Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 24 May 2009

Saving Israel

University of Chicago political science professor, John J. Mearsheimer, co-author of the infamous dog wagging hypothesis, has an article in the latest American Conservative [subscription only, apparently; hat tip to the person who sent it, and shall therefore remain unnamed], ‘Saving Israel From Itself: The two-state solution is the only way to guarantee the Jewish state’s long-term security—and our own’.

According to Mearsheimer,

President Obama would like to change the situation because he understands that a two-state solution would be good for America, good for Israel, and good for the Palestinians. But Netanyahu seems determined to thwart his efforts.

Citing the July 2008 J Street poll, he cannily remarks that even though 78% of American Jews say they support the two state ‘solution’, there was also ‘substantial opposition to dismantling Israeli settlements and making East Jerusalem part of Palestine’ (41% and 56% opposed, respectively). For Mearsheimer, like most who profess support for partition of Palestine, this seems like a contradiction.

Furthermore, ‘a February 2009 poll found that 59 percent of Israelis opposed a Palestinian state; only 32 percent supported it’. If he is referring to the OneVoice poll, it actually found that 32% said a two state ‘solution’ was ‘Essential’; 13% ‘Desirable’; 16% ‘Acceptable’; 17% ‘Tolerable’; and 21% ‘Unacceptable’. [I’m analysing this survey in more depth – watch this space!]

In any case, assuming he is right about what Obama would like, the Israeli PM, Israeli Jews, American Jews, and of course The Lobby, will exert themselves to thwart him.

Obama’s only hope—and it is a slim one—is that a substantial part of the American Jewish community will come to understand Olmert’s warning that Israel will become like white-ruled South Africa if there is no two-state solution

Apparently for a doyen of the curiously named Realist School of international relations, that constitutes a strategy. Throughout the article, he displays a similar level of political nous and intellectual rigour.

Clinging to the same old Israel Lobby trope – that the US government uncritically supports everything Israel does even when it contradicts American interests, makes little sense for Washington to back Israel no matter what it does because sometimes there will be circumstances in which the two countries’ interests clash. For example, it probably made good sense for Israel to acquire nuclear weapons in the 1960s, since it lives in a dangerous neighborhood and a nuclear arsenal is the ultimate deterrent. But a nuclear-armed Israel was not in the American national interest. Both countries would be much better off if the Obama administration treated Israel the way it treats other democracies...

It should go without saying, but apparently doesn’t, that it makes no sense to speak of ‘countries’ interests’. The commonsensical notion of ‘national interest’ camouflages the radical contradiction between the interests of the ordinary people who make everything and do everything and our rulers, who own everything and control everything. Higher wages, shorter hours, longer holidays, stricter occupational health and safety regulation and enforcement, and so forth, for instance, are transparently in the interests of the vast majority of people, but they are not in the national interest because they may impact profits. Hurling trillions at insolvent banks, on the other hand, benefits few, but to all appearances is in the national interest, or at least the democratically elected representatives of all stripes in one country after another seem to think so. ‘Examples’, as Nikolai Trubetzkoy always used to say, ‘can easily be multiplied’. I’d like to give Mearsheimer the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s articulated a viable definition in his academic writings, but if truth be told, I suspect that he writes of ‘countries’ interests’ in precisely this sense without considering what it means terribly deeply.

As for the example he chooses, the loose thinking remains in evidence. It may or may not have made good sense for Israel to develop nuclear weapons, but if it did, it’s not because it was a deterrent against her near neighbours. Israel could never nuke Lebanon or any populous area of Syria, Jordan, or Egypt without irradiating its own territory. Nor is it obvious that a nuclear armed client state perched on the edge of ‘one of the greatest material prizes in world history’ is not in the US’s national interest, as defined. Now he doesn’t explicitly say that ‘both countries would be much better off if’ the US had prevented Israel from developing nukes, but he does suggest it, which makes you wonder why Israel would be better off if it had eschewed them if it ‘made good sense’.

The United States is in deep trouble in the Middle East and has a serious terrorism problem in good part because of its unconditional support for Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories. Backing Israel at almost every turn also makes it harder for Washington to get open support from moderate Arab states, even when dealing with common threats like Iran.

