughout Palestine, Arab groups danced with joy in the streets and Zionist militants bombed Arab targets.

Actually, the British did decide to implement much of the new proposal:  the Government favored a plan to stop Jewish immigration and to restrict land sales after five years and after ten years to make Palestine a single state under representative government. The policy was approved by Parliament on May 23, 1939.

The Zionist reaction was furious: Jewish hit squads burned or sacked government officers, stoned policemen and on Aug. 26 murdered two senior British officers. Five days later, the Second World War began.

While attention was otherwise directed in the midst of the war, partition was formally rejected by the Zionist organization in the so-called Biltmore program proclaimed in America in May 1942, and the solution to the dilemma of Jewish-Palestinian population ratios would be found in 1948 when most of the Palestinian population fled or was driven out of Palestine.

During the 1930s, while most of the world was plunged in a stultifying depression, the Jewish community, the Yishuv, profited from a material and cultural expansion. Money poured in from Europe and America. While the amounts were small by today’s standards,  Jewish donations enabled land to be bought, equipment purchased, factories opened, systems of transport set up and housing to be built.

Jerusalem was built in stone by Arab labor and Zionist money, and Tel Aviv began to look like Miami. The Yishu became a quasi state with its own schools, hospitals and other civic institutions, and enlivened by the influx of Europeans, it pulled increasingly away from both the Palestinian community and from the surrounding Arab societies. That has remained the persistent aspect of “the Palestine Problem”: while physically located in the Middle East, the Judenstaat was and is a European rather than a Middle Eastern society.

Palestinian Evolution

The Palestinians slowly began to evolve from a colonial, peasant-farmer, village-centered society. Their agriculture spread in extent and began to focus on such specialized crops as Jaffa oranges, but villagers continued their traditional habit of isolating themselves from (now British) government and did not develop, as did the Zionists, their own governmental and administrative institutions.

The growing but still tiny urban middle class of Christians and Muslims worked with the British administration and enrolled their children in British-run,  Arabic-language, secular schools. That is, they accommodated. Meanwhile, the traditional urban elite contested power not so much with the Zionists as with one another; whereas the Arab leaders spoke of national causes, they acted in and asserted leadership over mutually hostile groups.

Overall,  the Palestinians never approached Israeli determination, skill and financial capacity; they remained divided, weak and poor. That is, they remained over all a colonial society. What constituted their national cause was not so much a shared quest for independence as a reactivesense of having been wronged.

So, year-by-year as more immigrants arrived and as more land was acquired by the Jewish National Fund, opposition increased but never coalesced. Whereas anti-Semitism created Zionism, fear of Zionism fostered a Palestinian reaction. But, until another generation had passed that reaction remained only a seedbed of nationalism, not a national movement.  To understand this, we must look back to the previous century.

The idea of nationalism came to the Levant (Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria) and Egypt nearly a century after it had become dominant in Europe, and it came only to a small and at first mainly Christian elite. One’s identity came not from a nation-state, as in Europe, but either from membership in an ethnic/religious “nation” (known in Ottoman law as a millet) — for example, the Catholic “nation” — or, more narrowly, membership in a family, a clan or a village. The Arabic wordwatan catches exactly the sense of the French word paysboth “village” and “nation.”

Arabs, like Europeans, welcomed nationalism, wataniyah, as a means to overcome the evident and weakening effects of division not only among the religious communities, particularly the division between Muslims and Christians, but also among the families, clans and villages.

In Palestine, nationalism by the end of the British mandate had still not coalesced into an ideology; to the extent the concept of a watan had been extended beyond the village and had become popular, it was a visceral reaction to the thrust of Zionism. Anger over loss of land and the intrusion of Europeans was general, but the intellectual underpinning of nationalism was slow to be formulated in a way that attracted much of the population. It still had not attracted general support until long after the end of the British mandate. In part, it became possible in large part because of the destruction of the village communities and the fusing of their former residents in refugee camps: simply put, the watan had to die before wataniyah could be born.

A More Powerful Drive

Jewish nationalism, Zionism, drew on different sources and embodied more powerful thrusts. The Jewish community as a whole benefitted from two experiences: the first was that for centuries in what they call their diaspora virtually all Jewish men had meticulously studied their religious texts. While intellectually narrow, such study inculcated a mental exactitude that could be, and was, transferred to new, secular, broader fields when the opportunity presented itself in the late Eighteenth Century in Austria, Germany and France.

Thus, with remarkable speed, Polish and Russian Jews emerged in the West as mathematicians, scientists, physicians, musicians and philosophers, roles that were not part of the religious tradition. While the British had certainly been wrong to believe that Jews dominated the Bolshevik movement in Russia, Jews also certainly played a major political and intellectual role both there and in Western Europe.

The second experience that increasing numbers of Jews shared was the sense of exclusion but increasingly the reality of participation. During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, while often disliked and occasionally maltreated, Jews were generally able to take part in Western European society.

Thus, they were able to expand their horizons and to develop new skills. Many thought that they had arrived at a satisfactory accommodation with non-Jewish Europe. It was the shock of finding this not to be true that motivated Theodor Herzl and his colleagues to begin the quest for a separate Jewish nation-state, a Judenstaat, outside of Europe, and it was the conservatism of religious Judaism that forced the Zionist movement to reject offers of lands in various parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia and to insist on the location of that nation-state in Palestine.

Jews, of course, had to focus more on Europe than on Palestine. The Zionist movement was located in Europe and its leaders and members were all European. From the end of the First World War, secular, “modern” Jews began to migrate to Palestine and soon outnumbered and overshadowed the traditional Jewish pilgrims.

Then, from the election of Hitler in 1932 and the collapse of the Weimar Republic in 1933, pressure on the German Jewish community moved through increasingly ugly incidents like the 1938kristallnacht toward a crescendo of anti-Semitism. Desperate, increasing numbers of Jews sought to flee from Germany. Most went to other countries — particularly America, England and France — but they were often not welcomed and in some cases were actually prevented from entering. (America implemented restrictions and accepted only about 21,000 Jewish refugees up to the eve of the Second World War.)

So, in increasing numbers, mainly secular, educated, Westernized Jews went to Palestine. The numbers were important but more important was that the individuals and groups  coalesced to create a new community. It was this “nation-state-in-formation,” the Yishuv, that set the trend toward the future.

Shaping Palestine

Nothing like these impulses were felt by the Palestinians. They had never experienced pogroms but lived with neighbors of different faiths in a carefully structured and religiously sanctioned form of mutual “tolerancem” and, despite the Ottoman empire’s moves toward modernization/westernization/fiscal control, they lived in an acceptable balance with their environment. Few had an enlivening contact with European thought,  industry or commerce. To the English, they were just another colonial people, like the Indians or the Egyptians.

That is how the British officials in Palestine treated the Palestinians. As I read Indian history of the same period, I find striking parallels: colonial officials in India were equally dismissive of even the richest and most powerful Hindu and Muslim Indians. As “natives” they had to be kept in their place, punished when they got out of order and rewarded when they were submissive. Generally, the poorer natives could be treated with a sort of amused tolerance.

But the Jews didn’t fit in the colonial pattern and could not be treated as “natives.” After all, they were Europeans. So the British colonial officials never felt comfortable dealing with them. Should they “belong to white men’s clubs” or not? With the natives one knew where he stood. With the Jews, relations were at best uncertain. Worse, they were adept at going over the heads of the colonial officials direct to London. This minor but important aspect of the Palestine problem was never resolved.

Then, suddenly, as Germany invaded Poland, the world slipped into war.

The War Years

Both Palestinians and Zionists enlisted in large numbers — 21,000 Jews and 8,000 Palestinians — to help the British in their hour of need. But both kept their long-term objectives firmly in mind:  both continued to regard British imperialism as the long-term enemy of freedom. And, like the Hindu Parliamentarian Subhas Chandra Bose, the Muslim Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husaini actively flirted with the Axis. Bose led a Japanese-supplied and -sponsored army into India. (Bose’s Palestinian counterpart, Hajj Amin had no such army. He fled the country.)

What Bose had tried to do fighting the British in India, Jewish terrorists, inspired by Vladimir Jabotinsky, began to do in Palestine. By 1944, Jewish attacks on British troops and police, raids on British arms and supply depots and bombings of British installations had become common, and military training camps were set up in various kibbutzim to train an army to fight the British.

In response, the British commander-in-chief in the Middle East issued a statement condemning the “active and passive sympathisers [of the terrorists who] are directly… assisting the enemy.”

On Aug. 8, 1944, a Jewish attempt was made to assassinate the High Commissioner and on Nov. 6, 1944, members of the Stern Gang murdered Prime Minister Churchill’s personal representative in the Middle East, the British Minister of State Lord Moyne. Churchill was furious and told Parliament that “If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols and our labours for its future are to produce a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past. If there is to be any hope of a peaceful and successful future for Zionism these wicked activities must cease and those responsible for them must be destroyed, root and branch.”

In the last months of the war, the tempo of attacks increased. Carefully planned raids were made on supply dumps, banks and communications facilities. With Germany going down in defeat, Britain had become the Zionist Enemy Number One.

The Holocaust

But for a time, Zionist action focused on Europe. As the war ended, the enormity of the Nazi crimes against the European Jews came to public attention, and demands to “do something” for the survivors moved to the forefront of British and American politics. The British asked the U.S. government to join it in enforcing a solution no matter what that solution might be.

In America, there was a sense of collective guilt: anti-Semitism, like anti-black prejudice, while still common was beginning to be equated to Nazism and Fascism. But only beginning. America had actually turned back Jews trying to flee Nazi persecution. So when President Harry Truman announced in December 1945 that the U.S. would begin to facilitate Jewish immigration, there was little public or Congressional support. (Only 4,767 Jews were actually admitted.)

Meanwhile, various schemes were bandied about to do something for Europe’s Jews. One, never really seriously considered, was to give a  part of defeated Germany to the Holocaust victims as their heimstätte. It died aborning when moves toward the Cold War argued for the reconstruction of Germany as a barrier to the Soviet Union.

No one, to my knowledge, suggested that Americans cede a part of the United States as an alternative Israel. Americans quickly adopted the European program for having the “Jewish Problem” solved at the expense of someone else.

Zionists, quite reasonably, were not prepared to bet their future on Western benevolence. They were determined to act, and they did so in four interconnected programs: first getting the survivors of the Holocaust to Palestine; second, lobbying the American government to support their cause; third, attacking any and all who stood in their way; and, fourth, making staying in Palestine too expensive for Britain.

Building a Jewish Presence

First, the Zionists understood and were informed by the British studies that if they were to succeed in taking over Palestine, they would need far more Jewish immigrants than the British were likely to allow. So already in 1934, shortly after the Hope-Simpson report, they organized the first ship, a Greek tramp steamer, to take “illegals” to Palestine. The little SS Velos would be the first in what became a virtual fleet, and the 300 passengers it carried would be followed by many thousands in the years to come. British attempts to limit the flow — to try to keep the peace in Palestine — were generally ineffective and were, in part nullified by the anti-Semitism of the European states and particularly by the Nazis.

The Nazi involvement in the Palestine issue and the Zionist relationship to the Nazis form its most bizarre aspect. By 1938, not only the Nazis but also the Polish, Czech and other Eastern European governments were determined to get rid of their Jewish citizens. The Zionist leaders saw this as a major opportunity.  So they sent an emissary to meet with the Nazis, and even with the Gestapo and the SS, to propose to help them speed the Jews away: they proposed that if the Nazis would allow the Zionists scope, they would set up training camps for selected young people to be shipped to Palestine.

