November 24, 2012

Maine Voices: Israel's victim image belies its drive to control, abuse Palestinians

Israel has been strangling the Palestinian economy, killing Palestinians and undermining peace efforts.

By ROBERT SCHAIBLE

BUXTON - Once again, horrific violence has savaged Gaza, stunning the watching world. The dominant story line reads, "Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorists committed to destroying it by launching thousands of rockets over the past decade."

Two problems plague this story: It presents Israel as a victim wanting only to live in peace, and it presents Hamas as the implacable enemy driven maniacally by a determination to destroy Israel.

Israel's conflict with Palestinians and other Arabs starts in 1948 at Israel's birth, when, using terrorism and massacres, Israel forced 750,000 Palestinians from their rightful homes, including many in the Negev desert, who fled into Gaza, where they've lived ever since under Israel's abusive control.

Following Israel's invasion of the West Bank in 1967 (the start of another huge land grab), Defense Minister Moshe Dyan told Palestinians, "You shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave."

Since its birth, according to Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, Israel has repeatedly ignored Arab peace efforts. Even arch-Zionist Israeli historian Benny Morris concedes, "For decades (Israel's leaders) lied to the Israeli public about Arab interest in a deal," presenting Arabs "as a recalcitrant collection of warmongers, hell-bent on Israel's destruction."

Israel's misleading propaganda has continued in both of its recent assaults on Gaza.

In 2008, Israel broke a cease-fire faithfully honored by Hamas, provoking a violent response that gave Israel its excuse for an overkill assault.

This time, Israel broke two fragile truces. The pivotal violation came Nov. 14, when Israel assassinated Ahmad Jabari, Hamas's military head, the man most able to secure a lasting truce. Indeed, according to Israeli negotiator Gershon Baskin, Jabari was killed while considering, with fellow Hamas leaders, the latest Egyptian-mediated draft of a new agreement for "an extended cease-fire with Israel." And Israel knew this. Jabari's assassination sent hundreds of rockets northward, giving Israel its excuse to re-destroy Gaza.

Contrary to Israel's propaganda, Hamas, and the Palestinians generally, have not been driven by an irrational hatred of Jews. Instead, they've responded as any people would if outsiders came to their homeland intent on expelling them.

Archival documents reveal that Zionists always intended to displace Palestinians from their homeland of some 1,300 years. Theodor Herzl, Zionism's father, wrote in 1895 of "spiriting the penniless Arabs across the border," and David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, wrote in 1938 that once Jews got even a portion of Palestine, their "outstanding army" would ensure that "we won't be constrained from settling the rest of the country."

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," along with numerous works by others, is filled with evidence of this intent.

We know, for example, from Prime Minister Moshe Sharett's diary from the 1950s, that Israel's leaders wanted "a new war with the Arabs so that we may finally ... get our space. Ben Gurion himself said it would be worthwhile to pay an Arab a million pounds to start a war."

Israel as victim is also belied by its siege that has for years deprived Palestinians of medical supplies, food and material to rebuild homes, businesses and basic infrastructure (power and water-treatment plants).

And Israel strangles the economy by restricting most exports and banning fishermen beyond a three-mile limit, periodically firing even at boats within the limit or humiliatingly forcing fishermen to strip and swim to Israeli naval vessels.

Moreover, as the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories documents, Israel has killed many times more Palestinians than Palestinians have killed Israelis, and most Israeli deaths have occurred on occupied Palestinian land -- where, according to international law, Palestinians have every right to repel their occupiers.

Yes, Israel exited Gaza in 2005, but mainly because protecting 9,000 settlers among 1.2 million Palestinians had become far too costly; and, as Dov Weisglass, aide to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, gloated, it "effectively froze talks about a Palestinian state."

The day after removal, Israel seized more West Bank land and announced plans to build twice as many housing units as were removed from Gaza. Yes, rockets were fired, ineffectively, into southern Israel, but only in response to Israel's targeted assassinations the day after the settlers' removal.

Is Hamas, then, defined solely by its charter calling for Israel's destruction? Clearly not. Neither is Israel the innocent victim. Once our own leaders understand this and stop enabling Israel, chances for a just peace will surely improve.

Robert Schaible of Buxton, chair of Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights, has closely followed the Israeli-Palestininian conflict for the last 10 years and has made two trips to the region since 2010.

 

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