The US has a serious terrorism problem in much the same sense as it has a serious bee sting problem or a serious lightning strike problem, at least in terms of threats to American lives. It has much more serious problems with smoking, obesity, traffic accidents, and of course work related injury and disease. From the perspective of the national interest, on the other hand, terrorism is not a problem at all. It’s an opportunity. Anyway, it’s not just US support for Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza that inspires people to want to kill Americans. It’s at least as much to do with the support for a colonial Jewish ethnocratic Sparta in their midst, for the continuing dispossession of the refugees, and for the occupation of Syrian and Lebanese territory. Lest we forget, terrorism – the terrorism that Mearsheimer is almost certainly talking about – arises from exactly the same nationalist assumptions that underlie his whole analysis. That is, the belief that ordinary Americans are responsible for and can effect change in US foreign policy. As for the moderate Arab states, it’s precisely because of their support for the US that they have earned the epithet ‘moderate’, unless, that is, he’s aware of some political or economic moderation in the Saudi monarchy or the Mubarrak dictatorship that he’s not telling us about. Iran does seem to be a threat to US hegemony in the region, due largely to the American adventure in delivering democracy to Iraq, but it’s not obvious that the oppressed living there, or even their oppressors, would be worse off if Iran really did manage to make things more difficult for the US in its crusade to control energy supplies to its economic rivals.

To get to the point, thinking strictly inside the box, Mearsheimer reckons,

Given present circumstances, there are three possible alternatives if the Palestinians do not get their own state, all of which involve creating a “greater Israel”—an Israel that effectively controls the West Bank and Gaza, or all of what was once called Mandatory Palestine.

In the first scenario, greater Israel would become a democratic binational state in which Palestinians and Jews enjoy equal political rights. This solution has been suggested by a handful of Jews and a growing number of Palestinians. It means abandoning the original Zionist vision of a Jewish state, however, since the Palestinians would eventually outnumber the Jews in greater Israel...

Like the sainted Jimmy Carter, godfather of the Mujahideen, ‘the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers’, the only objection to the first, binational state, scenario is that it would be democratic and undermine the racist ‘original Zionist vision of a Jewish state’. As he writes later in the piece, ‘bringing democracy to greater Israel would also mean the end of the Jewish state because the more numerous Palestinians would dominate its politics’. He goes on to explain that the vast majority of Israeli Jews and their American supporters have no interest in such an outcome, but not why it is not in their interests. There is some dispute about when the Palestinians in the area of Mandatory Palestine will outnumber the Jews, if they haven’t already, but it is imminent, not something that will happen eventually. And that’s on the assumption that none of the millions of refugees would return to such a state, when one of the principal justifications for a one state solution is to allow just such an outcome. But the refugees obviously don’t count for squat in anybody’s calculation of the national interest.

Second, Israel could expel most of the Palestinians from greater Israel, thereby preserving its Jewish character through an overt act of ethnic cleansing...

Nor does he elucidate how this second, transfer, scenario disadvantages the Israeli or US national interest, except that it ‘would do enormous damage to Israel’s moral fabric, its relationship with Jews in the diaspora, and its international standing’. To speak of a county’s ‘moral fabric’ makes, if possible, even less sense than its national interest. But even if it were intelligible, it’s hard to fathom how the moral fabric of a country founded on the basis of racism, colonialism, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing, not to mention all the atrocities committed since 1948, could do much further damage to its threadbare moral fabric.

Nor indeed to its international standing. Mearsheimer himself actually mentions that ‘only 47 percent of Americans think that Israel’s influence in the world is “mainly positive”’. If, as seems probable, he is referring to the 2005-06 BBC World Service poll on this issue, it was actually only 41% of Americans, and the average among the 27 countries surveyed was 17%, the lowest of any country they asked about, which I might just mention, included Iran, North Korea, and even the US. Overall 56% said that Israel’s influence was mainly negative.

I’ve given up thinking of non Israeli Jews as ‘the diaspora’, as it buys into the myth that we all originated from Palestine and were dispersed by Roman imperialism. Anyway, the American Jewish community was not scandalised by the mass ethnic cleansing of 1948 and was delighted with that of 1967. Mearsheimer is characteristically silent on what leads him to believe that it would be any different this time.