Hitler had not yet made up his mind on “the final solution” but he was keen to promote a Jewish exodus.  So the German officials, including Adolf Eichmann, made a deal with the Zionists that enabled them to select would-be emigrants. The choice of who was to go was purely pragmatic: it was not on humanitarian needs but on physical and mental capacity of the candidates to join the incipient Zionist army, the Haganah and its various offshoots.

By the end of 1938, the first batch of about a thousand Jews was being organized and trained by the “Committee for Illegal Immigration” (Mossad le Aliyah Bet), and roughly that many started their journey each month.*

As the Nazis moved to implement “the Final Solution,” they lost interest in the relatively small-scale Zionist emigration operation and began their horrible liquidation program in which millions of Jews, Gypsies and others died at Auschwitz, Treblinka and other concentration camps. With Europe closed to them, the Zionists turned to encouraging and facilitating the migration of Jewish communities from the Arab countries. To take over Palestine, they needed Jews from anywhere and so they actively recruited them from Iraq to Morocco. Then, as the war reached its final stages, the Zionists turned back to Europe.

Their first move was to take over — literally to buy — the virtually defunct Red Cross headquarters in Romania. The newly arrived Soviet army was otherwise occupied so under the “Red Cross” emblem, the Zionist organization was able to restart the program of shipping Jews to Palestine. What the Zionist agents found was that the condition of the hundreds of thousands of remaining Romanian Jews was desperate; they were willing to go anywhere to get out Romania. Allegedly 150,000 signed up to go to Palestine, but the problem remained, how to get them there.

The answer was found in Italy. Stationed there was the small Jewish logistical support formation enlisted by the British in Palestine. Its main piece of equipment was exactly what the Zionist organizers most needed, the truck, and they were also decked out in British army uniforms and armed with British army documents.

Under Zionist orders and literally under British noses, they ranged throughout Italy, gathering displaced persons in their trucks and delivering them to ships that had been hired by the Zionists to smuggle them into Palestine.

Then disaster struck:  along with other formations, the Jewish unit was redeployed. So the Zionists made what was by far their boldest move: in one of the most remarkable ventures of the Second World War, they created a fictitious British army.

A Fake Army

In the chaos of the last months at the end of the Second World War, Allied military units and supply dumps were scattered throughout Western Europe. Most troops were in the process of being redeployed or sent home. Command-and-control structures were falling apart. Dumps were often unguarded or even forgotten.

So, into this chaos, the Zionists ventured. Almost overnight, they “became” a separate British army formation with their own faked documents, phony unit designation and looted equipment.  They drew petrol for their trucks and fuel for the ships with which they could rendezvous on the coast. With forged requisition papers they seized a building right in the center of Milan to use as their headquarters and others to create staging areas in various areas of Italy.

Second, they were utterly ruthless in achieving their objectives. As Jon and David Kimche have written in The Secret Roads, the European Jews “hated the Germans who had destroyed their corporate life; they hated the Poles and Czechs, the Hungarians and Rumanians, the Austrians and the Balts who had helped the Germans; they hated the British and the Americans, the Russians and the Christians who had left them, so it seemed to them, to their fate. They hated Europe, they held its precious laws in contempt, they owed nothing to its peoples. They wanted to get out. … Thus,anti-goyism, that malignant growth in Jewish life, received a new lease of life.  Linked with Zionism, it now galvanised the Jewish camps in Europe.”

Their Zionist guides stimulated this hatred among the Displaced Persons (DPs) because, as the Kimches wrote, “they had to be uplifted; they had to be galvanised; they had to be given a stronger pride than their cynicism, and a stronger emotion than their demoralised if understandable self-seeking.  The only thing that could do it, as they had seen during the Hitler era, was propaganda — hate propaganda for preference.”

Jews who attempted to go back to their former homes found their ways barred; others had taken over their houses and shops so their attempted return stimulated vicious riots, particularly in Poland, that convinced most Jews that they could not restart their old lives. If they needed further convincing, the Polish government closed the frontier and threatened to shoot returnees. And where the displaced persons were in temporary camps, their hosts were anxious to speed them on their ways.

By All Means Necessary

So, the Zionists felt justified in slandering, boycotting or even destroying those who thwarted or threatened to reveal their actions. When the head of the United Nations program charged with giving aid to the displaced persons in Germany, General Sir Frederick Morgan, reported that some “unknown Jewish organization” was running a program to transfer European Jews to Palestine — exactly what they were doing –  he was pilloried as an anti-Semite.

That charge came easily. It was a charge, not unlike the McCarthyite charge of being a Communist, that all those who dealt with or wrote about the Palestine problem would learn to fear. It was used often, usually effectively and was always bitterly resented by those so attacked. It is a tactic that Zionists and their supporters often employed and is still employ frequently today.

Third, back in Palestine, the Zionist organization was doing all it could to make staying in Palestine too expensive for Britain. The Zionist army, the Haganah, its elite military force, the Palmach and the two terrorist organizations (in British eyes)/freedom fighters (to the Zionists) , the Stern Gang and the Irgun, were attacking government buildings, blowing up bridges and taking hostage or shooting British soldiers.

When I first went to Palestine in 1946, the streets of every city were rivers of barbed wire, with frequent barriers and checkpoints manned by heavily armed British soldiers. The calm of evenings was frequently shattered by the sounds of machinegun fire and by night exploding bombs could be heard nearby. Everyone, including the soldiers of Britain’s crack parachute division, was constantly on edge. Calm was feared as a prelude to the storm. Danger was everywhere, even when not intended.

On Christmas Eve 1946 at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem I sat in the midst of a congregation armed with the unreliable but lethal sten gun, expecting at any minute one might be dropped and go off. A few days later, I was nearly shot, in the midst of Jerusalem by a very nervous soldier. Everyone was suspect in the eyes of everyone else.

Denying Responsibility

When the Zionist civil authorities tried to stand aloof, pretending that they knew nothing of the use of terror, the British published intercepted documents showing that they were orchestrating the attacks and were involved in collecting and passing out arms to the insurgents. For the first time against the Zionists the British cracked down as they had done against the Palestinians, and as they had been doing and were still doing against the Indians in their independence movement,  putting hundreds of Jews into what amounted to a concentration camp.

In riposte, Jewish terrorists/freedom fighters blew up the headquarters of the British government in Jerusalem, the King David Hotel, killing 91 people and wounding about 46. To the English Parliament, press and public, the bombing was taken as an act of war. The Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee denounced it as a “brutal and murderous crime … an insane act of terrorism.”

But the “brutal and murderous crime … an insane act of terrorism” accomplished its purpose.  Almost everyone — except of course the Palestinians — had concluded that the attempt by the British to establish an acceptable level of security had failed.

Fourth, the American government had long since decided to throw its support to the Zionists. Already at its presidential convention in 1944, the Democratic Party issued a statement stating that “We favor the opening of Palestine to unrestricted Jewish immigration and colonization and such a policy as to result in the establishment there of a free and democratic Jewish Commonwealth.”

Shortly before his death, President Franklin Roosevelt affirmed that declaration and promised to do what was necessary to effect it. (But he, like the British in the First World War, also made a conflicting promise to the Arabs:  just as the British had promised the Sharif of Mecca so Roosevelt promised King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, that he “would take no action which … might prove hostile to the Arab people.” Then he immediately reversed himself, reaffirming his unrestricted support for Zionism.)

When he came into office, President Harry Truman called in August 1945 for the immediate admission to Palestine of 100,000 European Jews. Not to be outdone, Truman’s Republican opponent, Gov. Thomas Dewey, called for the admission of “several hundreds of thousands.” The rush to win Jewish money, influence in the press and votes was on. It has grown stronger year by year.

Caught in the Middle

Feeling increasing isolated and desperate to turn to the host of problems it faced — both domestically and throughout the other parts of its increasingly fragile empire — the British government urged that America join in what was hoped to be a final commission, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, which was to focus not primarily on Palestine but, for the first time, on the plight of the European Jewish community.

It was in the emotional vortex of the hideous German concentration camps that the Commission began its work; its work would be continued in the context of American partisan politics. Its result was shaped both by the  sight of the misery of the surviving Jews in Europe and driven by the political winds in America. It paid virtually no attention to the Palestinians.

The end of the mandate was in sight. The British decided to withdraw  on May 15, 1948, eight months to the day after they had withdrawn from India. The results were similar: they had inadvertently “let slip the dogs of war.” Millions of Indians and Pakistanis and nearly a million Palestinians would pay a terrible price.

India was, perhaps, a more complex story, but the sole justification for the British rule of Palestine was the British obligation specified in the preamble to the Mandate instrument to “be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Britain had failed. Indeed, three months before its forces withdrew, Britain warned the UN Security Council that it would require foreign troops to effect the UN decision to divide the country. In reply, the U.S. Government ducked. On Feb. 24, it informed the UN that it would consider the use of its troops to restore peace but not to implement the partition resolution. On March 19, it went further, suggesting that action on partition be suspended and that a trusteeship over all Palestine be established to delay final settlement. Britain refused.

UN Division

The United Nations decision was to divide Palestine into three zones: a Jewish state, a Palestinian state and a UN administered enclave around the city of Jerusalem.

While Britain and America argued at the United Nations, Palestine slid into war. Over 5,000 people had been killed since the end of the Mandate had been announced: trains were blown up, banks robbed, government offices were attacked, and mobs, gangs and paramilitary troops looted, burned and clashed.

Then on April 10, about five weeks before the final British withdrawal, came the event that would establish the precondition of the Palestinian refugee tragedy — the Deir Yasin massacre. The regular Zionist army, Haganah, had tried to take the village, known to be peaceful and,  insofar as anyone then was, neutral,  and ordered the terrorist group, the Irgun, which was under its command, to help.

Together the two forces captured the village. The Irgun, possibly acting alone, then massacred the entire village population — men, women and children — and called a press conference to announce its deed and to proclaim that this was the beginning of the conquest of Palestine and Trans-Jordan. Horror and fear spread throughout Palestine. The precondition for the flight of the entire Palestinian community had been established. Much worse was to follow.

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Using the Holocaust to Justify War


The permanent exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: U.S. Holocaust Museum)

Since bursting onto the U.S. foreign policy stage in the 1980s, the neocons have been masters of “perception management,” devising emotional (and often false) messaging to justify aggressive war, as Maidhc Ó Cathail sees in recent Holocaust-themed propaganda against Syria’s government.

By Maidhc Ó Cathail

“The irony is that the Nazi holocaust has now become the main ideological weapon for launching wars of aggression,” Norman Finkelstein tells Yoav Shamir in “Defamation,” the Israeli filmmaker’s award-winning 2009 documentary on how perceptions of anti-Semitism affect Israeli and U.S. politics. “Every time you want to launch a war of aggression, drag in the Nazi holocaust.”

If you’re looking for evidence in support of Finkelstein’s thesis today, you need look no further than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibit of images of emaciated and mangled bodies from contemporary Syria.