The final and most likely alternative is some form of apartheid, whereby Israel increases its control over the Occupied Territories, but allows the Palestinians limited autonomy in a set of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves.

I agree that this is the most likely scenario. But I don’t agree that ‘some form of apartheid’ is a departure from the status quo. I surmise that he shares the common assumption that apartheid is not apartheid unless the minority is oppressing the majority. But if the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid is any guide, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as within the Green Line, comfortably meets the definition in Article 2 of the Convention,

For the purpose of the present Convention, the term "the crime of apartheid", which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them:

(a) Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person:

(i) By murder of members of a racial group or groups;

(ii) By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

(iii) By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;

(b) Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;

(c) Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;

d) Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;

(e) Exploitation of the labour of the members of a racial group or groups, in particular by submitting them to forced labour;

(f) Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.

Mearsheimer asks, ‘would it not be in Israel’s best interests for President Obama to put significant pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a two-state solution?’ As Ali Abunimah wrote on Thursday,

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Obama applies unprecedented pressure to force Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians. What would such a deal look like? The outlines were suggested in the recent report sent to Obama by a group of US elder statesmen headed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. The document, warning that there was only a "six to twelve month window" before all chances for peace evaporated, called on the US to forcefully advocate the creation of a Palestinian state. But this would be a demilitarized truncated state "based on" the 1967 borders. Israel would annex large West Bank settlements and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees. This "state" would be occupied indefinitely by a NATO-led "multinational force," which the Scowcroft group suggests could also include Israeli soldiers (see "A last chance for a two-state Israel-Palestine agreement, 2009).

Of course the Scowcroft proposal does not necessarily represent Obama administration thinking, but it expresses the pervasive peace process industry consensus that views such an outcome as "reasonable," "pragmatic" and all but inevitable, and it accords with Obama's own statements opposing the right of return and supporting Israel's demand to to be recognized as a "Jewish state."

In other words, what the vast majority of Palestinians would view as a horrifying plan to legitimize their dispossession, grant Israel a perpetual license to be racist, and turn the apartheid regime set up by the Oslo accords into a permanent prison, is now viewed as bold and far-reaching thinking that threatens to rupture American-Israeli bonds.

Over the last few days the press have reported that Obama has cobbled together his own peace plan, in collaboration with Jordan’s King Abdullah, that he will propose in a speech in Cairo next month.

The hugely ambitious plan aims for an “independent, democratic and contiguous Palestinian state,” which would not have a military of its own and would be forbidden from entering into military pacts with other nations “for Israel’s security.”

The Palestinan state would have East Jerusalem as its capital, and the US would arrange for Israel and the Palestinians to swap territory to settle on the borders. Jerusalem’s old city would be an international zone. Palestinians would also be required to give up any claim to a right of return...

The real problem with this third alternative to the two state ‘solution’ is that it is not an alternative. It is the two state ‘solution’.

Right to refuse

During talks with US President Obama last week, the Jerusalem Post reports, Israeli PM Netanyahu

spoke of the possibility of a "two peoples to live side by side in security and peace" if the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state and agreed to an end of conflict.

In an interview with the Globe and mail’s Patrick Martin, ‘Daniel Gordis, author of Saving Israel: How the Jewish State Can Win a War That May Never End , and senior vice-president of the Shalem Centre, an influential right-wing think tank in Jerusalem’ justified the demand for recognising Israel as a Jewish state, averring, ‘The concept has always been part of our history’

[Daniel Gordis, Shalem Center photo]

Ever solicitous of the Palestinians’ best interests,

...It wouldn't be exclusive...Minorities would be free to practise their own religion and culture...But if there was to be a successful Palestinian state right next door, I believe Arab Israelis would be more comfortable moving to a state of their own kind.

Above all,

If the Jewish state is not central to our status, then we have no real right to refuse the return of [Palestinian] refugees.

So there you have it. Without recognition of Israel as a racist state, the ‘right to refuse’ would be wholly artificial.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Ortiga cultivo

Writing under the headline, ‘1 in 7 Freed Detainees Rejoins Fight, Report Finds’, Elizabeth Bumiller acknowledges that

The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided.