The permanent exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: U.S. Holocaust Museum)

The permanent exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: U.S. Holocaust Museum)

The small exhibit, entitled “Genocide: The Threat Continues,” features a dozen images said to be from an archive of 55,000 pictures allegedly smuggled out of the country by “Caesar,” a mysterious source who claims to have defected from his job as a Syrian military photographer after having been ordered to take photos of more than 10,000 corpses.

Emphasizing the threat of an impending genocide, the reportedly conscience-stricken defector warns that a similar fate awaits the 150,000 people he says remain incarcerated by President Bashar Assad’s government.

“They’re powerful images, and viewers are immediately reminded of the Holocaust,” Cameron Hudson, the director of the museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide, was cited as saying in an Oct. 15 Associated Press report. Hudson, whose intriguing career in genocide prevention includes a stint as intelligence analyst in the CIA’s Africa Directorate, added, “They show a side of the Syrian regime that hasn’t really been really seen. You might have heard about it, read about it, but when you’re confronted with these images, they’re impossible to ignore.”

The museum’s promotion of these impossible-to-ignore, Holocaust-recalling images dates from a few months earlier, however. In his July visit to Washington that included a series of meetings with U.S. government and congressional officials, Caesar’s first stop was at the Holocaust Museum.

On July 28, Michael Chertoff, a member of the museum’s governing board of trustees, presented the purported defector to a small group of reporters and researchers. According to the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, this event was the first time that Caesar had appeared publicly to answer questions about the photos deemed by some human rights organizations as evidence of war crimes committed by Assad.

Chertoff, a co-author of the USA PATRIOT Act, hasn’t hesitated to invoke the Nazis either in support of the neoconservative-conceived “global war on terror.” In an April 22, 2007 Washington Post op-ed entitled “Make No Mistake: This Is War,” the then-secretary of the Department of Homeland Security wrote, “Al-Qaeda and its ilk have a world vision that is comparable to that of historical totalitarian ideologues but adapted to the 21st-century global network.”

Commenting on the former DHS secretary’s close ties to Israel, Jonathan Cook notes in his book Israel and the Clash of Civilizations that Chertoff’s mother was an air hostess for El Al in the 1950s. “There are reports that she was involved in Operation Magic Carpet, which brought Jews to Israel from Yemen,” writes the Nazareth-based British journalist. “It therefore seems possible that Livia Eisen was an Israeli national, and one with possible links to the Mossad.”

Among the other members of the Holocaust Memorial Council noted for their staunch support of Israel and American interventionism are the pardoned Iran-Contra neocon intriguer Elliott Abrams and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

Writing in Foreign Policy’s The Cable on April 23, 2012, Josh Rogin drew attention to Wiesel’s pointed introduction of President Barack Obama at a ceremony in the Holocaust Museum. Comparing the Syrian president and then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the perpetrators of the Nazi holocaust, Wiesel implicitly criticized Obama’s supposedly obtuse inaction, “So in this place we may ask: Have we learned anything from it? If so, how is it that Assad is still in power?”

As Rogin, a regular media conduit for anti-Assad interventionism, pointedly observed, the speech was reminiscent of another one Wiesel gave at the opening of the museum in 1993, when he urged then President Bill Clinton to take military action in Bosnia: “Similarly, that speech came at a time when the Clinton administration was resisting getting entangled in a foreign civil war but was under growing pressure to intervene.”

In a revealing interview published on Aug. 11, 2013, by the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, Caesar’s interpreter, who presided over a question-and-answer session at the museum, echoed Wiesel’s criticism of President Obama’s resistance to doing the bidding of the neocons and “liberal interventionists” seeking greater American intervention in Syria.

Asked by the Gülen movement-aligned daily if America had forgotten the Syrian war, Mouaz Moustafa replied, “It is the President who is against action in Syria not the whole of the U.S. government. President Barack Obama has been very insular and cautious about Syria. The President does not seem to understand how important Syria is to U.S. national security [….] The President does not feel the need to explain to the American people or the world that the risks with any of the bad options that we have are far outweighed by the risks of inaction.”

It is hardly a coincidence that Moustafa’s rhetoric bears a striking resemblance to that of Israel’s friends like Wiesel. Although one of best known media-promoted faces of the Syrian opposition in Washington has understandably sought to obscure his ties to Tel Aviv, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force has undeniable links to one of its American lobby’s leading think tanks.

After it emerged that Moustafa’s nonprofit had coordinated Sen. John McCain’s May 2013 trip to meet with the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels, an examination of the SETF executive director’s background revealed that he was one of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s “experts”; a contributor to WINEP’s Fikra Forum, “an online community that aims to generate ideas to support Arab democrats in their struggle with authoritarians and extremists”; and had addressed the AIPAC-created think tank’s annual Soref symposium entitled “Inside Syria: The Battle Against Assad’s Regime.”

Even more damningly, it was discovered that one of SETF’s web addresses was “” The “ url belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida whose key values notably include promoting “a love for and commitment to Eretz Yisroel.”

When confronted with these embarrassing revelations, Moustafa responded via Twitter, “call me terrorist/Qaeda/nazi as others have but not Zionist Im [sic] denied ever entering palestine but it lives in me.” Dismissing the intriguing connection to a pro-Israel yeshiva in Florida, he claimed that the “url registration was due to dumb error by web designer.”

The Israel lobby-backed Moustafa also interpreted for Caesar, who was wearing dark glasses and a blue rain jacket with the hood pulled over his head, when he testified before a closed-door session of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this July. At least some of its members would no doubt have recognized the interpreter, however.

As Foreign Policy’s The Cable reported on June 6, 2013, two leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Ed Royce, R-California, and Eliot Engel, D-New York, dispatched aides to Turkey to meet leading members of the Syrian Free Army between May 27 and June 3. As The Cable had learned, the meeting had been coordinated by Moustafa’s Syrian Emergency Task Force.

(This September, staff from the Syrian Emergency Task Force and the House Foreign Affairs Committee reportedly facilitated a meeting in Turkey that led to more than 20 Syrian rebel commanders signing “a historic agreement” to unite in the quixotic fight against both ISIS and Assad.)

Interestingly, the FP article noted that “[t]he two lawmakers don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the question of whether the United States should intervene more aggressively in the protracted civil war,” with Engel having “carved out one of the most hawkish positions in Congress on Syria, being the first to introduce legislation authorizing lethal assistance for the rebels.”

Moreover, as Rep. Engel pointed out in his opening remarks at the Syria briefing, he has “been personally focused on Syria for a long time.” In 2003, he passed the Syria Accountability Act, which imposed sanctions on the government of Hafez Assad.

In a reference to his introduction of the Free Syria Act in March 2013, which authorized the President to provide lethal assistance to those Engel described as “carefully vetted members of the moderate Syrian opposition,” the reflexively pro-Israel Democratic congressman from New York said, “If we had taken that approach a year and a half ago, we may have been able to stem the growth of ISIS and weaken the regime of Bashar Assad. But we didn’t, unfortunately, so we’ll never really know what would have happened if we had acted then.”

While Caesar and his American-based Palestinian-Syrian interpreter clearly have the enthusiastic support of Israel’s friends in Washington, the photos presented as evidence of an alleged Syrian “holocaust” by Assad’s forces received their initial boost from one of Tel Aviv’s closest, albeit covert, Arab allies in their mutual war against the Syrian government.

As part of a review of the photos commissioned by the government of Qatar, David Crane, a former war-crimes prosecutor for Sierra Leone, reportedly spent hours interviewing Caesar. An Oct. 13 Yahoo News report by Michael Isikoff quotes Crane as saying that they document “an industrial killing machine not seen since the Holocaust.”

Like the director of the Holocaust Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide, Crane has worked for the U.S. government, including in the field of military intelligence. His former posts include Director of the Office of Intelligence Review, assistant general counsel of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Waldemar A. Solf Professor of International Law at the United States Army Judge Advocate Generals School.

Having ostensibly left the intelligence world behind him, Crane founded and directs the Syrian Accountability Project (SAP) at Syracuse University’s College of Law, which describes itself as “a cooperative effort between activists, non-governmental organizations, students, and other interested parties to document war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of the Syrian Crisis.” According to its website, SAP has “worked closely with the Syrian National Coalition” which is listed as one of its clients.

Founded in Doha, Qatar in November 2012, the Syrian National Coalition represents the Free Syrian Army, which has reportedly collaborated with the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham in massacres of Syrian civilians such as the one that occurred this March in the village of Kassab, an ancestral home of Syria’s minority ethnic Armenians, on the Turkish border.

Professor Crane is also vice-president of I Am Syria, whose mission statement describes it as “a non-profit media based campaign that seeks to educate the world of the Syrian Conflict.” I Am Syria’s president, Ammar Abdulhamid, has been a fellow at two of the most prominent Washington-based pro-Israel think tanks, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; while one of its education directors, Andrew Beitar, is a regional education coordinator for the Holocaust Museum.

As the case of the mysterious Caesar and his trove of photos clearly shows, those who want to launch a war of aggression on Syria – as they have succeeded in doing in Iraq and Libya – have at every opportunity sought, as Finkelstein put it, to drag in the Nazi holocaust.

As more and more people become wise to this ruse, they should keep in mind the two words espoused by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: “Never Again.”

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Citizenfour’s Escape to Freedom in Russia


NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaking in Moscow on Oct. 9, 2013. (From a video posted by WikiLeaks)

Exclusive: An international community of resistance has formed against pervasive spying by the U.S. National Security Agency with key enclaves in Moscow (with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden) and in London (with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange), way stations visited by ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

In early September in Russia, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden told me about a documentary entitled “Citizenfour,” named after the alias he used when he asked filmmaker Laura Poitras to help him warn Americans about how deeply the NSA had carved away their freedoms.

When we spoke, Snowden seemed more accustomed to his current reality, i.e., still being alive albeit far from home, than he did in October 2013 when I met with him along with fellow whistleblowers Tom Drake, Coleen Rowley and Jesselyn Radack, as we presented him with the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaking in Moscow on Oct. 9, 2013. (From a video posted by WikiLeaks)

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaking in Moscow on Oct. 9, 2013. (From a video posted by WikiLeaks)

A year ago, the four of us spent a long, relaxing evening with Snowden – and sensed his lingering wonderment at the irony-suffused skein of events that landed him in Russia, out of reach from the U.S. government’s long arm of “justice.”

Six days before we gave Snowden the award, former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden and House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers had openly expressed their view that Snowden deserved to be on the “list,” meaning the “capture or kill” list that could have made Snowden the target of a drone strike. When I asked him if he were aware of that recent indignity, he nodded yes – with a winsome wince of incredulity.

This September, there was no drone of Damocles hanging over the relaxed lunch that the two of us shared. There were, rather, happier things to discuss. For example, I asked if he were aware that one of his co-workers in Hawaii had volunteered to Andy Greenberg of Forbes Magazine that Snowden was admired by his peers as a man of principle, as well as a highly gifted geek.

The co-worker told Greenberg: “NSA is full of smart people, but Ed … was in a class of his own. … I’ve never seen anything like it. … He was given virtually unlimited access to NSA data [because] he could do things nobody else could.”

Equally important, the former colleague pointed out that Snowden kept on his desk a copy of the U. S. Constitution to cite when arguing with co-workers against NSA activities that he thought might be in violation of America’s founding document. Greenberg’s source conceded that he or she had slowly come to understand that Snowden was trying to do the right thing and that this was very much in character, adding, “I won’t call him a hero, but he’s sure as hell no traitor.”

Snowden spoke of his former co-workers with respect and affection, noting that most of them had family responsibilities, mortgages, etc. – burdens he lacked. He told me he was very aware that these realities would make it immeasurably more difficult for them to blow the whistle on NSA’s counter-Constitutional activities, even if they were to decide they should. “But somebody had to do it,” said Snowden in a decidedly non-heroic tone, “So I guess that would be me.”

Following the intelligence world’s axiom of “need-to-know,” Snowden had been careful to protect his family and Lindsay Mills, his girlfriend, by telling no one of his plans. I found myself thinking long and hard at how difficult that must have been – to simply get out of Dodge without a word to those you love.

Perhaps he felt Mills would eventually understand when he explained why it was absolutely necessary in order to achieve his mission and have some chance of staying alive and out of prison. But, not having discussed with her his plans, how could he be sure of that?

And so, learning recently of the interim “happy-ending” arrival of Mills in Russia was like a shot in the arm for me. I thought to myself, it is possible to do the right thing, survive and not end up having to live the life of a hermit. Equally important, that reality is now out there for the world to see. What an encouragement to future whistleblowers – and to current ones, as well, for that matter.

Snowden was delighted when I told him that Bill Binney, the long-time and highly respected former NSA technical director, had just accepted the Sam Adams Award, which will be presented in 2015. It was Snowden’s own revelations that finally freed up Binney and other courageous NSA alumni to let the American public know what they had been trying, through official channels, to tell the overly timid representatives in Washington.

Seeing ‘Citizenfour’

Snowden was happy to tell me about the documentary, “Citizenfour,” explaining that during his sessions in Hong Kong with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill, Poitras seemed to have the camera always rolling during the eight days they shared in Hong Kong – including during the grand escape from the hotel. With a broad smile, Snowden said, “Ray, when people see my makeshift disguise, well, it is going to be really hard to argue that this thing was pre-planned!”

All I have seen so far is the trailer, but I have tickets for a showing Friday night when “Citizenfour” opens in Washington and other cities. With Snowden, I figured I could wait to witness the grand escape until I saw the film itself, so I avoided asking him for additional detail. Like: ”Don’t spoil it for me, Ed.”

I was encouraged to read, in one of the movie reviews, that the documentary does allude to the key role played by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in enabling Snowden’s escape. I had long since concluded that WikiLeaks’s role – and that of Sarah Harrison, in particular, was the sine qua non for success. I hope “Citizenfour” gives this key part of the story the prominence it deserves.

I feel it is an equal honor to spend time with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy whenever I’m in London. In early September, Assange was a welcoming host and we had a long chat over dinner while I was en route to Russia via London and Berlin. (I had been invited to present at the U.S.-Russia Forum in Moscow later last month and stayed there an extra day in order to visit with Snowden.)

I had been unaware of “Citizenfour” before visiting Assange. The film came up spontaneously when I volunteered to him that the safe extrication of Snowden from Hong Kong sits atop my gratitude list of the many things he has accomplished. That drew a very broad smile and some words about the world’s most powerful country and intelligence service, “and we still got him out!”

Assange shared how important it was not only to rescue Snowden himself but, in so doing, to provide for potential whistleblowers some real-life proof that it is possible to do the right thing and avoid spending decades in prison where WikiLeaks’ most famous source Chelsea Manning now sits. This was among the main reasons why WikiLeaks cashed in so many chips in its successful effort to bring Snowden to safety. It was surely not because Assange expected Snowden to share reportable information with WikiLeaks. He gave none.

Assange was in good spirits and hoping for some break in the Kafkaesque situation in which he has found himself for several years now (receiving asylum in Ecuador’s Embassy to avoid arrest in Great Britain and extradition to Sweden for questioning regarding alleged sexual offenses).

A Stop in Berlin

I also planned to spend a few days in Berlin to coincide with the NATO summit in Wales (Sept. 4-5). On Aug. 30, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity sent a Memorandum to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, warning her about the dubious “intelligence” adduced to blame Russia for the troubles in Ukraine. Our memo had some resonance in German and other European media, but I was saddened to find the media in the UK and Germany as co-opted and Putin-bashing as the U.S. media.

It was 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. What I said in my various talks and interviews on NATO’s reneging on its promise to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev not to move NATO one inch eastward, once Germany was reunited, seemed to come as a major revelation to most listeners.

“Really?” was the predominant reaction when I explained that 25 years ago there was a unique, realistic chance for a Europe “whole and free” (in words then used by President George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev) from Portugal to the Urals. Instead, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia was excluded. NATO crept steadily east toward Russia’s border.

And last February, the U.S. and EU orchestrated a coup d’état in Kiev to foster Ukraine’s “European aspirations” to cast its lot with the West and dislodge itself from Russia’s sphere of influence. [See’s The Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis.]

The squandering of a historic chance for lasting peace in Europe remains atop the list of severe disappointments encountered during my professional life. The fact that, to this day, so few seem aware of what happened, and who was – and is – to blame, is also a major frustration.

In Berlin, consolation and affirmation came in renewing friendships there and getting to know others – many of them expatriates. First and foremost among the latter is Sarah Harrison, the main figure in executing WikiLeaks’s plan to get Snowden out of Hong Kong and onward to Latin American via Moscow, where his planned journey has so far stalled.

Because the U.S. Justice Department charged Snowden with espionage and the U.S. State Department revoked his passport, his stay in Moscow ended up being quite a long one. But Harrison stayed on for as long as seemed necessary to accompany and support Snowden, as well as to be able to testify to the fact that the Russians were not using anything like “enhanced interrogation techniques” on him.

I had last seen Harrison in Moscow at the Sam Adams Award presentation to Snowden; it was great to have a chance to chat with her over a long lunch.

Flying home from Moscow, having had lunch there with Edward Snowden, lunch in Berlin with Sarah Harrison, and dinner with Julian Assange in that little piece of Ecuadorian territory in London, what came first to mind was Polonius’s advice to Laertes: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.”

But then, above the din of the jet engines, came a more familiar and more insistent voice. It was that of Jane Fahey, my Irish grandmother, who for some reason seemed 33,000 feet closer than usual: “Show me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are!” she would say, often – very often. I think my grandmother would be as pleased with my “company” as I am – and as grateful.

Posted in USAComments Off on Citizenfour’s Escape to Freedom in Russia

What Submarine in Sweden?: A Swedish Defense Farce



Lund, Sweden.

You have heard that Sweden is hunting a ”submarine” and that it is ”presumed to be Russian”. Here is an example Financial Times of October 21 – which incidentally also announces that the Swedish Prime Minister vows to increase defence spending.

Not the slightest evidence

There are only three problems with this:

1) There is not the slightest evidence of there being anything military, neither that it is a submarine nor that, whatever the object might be, it is Russian.

2) Even with CNN, BBC and AlJazeera this is nothing but speculative low-grade yellow press journalism.

This is possible in the field of defence, security and peace because much less is required of journalists when they write about these matters than when they write about, say, domestic politics, economics, sports, books or food and wine. In these fields you are expected to have some knowledge and media consumers are able to check.

3) It serves other purposes than bringing you information: either to increase further the negative image of Russia, push Sweden into full NATO membership – see the remarkable offer by NATOs former Allied Supreme Commander, Stavridis about NATO to come and help Sweden – or to scare the Swedes into feeling that it is necessary to pay even more to the Swedish military (a mechanism also called fearology).

Virtually every aspect of the media hype is based on prejudices instead of interest-based analysis and on partial and paid expertise that follows the ‘party line’. Russia has ‘denied’ it is there; Holland has ‘dismissed’ that its submarine should be there.

With one or two exceptions, all Swedish and international media have avoided asking: Could it be something else but a sub and somebody else but the Russians – or nothing at all?

The alleged-ness of it all is good enough to pass for objective reporting in the – alleged – free media.

Swedish Defense Farce

Worse, the Swedish military has already made a fool of itself – not to be expected given the fairly large resources it has at its disposal.

It has sold off helicopters it now dearly needs.

It’s been – at least officially – relying on tips from ordinary citizens and one wonders where the intelligence (in more than one sense of that word) is.

A suspicion that a (Russian) special forces man had gone on land turned out to be an Swedish pensioner out fishing.

It has published a blurred photo of a wave-covered ‘object’ to be seen far out through some trees and indicated wrongly where that photo was taken.

One indeed wonders whether this farcical performance is made to show that it is so helpless that it must have large resources?

The more relevant consideration would be: How on earth can such amateurism be so easily accepted by the government, media and the people – and even used as an argument for what the PM has just announced?

Or to put it crudely: What do the Swedes get for their tax money?

Sweden is Not a Helpless Pawn in the Game

Sweden with a population of roughly 9 million is # 33 on the world list of military expenditures, spending US $ 6,2 billion per year. That is US $ 657 per capita, # 17 in the world.

Russia spends US$ 403 per capita and its overall  military expenditures is 8% of NATO’s.

Sweden, thus, is not a helpless pawn in some game. If its military isn’t able to do better when it is really needed, some should be made responsible.

Is it Russian?

If there is something out there, is it likely to be Russian? Not very likely.

Moscow knows very well that if a Russian submarine was found and brought up to the surface, it would mean a huge boost for those in Sweden and elsewhere who would like to see Sweden as a full NATO member. That is not in Russia’s interest.

But of course, the Russians could play a high-risk game in these waters with some NATO subs, or be plain foolish. It can’t be excluded – but it isn’t very likely that the object is Russian.

If it Russian, Sweden itself may anyhow have an interest in not officially finding anything – to keep the Russians in the dark about how much it knows (how good it is at this) and whether or not there already is a NATO assistance in this case.

In both cases we are likely to never be told what it was all about.

Could it be from NATO?

Could it be from a NATO country? If so, we’ll also never know that.

The Swedish Chief of Staff has said that if something is found it would be shot at to come up to the surface. But it’s unthinkable that Sweden, if it knew an object to be from a NATO country – would a) shoot at it and b) tell the world that it knew.

After all, most violations of the Swedish air space has been known since the 1980s to be done by NATO fighters but it’s basically only when Russian fighters come near or violate that the Swedish defence establishment leaks it or the media are interested in it.

Sweden isn’t a neutral country today, if it ever were.

Could NATO have an interest in these waters? In the wake of the Ukraine crisis we are back to a kind of Cold War situation and NATO has moved its military positions forward in various ways and held a steady focus on the Baltic States.

So, yes, NATO could be in Swedish waters with or without the knowledge or consent of the Swedes; it could be roaming around to check on the Russians simply because tension has built up.

It could be placing sonars or whatever devices for future emergencies – while not wanting Sweden to know that it considers Sweden so close to NATO that it can just as well be used.

And if so, Sweden would rather not be told. Clear is that Sweden could not officially endorse a NATO submarine presence on its territory as part of Anti-Submarine Warfare or planning for future war with Russia. Both parties know that.


My concluding prediction is therefore rather simple: for the above reasons the Swedish military will soon call off the whole thing and the affair will have served its purpose – precisely by not stating what it was,who it was or why it was. Or if it was.

What the purpose of the event may be remains to be revealed at some point in the future. Or perhaps never – if  the purpose was fearology for increased militarisation.

Somebody somewhere knows what’s going on. And they put citizens’ security at risk for purposes they would never tell you.