That was in the eighteenth paragraph. The article begins,

An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials. [my emphasis]

And continues,

...the Pentagon believes that 74 prisoners released from Guantánamo have returned to terrorism or militant activity, making for a recidivism rate of nearly 14 percent... report says are again engaged in terrorism...

The assumption is that all of those incarcerated at the US ‘coaling station’ at Guantánamo Bay were involved in terrorism in the first place, otherwise they could not return to it. In reality, none of those released was ever convicted of anything, and not for want of trying – unconstitutional ‘military tribunals’, ‘evidence’ extracted under duress, you name it. If there were any convincing evidence that they had had anything at all to do with terrorist activities, even as broadly defined as the W regime liked, they would still be in Cuba.

Among all the 74 recidivists, it transpires than only two of the 29 ‘independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release’ are actually accused of anything in particular.

They are Said Ali al-Shihri, a leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch suspected in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Sana, Yemen’s capital, last year, and Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, an Afghan Taliban commander, who also goes by the name Mullah Abdullah Zakir. [my emphasis]

No doubt a Taliban commander must be some kind of terrorist. But what of al-Shihri, a suspected terrorist effectively acquitted of terrorism, now suspected of further terrorism, and that makes him a recidivist?

If any of these guys really does take up arms against the occupier, it’s less likely that they do so by way of returning to old habits than by way of revenge for their treatment at Guantánamo.


Yesterday’s Ha’aretz reported that the Edinburgh International Film Festival has decided to refund a £300 grant from the Israeli Embassy that was to have funded travel to the festival for Tali Shalom Ezer, director of the 57 minute film Surrogate.

According to the EIFF site,

In light of recent press reports and in the interests of clarity, the EIFF confirm the following:

The programmed film screenings of SURROGATE are unchanged. The filmmaker’s attendance at the EIFF is still anticipated and will be funded by the Film Festival from their own budget.

This is a tremendous victory for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee and all those who demanded EIFF return the blood money to whence it came. Ha’aretz credits British filmmaker Ken Loach with swaying the organisers and it wouldn’t surprise me if his intervention carried considerable weight.

And yet it’s disappointing that the EIFF has not withdrawn their invitation to Ezer and still intends to screen her film, not once, but twice, as well as two other Israeli shorts, Olga Sitovotsky’s Mexico, and Michal and Uri Kranot’s The heart of Amos Klein.

If we’re serious about getting a cultural boycott to bite, we’re going to have to do better next year.

Elephant of demography

Speaking at a special Jerusalem Day session of the Knesset, Israel Kimchi, the director general of the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies reported the alarming news that ‘Jerusalem will lose Jewish majority by 2035’.

I haven’t managed to find the Institute’s website or any link to anything that would explain the projection methodology Kimchi deployed. But that’s beside the point.

It’s imaginable, if only just, that you’d find a comparable headline in some other country. But it may only be in Israel where the purportedly left wing newspaper of record could report on the hysteria over the demographic time bomb without mentioning the transparent racism that underlies it and without attracting a single comment drawing attention to the elephant.

In yet another triumph of the hasbarists’ art, Israel claims to be at one and the same time Jewish and democratic and has persuaded The International Community that Zionism is not ‘a form of racism and racial discrimination’.


Roland Rance has provided this link, commenting,

Interestingly, although Haaretz quotes Kimchi as saying "in my personal opinion, the city is united", in a 2007Yediot article reprinted on the JIIS website he writes: "There's no doubt that the city is physically unified, but the question is whether it's socially unified, and there's a big question mark on that"

...But are you sure that Haaretz is quoting Kimchi accurately? His other articles on the JIIS site seem more in line with the Yediot piece I noted, so perhaps Haaretz is simplifying or distorting a more equivocal remark.

On the front lines

In a wonderful article on ZNet the other day, Muhammad Ali Khalidi, cites ‘the late Israeli philosopher Ruth Manor’ who wrote of the IDF’s ethics doctrine, ‘the Code specifies that the solider should spare human life except when it conflicts with the success of the military mission at hand...’

Khalidi elucidates,

In its own words, the ethical code states that the military serviceman "will place himself or others at risk solely to the extent required to carry out his mission." This wording clearly undermines the claim that the preservation of human life is a supreme value in the military code.