Posted in EuropeComments Off on What Submarine in Sweden?: A Swedish Defense Farce

Catalan Independence, Scotland and the Middle East: The US Should Do Nothing to Fight ISIS



Laia Gordi: As you have been campaigning for Yes to independence in Scotland, what’s your view –and your guess- on the Catalan self-determination movement and referendum?

Tariq Ali: The Catalonian self-determination movement is largely led by the Catalan bourgeoisie. That’s the unfortunate  truth. They are fighting essentially on the basis of “we are richer than the rest of Spain and why shouldn’t we spend all this money on ourselves?” The Scottish campaign was largely a movement led by the non-rich. The working class strongholds of Glasgow and Dundee voted for independence.   Bankers and strong elements of the Scottish bourgeois supported No, including Edinburgh which has always been a petit bourgeois town. So that’s the basic sociological difference and it’s not unimportant, because the left would have more problems, I think, in Catalonia. The tactical question is always this: “should we fight the Catalan bourgeois now or should we wait after independence?” And, in my opinion, it’s better to begin the fight now. Let’s say “we are for independence, we want our own country, but we don’t want a country which is no different from Spain except that we have a new ruling class that is the equal of the Spanish or  European elites.”  We know that already. We have seen how Jordi Pujol [Catalan Former President] and his family have been making money for the last half century. We don’t want that in Catalonia or, at any rate, I think a majority of Catalans don’t want a minor version of Felipe Gozales , Juan Carlos and the current PP leaders. So since you are going to vote for independence you have to say very early on that you will fight for a different Catalonia, which is possible, and the Catalan Left should have a plan and program ready.

Laia Gordi: Well, there are large left-wing movements and a radical left party in the Catalan Parliament, even if they have a small representation.

Tariq Ali: Yes, I know them. But given what Pujol and his people have done… this should have an impact on people. Even those who support them would be a bit disgusted. So, this is an important time for the left in Catalonia to push. The other problem you have is that the Spanish state is not going to allow you to vote and that is a huge problem. The moral victory if the referendum wins will be important to put pressure on it, but the European elite only like dividing countries when it suits their purposes. My opinion is that a Catalonia that is radical, which is different from what exists today could play a part [in Europe]. And, it’s not a question that you’re breaking apart links with the rest of Spain that would never happen, it would be within a different framework, a con-federal framework if you like, rather than a federal framework, and that could be good for everyone. Maybe the Basques come in and, who knows? Maybe the Andalusian may prefer that as well, leaving this desiccated political elite and bureaucracy in Madrid to die in the sun.

Laia Gordi: So you don’t think Europe will back an independent Catalonia?

Tariq Ali:  Well, if it happens they will have no option. But they will fight to prevent it because the Spanish elite are part of their family.

Laia Gordi: What  did the No victory in Scotland mean for the UK?

Tariq Ali:  Well let’s see how the no vote happened. Scotland was denied independence by ten percent. These were mainly older people who were frighten to it: “what would happen to our pensions, what would happen to our currency.” Many who were thinking within this frame voted no. Also, one weakness in the SNP campaign was that, at the time, looked as if Alex Salmond was campaigning for maximum devolution and not for independence, because they should have had a clear cut economic plan: This is what we will do if we are independent. (…) But the important thing is that in a city like Glasgow, which is the old working class city in Scotland, every single parliamentary constituency voted for independence. So 30% of labour supporters switch and said we want an independent Scotland, because they felt instinctively that 5 million people were in a better position to play a part in changing their country when they had the centre in Edinburgh [rather than in London].
So what will happen after the no vote, we will know better in 2015. If in this next UK general election the independence side succeed in winning a majority to represent Scotland in Westminster, then I think Scotland will become independent, sooner or later. If you’d  seen the way in which the young people, 16 upwards, were on the streets fighting, in a good way, and engaging others in debate (and 97% who were eligible did vote), then  2015 could be another hobnail in the UK coffin.. The debates and discussions I attended and participated in churches, in people’s homes, on the streets in meeting halls, I have not seen anywhere else in Europe for a long time. Greece being the significant exception.

Laia Gordi: What if Cameron delivers in the next year what he has promised to the Scottish, may he then win Scotland forever?

Tariq Ali: No, all they are promising is the right to Scots to have their own tax within ten percent, they can put it up or lower ten percent. That’s not sufficient and I’m not sure that Labour would even give that. Cameron has now floated the idea of Scotland being granted the right to levy 100 percent of its taxes in return for which Scottish Members of the Westminster Parliament are not allowed to vote on taxes in the rest of the country. I’m in favour of that myself. The Scots will accept whatever they are given but that would not end the discussion on independence. It’s been like an uprising, a democratic uprising. The No vote was only ten percent ahead  and the decisive no voters were pensioners. So both politics and biology favour independence.

Middle East

Laia Gordi: Let’s talk about Middle East which is your specialization. If you had to make a simple map with the main actors of the current conflicts in the Middle East, who would you put in the picture?

Tariq Ali: I would put in the picture the United States of America. This is the world’s only imperial power which backed by some of its European vassals states have been weighing down the Middle East since the time of Clinton. We then have the most important country in the region which is Egypt. The largest, where democracy has just been completely wipe out, and we have a military dictatorship in power backed by the USA. In terms of oil, the most important country is Saudi Arabia, and again the USA. Saudi Arabia is a country ruled by a monarchy which believes in bahaism, an extreme border version of Islam, literalism Islam, which is a tiny minority in the Muslim world as at large. It is flanked by this tiny little golf states, which are little more than imperial petrol stations and whose rules spend a lot of money buying weaponry from the USA, France, Britain, etc. so they keep the West happy and can used it when necessary.

And of course, we mustn’t forget a very crucial player which is Israel. Which is backed by the US and the European Union and have impunity, no one questions (sometimes there are minor criticisms: “oh you killed to many people this time”) but by large it is completely allowed to get away with murder. Then, Iraq, which was not a religious state under Saddam Hussein, but the Americans invaded it, put Shia clerics in power, these behaved abominably towards the Sunnis and other minorities and so imperialism did what it knows best: divided and rule. They thought this was the best way to rule Iraq and now you have the development of an opposition which takes the bizarre form of the Islamic State. And they are now going to bomb it. So it’s a total and completed mess. What the West has created is a great disorder and who knows where it would end. We are in the middle of this process and in ten years we will see what the map looks like. And what the people look like because let’s not forget that the central actor use to be the people.

Laia Gordi: Can we say that ISIS is only the result of the failure of the US policy in the Middle East, in Iraq particularly?

Tariq Ali: Completely, there’s no other way of looking at it. What happened in Iraq, the sort of government they set up created a vacuum. I mean, how come the ISIS take over all this cities unless they have some support locally? That’s what happens, that the people who have been oppress by the Americans and their Shia allies say “ok, we don’t like these guys particularly, but at least they are doing something for us.” And I think ISIS would not last in this shape or form, but the latest USA attacks and the USA advisers already functioning on the ground, will enhance the popularity of this people. That is the big tragedy.

Laia Gordi: Many in USA criticized Obama for being “soft,” at least they were doing it until some weeks ago when he decided to start openly fighting the ISIS. On your opinion, what should the US government do to counterbalance ISIS? Should they do anything, anyway?

Tariq Ali: Nothing, the best way to get rid of ISIS will be done by its own people. All outside intervention, 99 percent of the time, fail and make the condition worse. This is especially true in the Middle East but not exclusive. Look at it, a groups is built up, the whole media says is awful, but this ISIS leaders play to that fear. They have reports, like company reports, with their photographs, “this is what we do,” like a CEO report, “this is how many people we killed, we are fighting against the Americans,” etc. They have got money from billionaires in Saudi Arabia, there’s no one who doubts that. They have got western weapons, which they took for the so-called moderated religious groups fighting Assad in Syria backed by the West. They have even got some of these hostages they got, according to some reports, by paying the moderated groups for them, they say “we will know how to use them better than you.” So they created fear and that, of course, plays in to the hands of the West, because they say “look, these are the most evil people in the world”. A few years ago, Saddam Hussein was the most evil guy in the world, they compared him to Hitler. Before that, the Yugoslav Milosevic was the worse and so it carries on. Then the Taliban in Afghanistan were the very worse people, and after a war which is lasted now nearly 15 years (this war have been going on longer than WWI and WWII) they are talking to the Taliban every single day behind the scenes. If you want my opinion, these people are no as organize as the Taliban, nor are they as intelligent, they will probably split, have faction disputes, break up, and something new would emerge in that region, but now with the big attack from the West their popularity will increase. And then who knows what’s going to happen.

Laia Gordi: Spanish media seems to be worried about possible terrorists’ attacks in Europe. A week ago the Iraqi president said he have information of ISIS plans to attack subway systems in Paris and US. What’s your view on it? Do you believe these claims?

Tariq Ali: These people attack you because you do something. They don’t just wake up in the morning and say we will try to bomb the subways in London or the trains in Madrid. They do it because there were Spanish troops in Iraq, they do it because Britain is like Americas attack dog in Europe, they do it because this idiot of Frances Hollande, completely down in the ratios in France, he’s on 11 percent, thought he may improve his image by sending airplanes to bomb targets in the Middle East. So you behave like a terrorist and you expect them to behave like European gentlemen? No, it’s not like that.
One of the guys who was indirectly involved in the bombing attacks in London was captured in Italy and gave an interview to an Italian newspaper. He said “what do you thing that we are crazy? Do you think we were just learning the Koran and reciting it? No, we were watching images of what the Americans have done in Fallujah, in Iraq where they shot prisoners, where they brutalized ordinary people, and so this was all we could do.” Now, of course, I don’t agree with any of this, but unless you understand the causes, you could never solve the problem and this would carry on and on and on.

Laia Gordi: UK voted last week to air strike against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, backing USA, what’s your view on this decision?

Tariq Ali: It’s utterly disgusting. You cannot defeat a guerrilla force from the air, and if they send ground force it would be another disaster. I mean, look what’s happening on Libya. They had ground troops in Afghanistan and they could do nothing. They kill people, kill innocents, they use drones which usually didn’t work, and they are beginning to do this again. And the fact that Europe accepts this so winningly indicates to me that people have no memories anymore. That the way the mainstream media is organized is designed to encourage loss of memory.

Laia Gordi: What should be –if there should be one- the European role in the “fight” against ISIS?

Tariq Ali: The Europeans are incapable of playing an independent role. Why? because the European Union is politically, socially incoherent. Economically it’s in a mess if you look to what the troika have done to the Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal… What can we say? It’s the bankers in collaboration with the German government that determine policy. And internationally then can’t play a role at all. They did it themselves, they are weak and have not desired to play an independent role. All the hopes that Europe may be an independent block have gone. The Americans saw that it didn’t happen by enlarging Europe in a crazy fashion which made it incoherent. And it’s undemocratic and people hate it in many parts of the world and they themselves, the European leaders, are sort of filled with self-hatred. They know who they are and they can’t do anything else. So Europe as structured in the present can do nothing. What we need is mobilizations from below, from parties like Serytza, Podemos, from the left party in Germany though that is weakening, to organize Europe-wide protest and say this have not being carried out in our names, this is not in our interest nor in the interest of the people from the Middle East. How long are we going to carry doing all this?

Laia Gordi: The US interventionism approach clearly didn’t worked in the past, nor did the Responsibility to Protect policy of the United Nations, and neither seem sanctions or diplomacy to have any positive effect for Syria, Palestine… so what should be the international policies on the current Middle East conflicts?

Tariq Ali: The United Nations Security council is the body that dominates the UN. The Americans ignore it when they think they can’t get a vote. And there’s no doubt that the Russians and probably the Chinese would had vetoed this vote [against ISIS]. But instead of understanding why, Obama is attacking the Russians saying they are responsible because “they are refusing to back us,” which is true, but why are they refusing? When the Russians do as you do, you don’t like it. When they want regime change in the Ukraine or when they capture a bit of land and annex Crimea (where there’s a large Russian population so they have support, so in a way it’s more rational though it’s an annexation) the Americans don’t like it. Putin is presented as the new dictator, the usual media campaign is on. And now they antagonized Russia, the EU is imposing sanctions on Russia and then they expect that there’s a community of interests? No, that doesn’t exist. I don’t think the Europeans can do much nor the Americans.

Laia Gordi: Not that Russia or China are doing better…

Tariq Ali: No, no of course not. I have no illusion in Russia or China. They have their national interest and given that they both have very close links with Iran, and Russia have very close links with Syria, they are defending their people. And privately they are laughing at what the Americans are making, making the mess worse and worse and worse.

Laia Gordi: The Kurdish are more united than ever to fight the ISIS. But USA arming the Kurdish can have a very strong impact in the near future on the area, for the Kurdish factions, for Turkey… What’s your view on the Kurdish fight in the area? 

Tariq Ali: This is absolutely true. Since the 90s when effectively the Kurdish areas in Iraq, while Saddam Hussein was in power, were given protection by the US. The Iraqi Kurdistan has increasingly became, in my opinion, an Israeli American protectorate, and the Kurdish national leaders don’t care. In Turkey and Syria the Kurds were under the influence of the PKK and are different, they are not tribal, they have some vision, but the Turks are completely opposed to any independence or even to any meaningful autonomy for the Kurdish population of the Turkey. So there’s contradictions within contradictions. Turkey would have to defend this [US-led] bombing, even they strengthen the Kurds because Turkey is an important member of the NATO and the Americans can threaten them in many different ways.

Laia Gordi: So probably the Kurdish will be armed and it would make it worse?

Tariq Ali: I think so.

Laia Gordi: What about Hezbollah, can they get oddly armed by Americans? They are also fighting ISIS.

Tariq Ali: Hezbollah is the only force in the Middle East which has succeeded in inflicting political defeats in the Israelis and prevented their army to do in Lebanon what they had come to do.  So Americans will never do that. Israelis play a very big part in determining American foreign policy. When you have the Senate and the House of Representatives in the American Congress voting unanimously to support Israel whatever it does, then you understand that money talks. So the Israelis will completely go bizarre if Hezbollah is even indirectly given western weaponry to defeat ISIS. That would never happen.

Laia Gordi: So Hezbollah will fight their own war?

Tariq Ali: They will fight in their own way, they are very confident, they are saying “if we were allowed, we will defeat this people” and Assad will probably use them. The other question is that now the US is bombing Syria which is a total bridge of legality, but let’s say that in Syria they are bombing ISIS and then they will try to replace it with a puppet organization to armed it to defeat Assad, now, this becomes very difficult, because at the moment behind the scenes they are trying to negotiated with Assad as well. So it’s a mess. Look at Libya, six month of NATO bombing. However horrible Gadhafi was, at least, it was calm during his time. Look at Libya now, a completely and utter disaster. No one talks about it.

Laia Gordi: Going a bit more east, this August in Pakistan there’s being large opposition demonstrations in front of the Parliament… can Pakistan destabilize?

Tariq Ali: When we talk about Pakistan the question you have to make is what the army’s view is. This is the most important political force in Pakistan. They are fed up with the present government and it’s obvious they’ve give the green light to this opposition groups to see if they could destabilize the government, which is been resisting the military in some questions, very small questions, but for the military important ones. They thought that there may be total chaos if the government had decided to really confront the demonstrations but the government didn’t do that. A part from when they tried to storm the prime minister’s house and capture the national television center that they stop them, but for the rest, they let them alone until now and the number of people in the demonstrations is being getting smaller and smaller. It may come up again because the government is so awful but that applies to every single government we had. There are all the same. They make money, they are corrupt, they have developed corruption into such a fine art that is sometimes impossible to find them. That includes top politicians, such as presidents and prime ministers. They are very careful about the paper work, which means they have gangs who they trust completely, like in the mafia. That’s what they are a political mafia that rules the country, when one faction of the mafia is defeated the other takes its place. And this is, of course, not only confined to Pakistan. It’s common all over Europe, in France, in Spain…

Laia Gordi: So there’s no Arab spring in Pakistan?

Tariq Ali: But look at what happened to the Arab Spring where it started. So maybe it’s just good as well if there’s no Arab Spring in Pakistan.

Laia Gordi: Fair enough.

Laia Gordi is a journalist from Barcelona.

Tariq Ali is the author of  The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

Posted in Middle East, USAComments Off on Catalan Independence, Scotland and the Middle East: The US Should Do Nothing to Fight ISIS

The Berlin Wall Another Cold War Myth: A Response to Economic Sabotage



November 9 will mark the 25th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The extravagant hoopla began months ago in Berlin. In the United States we can expect all the Cold War clichés about The Free World vs. Communist Tyranny to be trotted out and the simple tale of how the wall came to be will be repeated: In 1961, the East Berlin communists built a wall to keep their oppressed citizens from escaping to West Berlin and freedom. Why? Because commies don’t like people to be free, to learn the “truth”. What other reason could there have been?

First of all, before the wall went up in 1961 thousands of East Germans had been commuting to the West for jobs each day and then returning to the East in the evening; many others went back and forth for shopping or other reasons. So they were clearly not being held in the East against their will. Why then was the wall built? There were two major reasons:

1) The West was bedeviling the East with a vigorous campaign of recruiting East German professionals and skilled workers, who had been educated at the expense of the Communist government. This eventually led to a serious labor and production crisis in the East. As one indication of this, the New York Times reported in 1963: “West Berlin suffered economically from the wall by the loss of about 60,000 skilled workmen who had commuted daily from their homes in East Berlin to their places of work in West Berlin.”

It should be noted that in 1999, USA Today reported: “When the Berlin Wall crumbled [1989], East Germans imagined a life of freedom where consumer goods were abundant and hardships would fade. Ten years later, a remarkable 51% say they were happier with communism.”   Earlier polls would likely have shown even more than 51% expressing such a sentiment, for in the ten years many of those who remembered life in East Germany with some fondness had passed away; although even 10 years later, in 2009, the Washington Post could report: “Westerners [in Berlin] say they are fed up with the tendency of their eastern counterparts to wax nostalgic about communist times.”

It was in the post-unification period that a new Russian and eastern Europe proverb was born: “Everything the Communists said about Communism was a lie, but everything they said about capitalism turned out to be the truth.”

It should be further noted that the division of Germany into two states in 1949 – setting the stage for 40 years of Cold War hostility – was an American decision, not a Soviet one.

2) During the 1950s, American cold-warriors in West Germany instituted a crude campaign of sabotage and subversion against East Germany designed to throw that country’s economic and administrative machinery out of gear. The CIA and other US intelligence and military services recruited, equipped, trained and financed German activist groups and individuals, of West and East, to carry out actions which ran the spectrum from juvenile delinquency to terrorism; anything to make life difficult for the East German people and weaken their support of the government; anything to make the commies look bad.

It was a remarkable undertaking. The United States and its agents used explosives, arson, short circuiting, and other methods to damage power stations, shipyards, canals, docks, public buildings, gas stations, public transportation, bridges, etc; they derailed freight trains, seriously injuring workers; burned 12 cars of a freight train and destroyed air pressure hoses of others; used acids to damage vital factory machinery; put sand in the turbine of a factory, bringing it to a standstill; set fire to a tile-producing factory; promoted work slow-downs in factories; killed 7,000 cows of a co-operative dairy through poisoning; added soap to powdered milk destined for East German schools; were in possession, when arrested, of a large quantity of the poison cantharidin with which it was planned to produce poisoned cigarettes to kill leading East Germans; set off stink bombs to disrupt political meetings; attempted to disrupt the World Youth Festival in East Berlin by sending out forged invitations, false promises of free bed and board, false notices of cancellations, etc.; carried out attacks on participants with explosives, firebombs, and tire-puncturing equipment; forged and distributed large quantities of food ration cards to cause confusion, shortages and resentment; sent out forged tax notices and other government directives and documents to foster disorganization and inefficiency within industry and unions … all this and much more.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, of Washington, DC, conservative coldwarriors, in one of their Cold War International History Project Working Papers (#58, p.9) states: “The open border in Berlin exposed the GDR [East Germany] to massive espionage and subversion and, as the two documents in the appendices show, its closure gave the Communist state greater security.”

Throughout the 1950s, the East Germans and the Soviet Union repeatedly lodged complaints with the Soviets’ erstwhile allies in the West and with the United Nations about specific sabotage and espionage activities and called for the closure of the offices in West Germany they claimed were responsible, and for which they provided names and addresses. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. Inevitably, the East Germans began to tighten up entry into the country from the West, leading eventually to the infamous wall. However, even after the wall was built there was regular, albeit limited, legal emigration from east to west. In 1984, for example, East Germany allowed 40,000 people to leave. In 1985, East German newspapers claimed that more than 20,000 former citizens who had settled in the West wanted to return home after becoming disillusioned with the capitalist system. The West German government said that 14,300 East Germans had gone back over the previous 10 years.

Let’s also not forget that while East Germany completely denazified, in West Germany for more than a decade after the war, the highest government positions in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches contained numerous former and “former” Nazis.

Finally, it must be remembered, that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union to wipe out Bolshevism forever, and that the Russians in World War I and II, lost about 40 million people because the West had used this highway to invade Russia. It should not be surprising that after World War II the Soviet Union was determined to close down the highway.

For an additional and very interesting view of the Berlin Wall anniversary, see the article “Humpty Dumpty and the Fall of Berlin’s Wall” by Victor Grossman. Grossman (née Steve Wechsler) fled the US Army in Germany under pressure from McCarthy-era threats and became a journalist and author during his years in the (East) German Democratic Republic. He still lives in Berlin and mails out his “Berlin Bulletin” on German developments on an irregular basis. You can subscribe to it at His autobiography:Crossing the River: a Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War and Life in East Germany was published by University of Massachusetts Press. He claims to be the only person in the world with diplomas from both Harvard University and Karl Marx University in Leipzig.

Posted in World1 Comment

Gaza and the Bi-Partisan War on Human Rights: Terror Tunnels and Other Lies



Israel’s seven weeks of attacks this summer on heavily populated civilian neighborhoods in Gaza has led to unprecedented concern among Americans who, while still broadly supportive of Israel, found the attacks to be disproportionate and unnecessary.

Close to 1,500 Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed in the Israeli attacks—more of 500 of whom were children—and 18,000 homes were destroyed, leaving over 100,000 people homeless. Despite this devastating civilian toll, leading Democrats in Washington have joined Republicans in claiming that Israel’s actions were legitimate acts of self-defense against military targets, dismissing reports by reputable Israeli and international human rights groups saying otherwise.