Taken in isolation, this is a possible interpretation. But in the context of the following paragraph – the one headed ‘Purity of arms’, which I’ve had occasion to quote before – it strikes me as implausible.

Human Life - The IDF servicemen and women will act in a judicious and safe manner in all they do, out of recognition of the supreme value of human life. During combat they will endanger themselves and their comrades only to the extent required to carry out their mission.

Purity of Arms - The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.

I think it’s clear that the intent is to enjoin soldiers to minimise risk to themselves within the parameters of the mission, but to eschew violence against noncombatants altogether. Of course, that’s what armies always say they do, even as they drop bombs on urban targets.

An interesting point, however, that Khalidi doesn’t mention is that the ‘Purity of arms’ clause condones using ‘their weapons and force to harm human beings who are’ prisoners of war. Now Article 3 (1) of the ‘Third Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War’ is unequivocal on this matter,

Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

So it turns out that even in articulating the principle of ‘purity of arms’, Israel is content to thumb its nose at the alleged norms of warfare. It wouldn’t be surprising if the hasbara brigade were to exert their casuistical skills to determine that those they capture are not technically within the meaning of the Convention’s definition of prisoners of war. But that would be irrelevant, as the doctrine countenances violence against PoWs, however defined.

The main issue Khalidi discusses, however, is

a follow-up document, which was adopted recently by the Israeli army, goes well beyond this--not only does it subordinate the value of human life to the success of the military mission, it also subordinates the value of the enemy's civilian lives to those of one's own combatants.

Asa Kasher, professor of philosophy and linguistics at Tel Aviv University, and Major General Amos Yadlin, currently head of Israeli military intelligence, have developed a new approach in their 2005 article ‘Military Ethics of Fighting Terror: An Israeli Perspective’ (Journal of Military Ethics 4 (2005), pp.3-32). [Kasher and Yadlin have another couple of articles apparently on related topics: ‘Assassination and Preventive Killing’ (SAIS Review - Volume 25, Number 1, Winter-Spring 2005, pp. 41-57) and ‘Military Ethics of Fighting Terror: Principles’ (Philosophia 34 (1) (2006)). The first two of these articles are apparently only available by subscription – nudge, nudge; wink, wink.]

Kasher [TAU photo]

Among the innovations Khalidi discusses is that ‘...we define ‘act of terror' in a way that makes it possible for the victims of such an act to be combatants, even exclusively so’. For reference, here is the definition of an ‘act of terror’ articulated in the 2006 article:

an act, carried out by individuals or organizations, not on the behalf of any state, for the purpose of killing or otherwise injuring persons, insofar as they are members of a particular population, in order to instill fear among the members of that population (‘terrorize’ them), so as to cause them to change the nature of the related regime or of the related government or of policies implemented by related institutions, whether for political or ideological (including religious) reasons.

Another is that ‘They enunciate a moral doctrine that attaches greater value to the lives of their own combatants than the lives of non-combatants’. Dismissing ‘many centuries of theorizing about jus in bello (laws concerning acceptable conduct in war)’, Kasher and Yadlin write,

We reject such conceptions, because we consider them to be immoral. A combatant is a citizen in uniform. In Israel, quite often he is a conscript or on reserve duty. His blood is as red and thick as that of citizens who are not in uniform. His life is as precious as the life of anyone else.

In a February interview with Ha’aretz’s Amos Harel that Khalidi cites, Kasher says,

Sending a soldier there to fight terrorists is justified, but why should I force him to endanger himself much more than that so that the terrorist's neighbor isn't killed? I don't have an answer for that. From the standpoint of the state of Israel, the neighbor is much less important. I owe the soldier more. If it's between the soldier and the terrorist's neighbor, the priority is the soldier. Any country would do the same.

In other words, in the view of these philosophers, an individual or a group resisting occupation is not justified in targeting occupation soldiers, but a state is justified in targeting unarmed civilians just because they live in proximity to ‘suspected terrorists’. Kasher and Yadlin’s 2006 article in Philosophia is much more nuanced than this, resting on a cascade of definitions and an elaborate, but unelaborated, risk analysis mechanism. But I think Khalidi captures the gist of it fairly.