In July and August, the two houses of Congress passed four resolutions and forwarded a series of letters providing unqualified backing for the massive Israeli air and ground assault, echoing the Israeli government’s justifications for the war and directly contradicting findings by United Nations officials on the ground, as well as investigations by both Israeli and international human rights groups.

What is particularly shocking is not just the vehemence with which the vast majority of congresspersons so enthusiastically supported a military operation condemned by most of the international community, but that they went on record making demonstrably false accusations despite being repeatedly confronted with evidence directly contradicting their claims.

The resolutions and letters seem to assume that while Hamas was guilty of terrorism in the deaths of the five civilians killed by Hamas rockets inside Israel, the Israeli government bore absolutely no responsibility for the deaths of nearly 1,500 Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli ordnance inside the Gaza Strip. Indeed, members of Congress have repeatedly asserted that the Palestinian side was somehow responsible for the deaths of its own people at Israel’s hands.

On July 25, Amnesty International reported that “Israeli forces have carried out attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians, using precision weaponry such as drone-fired missiles, as well as munitions such as artillery, which cannot be precisely targeted, on very densely populated residential areas.” Israeli forces “directly attacked thousands of homes,” including high-rise apartment blocks, killing whole families. Observing that civilians in the Gaza Strip had “nowhere to escape military operations by Israeli forces,” Amnesty provided ample evidence that Israeli forces were engaging in “indiscriminate attacks on urban areas using artillery and bombs.” In a particularly serious breach of international law, Amnesty further reported that “ambulances and medical personnel on their way to collect the wounded appear to have been deliberately targeted on several occasions, and hospitals have been destroyed by shelling from tanks and missiles.”

The congressional reaction to reports like Amnesty International’s was swift.

On July 29, the U.S. House of Representatives, with more than 100 co-sponsors from both parties, passed a resolution by unanimous consent insisting that the Israeli attacks were exclusively “focused on terrorist targets” and that Israel “goes to extraordinary lengths to target only terrorist actors.” Co-sponsors included such prominent Democrats as Alan Grayson (FL), Jared Polis (CO), Eric Swalwell (CA), Richard Neal (MA), Joseph Kennedy (MA), Tulsi Gabbard (HI), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Brad Sherman (CA), Elliot Engel (NY), and Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (FL). Two days later, Senate majority leader Harry Reid introduced a resolution, also pushed through by unanimous consent, claiming that “the Government of Israel has taken significant steps to protect civilians in Gaza” and that “Israel’s attacks have focused on terrorist targets.”

These were just two in a series of similar bipartisan resolutions and public letters that went through Capitol Hill as part of a concerted campaign to discredit human rights groups, journalists, medical workers, UN officials, and any other eyewitness who discredited the Israeli government’s talking points.

Amnesty International certainly wasn’t alone in implicating Israeli forces in war crimes. Human Rights Watch cited evidence of Israel “blatantly violating the laws of war designed to spare civilians,” including by attacking heavily populated neighborhoods, bombing UN-run schools, and shooting at fleeing civilians. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem challenged its government’s claims that it had “no intention of harming civilians,” noting that “after more than three weeks of lethal bombardments by Israel in the Gaza Strip which have killed hundreds of civilians and wiped out dozens of families, this claim has become meaningless.” UN officialsalso charged Israeli forces with engaging in serious violations of international law following a series of attacks against UN schools where Palestinians were seeking refuge, prompting a bipartisan letter signed by 149 House members to the UN secretary general insisting that “Israel practices the greatest caution trying to prevent civilian casualties.”

These human rights groups and UN officials also strongly denounced Palestinian militants for firing rockets into civilian areas in Israel and for keeping armaments and soldiers in close proximity to civilian areas in Gaza, as well as for their refusal to accept several ceasefire proposals that could have ended the carnage earlier. Congress had no problem with that. By contrast, since Israel is considered an important strategic ally of the United States and a lucrative market for U.S. arms manufacturers, both major political parties made it a priority to lie and cover up for Israel’s war crimes, effectively insisting that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and the United Nations were simply wrong and that they—from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices in Washington, DC—somehow knew better.

The Human Shields Myth

The Israeli government has repeatedly claimed that the large number of civilians killed by its forces were a result of Hamas using “human shields,” defined under international law as “Utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas, or military forces immune from military operation.”

No eyewitnesses in the Gaza Strip during the war found any evidence of this, however. For example, in late July, New York Times reporters in Gaza noted, “There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack.” Likewise, Jeremy Bowen of the BBC that he saw “no evidence” for “Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.” According to reporters from The Independent and The Guardian, it was a “myth” that Hamas forced civilians to stay in their neighborhoods during Israeli attacks. Contrary to accusations by members of Congress, the Gazans who failed to heed Israeli warnings to evacuate did so because areas Israel had declared safe were being attacked as well.

Similarly, on July 25, Amnesty International noted that it had no evidence “that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to ‘shield’ specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks.” Preliminary investigations by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and other groups—while noting that Hamas had illegally engaged in hostilities in close proximity to populated areas and had stored weaponry in unoccupied homes and schools—found no evidence that Hamas had actually engaged in actions that met the widely accepted legal definition of using human shields.

Again, the response in Congress was swift: In less than a week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pushed through a Senate resolution claiming that “Hamas intentionally uses civilians as human shields” and condemning the United Nations Human Rights Council for not saying so. Similarly, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)—who serves, ironically, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee focusing on human rights—drafted a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, signed by 34 of her colleagues, insisting that “Hamas is using Palestinian men, women, and children as human shields to deter Israeli attacks.” When I contacted them, neither senator’s office was able to provide any evidence backing their claims, nor did they explain how they were able to somehow locate information that journalists, UN officials, and human rights monitors in Gaza were unable to find.

House resolution went one step further, claiming that Hamas had “encouraged Palestinians to gather on the roofs of their homes to act as human shields.” Without any regard for the evidence, the resolution—also adopted by unanimous consent—put the House on record calling on “the international community to recognize and condemn Hamas’ breaches of international law through the use of human shields.” A letter signed by 149 members even insisted, in reference to rockets targeting Israel (and without any supporting evidence), that Hamas “publicly declares it the duty of every Palestinian to put his or her life on the line to protect them.”

Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention makes it clear that even if one party to a conflict is in fact shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation “shall not release the [other] Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians.” In other words, even if Hamas actually had used civilians as shields, it would still have been a war crime for Israel to kill them. To use a domestic example: if bank robbers were holding tellers and customers hostage while shooting at the police, the police could not get away with killing the hostages along with the criminals. Indeed, the implications of such broad bipartisan support in Congress for such a concept are chilling, given that this rationale could be replicated by law enforcement officials here in the United States—particularly given the militarizationof local police forces in the name of fighting terrorism.

There is little question that these broadly supported bipartisan efforts were designed not just to defend Israel’s war on Gaza, but to discredit empirical investigations by human rights organizations overall. For example, one of the House resolutions passed this summer—in addition to making unsubstantiated claims about Hamas—also claimed that “throughout the summer of 2006 conflict between the State of Israel and the terrorist organization Hezbollah, Hezbollah forces utilized human shields in violation of international humanitarian law.”

In reality, empirical investigations during and following the conflict by several reputable investigative bodies found absolutely no evidence supporting this charge. A detailed study by Human Rights Watch published at the end of the fighting in Lebanon found “no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack.” Similarly, Amnesty International, in a well-documented report of its own, observed that “While the presence of Hizbullah’s fighters and short-range weapons within civilian areas is not contested, this in itself is not conclusive evidence of intent to use civilians as ‘human shields’, any more than the presence of Israeli soldiers in a kibbutz is in itself evidence of the same war crime.” In addition, Amnesty reported that while Hezbollah did store weapons and fire from civilian areas, it was only long after most of the civilian population had been evacuated. Subsequent reports for the U.S. Army War College and elsewhere also failed to find any evidence for the charge, which was nonetheless repeated by the House resolution years later.

In apparent anticipation of the U.S. bombing in Syria and Iraq, which would commence soon thereafter, the bipartisan House majority also went on record saying that Islamic State forces “typically use innocent civilians as human shields.” Following the logic from this and other resolutions supporting Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, this appears to have been a preemptive effort to exempt U.S. forces from any moral or legal culpability for the deaths of Syrian and Iraqi civilians caused by the imminent bombing of urban areas in those countries as well.

Attacks on the United Nations

Attacking the United Nations used to be the reserve of right-wing Republicans. Under the current congressional leadership, however, it has become a bipartisan affair, at least when concerns are raised about war crimes by a right-wing ally of the United States.

A particular target of the bipartisan attacks was UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who on July 20 condemned Israel’s devastating bombing and shelling of the Shijaiyah neighborhood in Gaza—which resulted in scores of civilian casualties, including journalists and health care workers—as “atrocious.” In response, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) drafted a strongly worded letter, signed by a bipartisan group of colleagues, insisting that the Shijaiyah massacre was a “measured response of a nation-state trying to defend its citizens” and that Israel was actually “undertaking extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas cynically uses other Palestinians as human shields.” The letter went on to claim that Ban’s expression of concern about civilian deaths “undercuts the legitimate right of nation-states to defend their citizens.”

Another UN official targeted by Capitol Hill was Navi Pillay, the highly regarded UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who criticized Israeli forces for their “disregard for international humanitarian law and for the right to life.” Senator Boxer and her allies accused Pillay and the United Nations of having a “clearly political and biased agenda,” despite the fact that Pillay had made similar accusations against Hamas for failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets. During her tenure at the United Nations, Pillay had also roundly condemned war crimes and other human rights abuses by North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and other countries, raising no objections from Congress. According to 35 senators, however, the objections raised by Pillay and other UN officials were not due to evidence that Israel had also committed war crimes, but to the UN’s supposed opposition to “The fact that Israel has effective defenses against the rockets aimed at its citizens.”

Another target of congressional wrath has been the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA), the relief and development agency that provides education, health care, social services, and other assistance for Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere in the Middle East. UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl has repeatedly condemned Hamas for a number of illegal activities, including storing weapons in two unoccupied UN schools, and called for an end to the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Israel. But when Krahenbuhl also noted that Israeli forces were acting “contrary to international humanitarian law” in attacking UN schools housing refugees, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) co-authored a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for an investigation into the allegedly “one-sided statements from UNRWA leadership that unjustly condemn Israel.” The six Israeli attacks on UNRWA schools—which killed 46 civilians, including 10 UN staff members—took place after UNRWA officials notified the Israelis of their exact locations and the absence of any Hamas military equipment or activity.

The primary target of Congress was the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which had been praised by many in Congress only months earlier for its efforts to expose war crimes by the Assad regime in Syria. The UNHRC found itself the target of bipartisan wrath when it voted to establish a commission of inquiry looking into “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in the hostilities in Gaza. The United States was the only one of the UNHRC’s 47 members to vote against establishing the commission.

While unfortunately only mentioning Israel by name in establishing the commission, the language of the resolution condemned “all violence against civilians wherever it occurred,” explicitly including the killing of Israeli civilians as a result of Hamas rocket fire. Commission chair William Schabas, a respected Canadian human rights lawyer, noted that the mandate is “clear that violations of international humanitarian law by all participants in the conflict would be covered.” Similarly, Pillay noted that “resolution S-21/1 of the Human Rights Council mandates the independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.” She added that there was “increasing evidence of incidents that may constitute war crimes on both sides.”