Yadlin [Wikipedia]
Khalidi recalls ‘the moral basis of the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in wartime’, pointing out that combatants ‘are armed, prepared for combat, and capable of defending themselves militarily’and ‘have intentionally embarked on acts of violence and are actively seeking to endanger others’. It may be worth emphasising the other side of the coin – we civilians do not threaten combatants and are defenceless against them, even if we deliberately act as ‘human shields’.

But according to Kasher,

The concept of proportionality has also changed. There is no logic in comparing the number of civilians and armed fighters killed on the Palestinian side, or comparing the number of Israelis killed by Qassam rockets to the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza.

What I find particularly frightening is that, echoing the sentiments of Bush’s anonymous ‘senior advisor’ on ‘the reality-based community’, Kasher told Harel,

The Geneva Conventions...were appropriate for classic warfare, where one army fought another. But in our time the whole business of rules of fair combat has been pushed aside. There are international efforts underway to revise the rules to accommodate the war against terrorism...We in Israel are in a key position in the development of law in this field because we are on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. This is gradually being recognized both in the Israeli legal system and abroad...What we are doing is becoming the law...

Sunday 17 May 2009

Pity the nation

Bylining AP, Ha’aretz reported last week ‘that the Israel Defense Forces has handed over data on cluster bombs fired during the 2006 war’, confirming their moral purity. After all, legend has it that the US still hasn’t provided maps of their landmines in Vietnam more than three decades down the track.

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Cluster bomblets gathered to be destroyed by de-miners in Tyre, southern Lebanon. Israel fired over four million bomblets during last year's war, according to the UN [IRIN caption]

And in case you were entertaining any lingering doubts, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported in December 2007 that no less an authority than

Israel's military advocate-general, Brig-Gen Avihai Mendelblit, has said the military's use of cluster munitions during the conflict in Lebanon in 2006 was in accordance with international humanitarian law. Human rights groups and the UN had previously condemned the use of the bombs.

The " majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas", but in some cases the military hit residential areas, responding to rocket attacks by Hezbollah. In Maroon a-Ras, the bombs were used to "allow the evacuation" of Israeli soldiers.


In August 2006, Jan Egeland, then the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, had harshly condemned Israel's use of cluster bombs, calling it "shocking and completely immoral."

"Ninety percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution," he said, adding that populated areas, such as homes and agricultural land were now covered with unexploded bomblets.

Last Thursday, IRIN reported

Coming nearly three years after the war ended, despite repeated requests by the UN, Lebanon and other governments, the move was met with little cheer by the Lebanese authorities.

Since the end of hostilities in 2006, 40 Lebanese have been killed by unexploded ordnance and a further 300 injured, many left permanently disabled.

Photo: Dina Debbas/IRIN

Marwa, an 11-year-old from Aita Shaab in southern Lebanon, receiving treatment last year for injuries stemming from a cluster bomblet that exploded while she was playing with it [IRIN caption]

Diplomatically neglecting to mention the three years between the requests and the delivery of the maps, the Ha’aretz article reports, ‘The move follows UN and Lebanese calls for information that could help eliminate the threat...’

Unfortunately, it takes more than maps to demine Southern Lebanon.

Deminers in south Lebanon clearing hundreds of thousands of unexploded Israeli-dropped cluster bomb sub-munitions will lose two thirds of their teams this year unless a drastic funding shortfall is addressed.

...with 20 demining teams working in Lebanon clearing 800 square metres per working day, clearing the remaining 12 million square metres of affected land will take over eight years to finish...

Having started the year with 26 demining teams, plus five from UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, the number of teams will fall to just nine plus UNIFIL by the end of the year, according to figures from the Lebanon Mine Action Centre (LMAC), which has recently been absorbed into the Lebanese Army's demining division.

As always, it goes without saying that it’s The International Community that is left to pick up the tab for cleaning Israel’s mess.

So it’s beginning to look like it will be more than another eight years before it’s safe for kids to play and farmers to cultivate their land, assuming, that is, that Israel doesn’t drop any more over that period. We know that the US made an emergency shipment to Israel as the war on Lebanon had depleted their existing supply.

In February 2007, Dianne Feinstein introduced her Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, which banned sales of cluster munitions with a failure rate exceeding 1%. But never mind, at least it’s not the reported 40% of the older models. This past February, Ms Feinstein reintroduced her bill, which now languishes in committee. So there’s no major impediment to Israel importing more vintage bombs, and even if it ever passes, with up to 2000 ‘submunitions’ in each cluster bomb, we’d still end up with 20 little landmines scattered around each bomb site.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Higher and deeper

In a survey 'American Public Opinion on West Bank Settlements' conducted between 25 March and 6 April poll found 'that three-quarters of Americans think that Israel should not build settlements in the Palestinian territories'.

Of course it's not as simple as that. In reality, they asked this question twice:

Do you think it is all right for Israel to build settlements in the Palestinian Territories, or do you think they should not?

First they divided the sample into four groups, presumably of equal size and equally representative of the population sampled. They asked groups A and B – half the sample - the question prefaced with the wording:

A highly controversial issue is that Israel has built villages for Israelis, called settlements, in the Palestinian territories in the West Bank.

If nothing else, the results of the survey suggest that the issue isn't as controversial as all that, and I think it's a trifle disingenuous to describe the settlements, which house nearly 10% of the Jewish population of Israel, as 'villages'. But at least it's a little more honest than the 'neighbourhoods' you find in the media. It was 75% of this group (claimed 'margin of error' ±4.5%) that said Israel 'should not build' settlements.

They then presented three quarters of the sample – groups B, C, and D – with these statements, which they claim are based on advice from 'the Israeli embassy in the US and the Palestinian Mission at the UN':

Here are two statements, one in support of the Palestinian position and one in support of the Israeli position. Please tell me if you find them convincing or unconvincing.

Q35 UN resolutions 242 and 338, which were endorsed by nearly all members of the UN, including the US, called for Israel to withdraw from territories it invaded in the 1967 war. Thus, for Israel to build new settlements in these areas is illegal under international law.

Q36 Israel has a right to build settlements in the West Bank because Jews have lived in these areas for centuries and have legitimate historical claims to property there.

It may be valid to describe a position that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs advocates as 'the Israeli position' [my emphasis], although I doubt more than a handful of Israeli Palestinians would agree. But that certainly is not the case with the Palestinian UN delegation, which only represents the PA, and not Israeli Palestinians or the millions of refugees in the diaspora. Furthermore, as currently constituted, the PA is a 'government' appointed by Fateh, the party that lost the 2006 election, so it doesn't actually represent anyone.

UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 were carried by a majority of the fifteen members of the Council, not 'nearly all members of the UN'. UNSCR 338 is only relevant insofar as it calls on the parties to implement 242. The withdrawal clause in 242 is relevant, but perhaps not quite as apropos as Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, which states, 'The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies', although both are subject to cynical, casuistical interpretation. What's most disturbing about Q35 is the reference specifically to 'new settlements', which leaves you wondering how respondents might have interpreted it – are the illegal settlemets the ones that were new in 1967, when 242 was passed; in 1973, the date of 338; or just the ones that haven't been built yet?

Q36 is also problematical. The obvious interpretation of the English 'present perfect' – have lived – is to depict a situation that extends into the present. While this is not the only possible interpretation, the suggestion of continuity distorts the actual situation.

At any rate, 62% of the three quarter sample (margin of error ±3.7%) found Q35 very or somewhat convincing, while 54% were convinced by Q36.

After answering Q35-36, the second half of the sample - groups C and D - were asked the same question as groups A and B answered without reading the two statements.

Q37 (=Q34) Do you think it is all right for Israel to build settlements in the Palestinian Territories, or do you think they should not?

This time, only 60% said they should not build settlements, the same proportion that J Street found opposed expanding settlements in their poll of American Jews a month earlier. Notwithstanding the 'new settlements' wording in Q36, I find the 60% who think it's not all right to build settlements in this poll more encouraging than the 60% who oppose expanding them in the J Street poll. And the 75% who opposed settlements outright in Q34, without the 'new settlements' distraction, more encouraging still.

There are other interesting comparisons to make between the two surveys. This one, conducted by Knowledge Networks, is based on a sample drawn from the entire US population. When selected households did not have internet access, KN provided it. Gerstein | Agne, who developed the J Street survey, and YouGovPolimetrix, the company to which they outsourced the conduct of the poll, are not as forthcoming about their sampling methodology as KN, as discussed in my post about the J Street poll, 'Across the Potomac'.