In response to the establishment of the commission, nearly 150 members of the House signed a July 25 letter to Pillay protesting the UNHRC’s decision “to unjustly probe alleged war crimes” by a nation simply “defending its citizens from rocket attacks and terror tunnels” while failing to condemn Hamas’ fictitious “continuing use of human shields.” Similarly, the July 31 Senate letter to Ban denounced the UNHRC for investigating possible Israeli war crimes, insisting that Israel has “worked assiduously to minimize civilian casualties” and claiming that the UN had allegedly “turned a blind eye to Hamas’ brazen and depraved use of civilians as human shields.”

The full chambers of both the House and Senate went on record condemning the UN investigation as well, with Democratic leader Reid, on the Senate floor, declaring he was “disgusted” that the UNHRC would adopt a resolution “accusing Israel of human rights violations in the ongoing Gaza conflict,” calling such accusations “anti-Israel.” The desperation with which both political parties in Congress have rushed to block a UN inquiry exemplifies their determination to minimize the availability of data that would expose how their previous resolutions and letters were essentially efforts to hide the truth.

Terror Tunnels and Other Lies

Other mistruths abound.

For example, Senate Resolution 526 justified Israel’s war in part on the alleged necessity “to destroy the matrix of tunnels Hamas uses to smuggle weapons and Hamas fighters into Israel to carry out terrorist attacks.”

However, most reports seem to indicate that while the tunnels—which were primarily used to smuggle civilian goods into the besieged enclave—have at times been used to attack Israeli soldiers, no Israeli civilians have been subjected to attacks through the tunnels. For example, an Israeli magazine’s investigation concluded that in all six Hamas attacks launched through the tunnels, “Hamas’ targets were IDF soldiers, not the communities.” Leading Israeli military correspondent Alon Ben-David explicitly said that “there is no doubt their goal is to hurt and capture soldiers—not civilians.” Similarly, a senior military source told Israel’s Army Radio that “all tunnels were aimed towards military targets and not Gaza-perimeter communities.”

None of the resolution cosponsors I contacted could cite any terrorist attacks carried out from those tunnels, yet none of these senators who supported the resolution have thus far distanced themselves from this claim.

Another misleading statement came in Senate Resolution 498, co-sponsored by 79 out of 100 members of the Senate, which accused Hamas’ secular Fatah rivals of sharing responsibility for attacks on Israel, despite the consensus that the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority desperately wanted to prevent another Gaza war. Working on the absurd assumption that the rival parties in the newly formed Palestinian coalition government were somehow responsible for each other’s actions, the resolution insisted that “the unity governing agreement implies Fatah’s and the Palestinian Authority’s support for Hamas’ belligerent actions against Israel” and called on “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas.”

In reality, the cabinet of the technocratic “unity” government does not have a single Hamas member, and the Palestinian Authority has maintained its commitment to past agreements, including non-belligerence and full recognition of Israel. As the New York Times observed, those “who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace” and would thus seek to undermine it. (Ironically, Congress has been willing to spend billions of dollars propping up the disparate coalition government of Iraq, which has included in its ruling coalition members affiliated with the radical Islamist Mahdi Army, notorious for acts of terrorism and attacks on U.S. personnel.)

Additional misleading information has concerned the alleged role of outside actors in supporting the Hamas attacks. For example, one of the House resolutions contains the bizarre claim that the Syrian government was providing “material support and training to Hamas” in its “rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.” Not only is there no evidence for this charge, but Hamas and the Syrian regime are now bitter rivals; Hamas has not even had a diplomatic office in the Syrian capital of Damascus since 2011. Indeed, the Palestinian Islamist group has denounced the Assad regime and thrown its support to armed rebel groups seeking its overthrow. Hamas is on much friendlier terms with other Middle Eastern governments—such as Turkey and Qatar—that are considered U.S. allies. Again, requests to congressional offices to back up this claim were unanswered.

The Broad Agenda

When it comes to Israel, both parties allow ideology to trump the facts. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans are determined to attack the United Nations and discredit human rights groups if they dare document war crimes by the right-wing Israeli government.

This is nothing new, however. Back in the 1980s, members of Congress (primarily Republicans, but some Democrats as well) also tried to undermine the credibility of the UN and human rights organizations when they provided evidence of war crimes by U.S. allies in the Central America. In recent decades, leaders in both parties have also covered for atrocities committed by allied governments in Indonesia, Turkey, Colombia, Rwanda, and beyond.

What’s different today is that liberal and progressive groups that used to expose “Death Squad Democrats” along with Republicans who defended such governments are now giving unconditional support to Democratic defenders of Israel’s war crimes.

Barbara Boxer, perhaps the most outspoken Democratic supporter of Israel’s actions in the Senate, has been named a “progressive hero” by such groups as MoveOn and Democracy for America. Peace Action has endorsed Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, whom—despite his co-sponsorship of Senate Resolution 498—they label as a “peace leader.” Backers of these and other resolutions covering up for Israeli war crimes—including Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Al Franken (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI)—have been labeled “bold progressives” by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is raising money for their re-election. Meanwhile, MoveOn has endorsed Sens. Mark Udall (D-CO), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and other unconditional supporters of Israel’s actions.

While most Americans are still broadly supportive of Israel, only a minority agree that Hamas was mostly responsible for this summer’s violence. Even in the early weeks of the conflict, when sympathy for Israel was strongest, only 29 percent of Democrats surveyed agreed Hamas was mostly at fault, a demonstration that the vast majority of Democrats in Congress—who have gone on record insisting that Hamas was solely responsible—are at odds with their constituents. This gap is particularly apparent among the core Democratic constituencies, such as liberals, minorities, women, and young people, whose enthusiasm is needed to get the vote out in November. Already, there are signs that the strident support by most congressional Democrats in defense of Israeli war crimes has alienated some of the party’s base—particularly among young people, who tend to trust human rights groups over politicians.

Still, it’s important to note that not everyone in Congress supported these right-wing initiatives. Scores of House and Senate members, particularly progressive Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans, refused to do so. Though four of these resolutions were adopted by a parliamentary procedure known as “unanimous consent,” it does not mean they had unanimous support. While technically anyone present could block it by demanding a roll call vote, such resolutions are often pushed through without advance warning when hardly anyone is on the floor. Indeed, the very fact that the party leadership went to some lengths to avoid virtually any roll call votes on the war may have stemmed from an awareness that a growing number of members from both sides of the aisle are reluctant to go on record supporting war crimes.

The bottom line, though, is that there is currently a large majority of both parties willing to undermine and discredit UN agencies and reputable human rights groups in their investigations of war crimes and suppress the reporting and enforcement of international humanitarian law.

The bipartisan implication that, in the name of fighting terrorism, a government can legitimately engage in the massive bombardment of urban areas where 70 percent of the casualties are civilians goes well beyond Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately, the willingness of supposedly “progressive” activist groups to provide unconditional support for the re-election campaigns of those pushing this kind of agenda shows these politicians that they have little to lose when they do.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, GazaComments Off on Gaza and the Bi-Partisan War on Human Rights: Terror Tunnels and Other Lies

Yucca Mountain Radioactive Waste Dump Not Dead Yet: Zombie Alert



Just in time for Halloween, a real zombie.

Although the Obama Administration cancelled the Yucca Mountain project for disposing high-level radioactive waste (uranium fuel rods) in 2009, the scheme stays amazingly undead.

Last Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the third in a series of reports in which it declared that the deep, engineered cavern inside the mountain — 90 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada — meet the commission’s ever-changing (Eric Pianin, “Rules changed for Nevada nuclear waste site plan,” Wash. Post, Dec. 12, 2001) requirements.

Still pending are two more reports and a final NRC ruling on the site’s suitability. Actual operation of the dump also requires approval from the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Transportation and Energy (DOE). Of course, lawsuits by the State of Nevada and dozens of environmental groups would follow a decision to start burying waste.

In spite of 70 years of head scratching, science and industry have not found a cheap way to “dispose” of high-level radioactive waste. In 2008, the plan was estimated to cost at least $90 billion.

The DOE’s 1999 draft environmental impact statement for Yucca, says that leaving the wastes at 72 US reactor sites in 39 states is just as safe as moving it thousands of miles toward Yucca Mt. — as long as it is repackaged every 100 years. There is no need to rush the opening of a dump site, except that reactor operators want to free-up storage space for freshly produced waste so they can keep running old reactors.

Yucca Mt. Project Cancelled for Hundreds of Reasons

While Republicans from nuclear-heavy states are pushing to revive the Yucca project and hoping for a November take-over of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., broadcasts the science-based disqualifiers that prove Yucca unsuitable. Among them are fast flowing water inside the mountain, earthquake faults, lava flows, and the risk of exploding waste canisters — like the one that burst and wrecked the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico last February. Joonhong Ahn, an engineering professor at the U. of Calif., Berkeley, said in an e-mail to, “… there are still numerous hurdles ahead.”

Indeed, the Government Accounting Office concluded in 2001 that 293 unresolved scientific and engineering problems hinder the plan. (“GAO Challenges Plans for Storage of Nuclear Waste,” Wash. Post, Nov. 30, 2001) Responding to the new report, Nevada state officials made the same point. “The NRC licensing board has admitted more than 200 Nevada contentions challenging the safety and environmental impacts of the proposed repository, and Nevada is prepared to aggressively prosecute these challenges. It is not apparent that the [NRC report] specifically addressed these and other safety contentions,” said Bob Halstead, Executive Director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, in a prepared statement.

“For the NRC staff to publically release just this one volume of the 5-volume Safety Evaluation Report outside the proper context of an ongoing licensing proceeding, and in the absence of a complete SER, is unprecedented,” Halsted said. “It creates a false impression that the safety review has been completed. It is difficult to see what reason there could be for such a release except to provide political support and encouragement for Yucca Mountain supporters in Congress and elsewhere.”

This false impression was spectacularly exaggerated by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Mich., who told the New York Times Oct. 17, “[N]uclear waste stored under that mountain … will be safe and secure for at least a million years.”

Nuclear Waste Production is Kept Alive by Yucca Supporters

Yucca Mt. wouldn’t begin to address the country’s vast nuclear waste problem. There already are about 70,000 tons of it stored at reactor sites. This stockpile would fill Yucca to capacity and force the start of a search for Dump No. 2. Waste that must be containerized for a million years is the “animated corpse” that will forever haunt our clean, cheap too-safe-to-meter nuclear power complex.

The Yucca Mt. “mobile Chernobyl” idea — and alternate plans for regional “interim” dumps — also explodes the risks of radiation accidents contaminating waste handlers and the people along transport routes. The DOE’s planning maps show the waste passing through 40 states, 40 Indian Reservations and 100 major cities. In January 2008, former state transportation analyst Fred Dilger caused alarm when he told a Hillary Clinton campaign rally that if waste trains go through Las Vegas, “All of the casinos on the west side of Las Vegas Boulevard would be bathed in gamma radiation.”

The shipments, using as-yet-untested waste casks, would expose between 138 and 161 million Americans to the risks of dangerous levels of radiation and to the consequences of inevitable truck, train and barge accidents. Even the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement predicts between 150 and 250 rail or truck crashes over the plan’s 25-year span — about 10 crashes every year for 25 years.

That’s an undying prospect scary enough for a million Halloweens.

Posted in USAComments Off on Yucca Mountain Radioactive Waste Dump Not Dead Yet: Zombie Alert

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