The demographic composition of the two samples differs markedly. I assume that these differences reflect differences in the populations and are not just an artifact of sampling. With respect to the age profile, note that a much higher proportion of the Jewish sample is in the older age groups.

Even more interesting is the education profile. While only 18% in the general population have a degree, more than three times that proportion of the Jewish population – 66% - are graduates, including 36% who claim to have done at least some postgraduate study. Everybody in the J Street sample had finished high school, while 14% of the population in the PIPA study had not.

Discrepancies also appear in political party affiliation. Fifty-seven percent of the J Street sample said they were 'weak' (13%) or 'strong' (44%) Democrats. In this poll, only 37% said they were Democrats. If you include those identifying as 'Independent-lean Democrat' in the J Street poll among those comparable to the Democrat category in this poll, the total comes to 67%.

Although Q.60 in the J Street survey, 'From what you know about Israeli settlements in the West Bank, do you support or oppose expanding these settlements?' [my emphasis], is not strictly comparable to Q34/37 in this poll, there is J Street data that may illuminate the issue.

We know that 75% of groups A and B, who answered Q34, that is, without the distraction of the reference to 'new settlements' in Q36, oppose settlement construction. In groups C and D, the proportion opposed was 60%. I think it's fair to split the difference and say overall some 67.5% oppose building settlements.

The J Street poll asked respondents whether they supported a peace agreement, outlining a typical two state 'solution'. Although I discussed the question in 'Across the Potomac', I reiterate it here for your convenience.

Q.62 Eight years ago, Israeli, Palestinian, and American negotiators came very close to reaching a final status peace agreement, but ultimately fell short.

The details of that agreement include: a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; internationally recognized borders that include some land swaps allowing for most Jewish settlers in the West Bank to be inside Israel while the Palestinians get comparable land areas in return; Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem become part of the new Palestinian state while Israel retains control of Jewish neighborhoods and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; international forces to monitor the new Palestinian state and border crossings; and financial compensation for Palestinian refugees while allowing some refugees to return to Israel if they meet specific family reunification criteria and the Israeli government approves. [my emphasis]

It's hard to be confident that all those who agreed with this formulation are firmly committed to every provision and nuance in a long and complex question, which is one of the central problems with the J Street survey. But at the same time, I can't see any alternative to assuming that they read it carefully and knew what they were supporting. I surmise, therefore, that if the J Street poll has any credibility, the 76% who said they supported such a deal reckon it was ok to build some settlements on occupied land at some stage. Since we don't know which provision or provisions of the outlined proposal those who didn't support it found objectionable, a maximum of 24% opposed settlements outright. In the 2007 and 2008 AJC Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, however, 58% said 'In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians', Israel should not 'be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction'. It seems plausible, therefore, that many of those who rejected the J Street 'peace proposal' did so because it provides for the division of Jerusalem. So the proportion of Americans who oppose settlement construction is nearly three times as high as the proportion of American Jews who do so, probably more.

This is actually a bit of an eye opener for me. I had the impression that American Jews were not exceptional in their banal acceptance of Zionism and sympathy for Israel – that this was the norm for Americans generally. It's a mild relief to learn that support for Israeli war crimes is so significantly lower among the general population, even though the sample included 26% who described themselves as 'born–again' or evangelical' Christians.

Still it's troubling that the Jewish community lines up so firmly behind the occupation and, as the J Steet poll found, the slaughter in Gaza (75%). The other day on a comments thread on Jews sans Frontiéres, J. Otto Pohl introduced the concept, novel to me, of PEP, which turns out to stand for 'Progressive Except for Palestine'. While I think it's the case that a proportion of US Jews think of themselves as 'progressive' (17% in the J Street poll), it's hard to reconcile that with the positions they take on Palestine. As far as I'm concerned, anyone willing to countenance ethnic cleansing, extrajudicial executions, depriving millions of political rights, and so forth, is not progressive as I understand the term. When they actually abhor all these crimes in principle, as I'm confident most of them do, but are prepared to look the other way when perpetrated in their name, it strikes me as even more deplorable. Clearly the wisdom of age and the advantages of higher education do not, by and large, insulate American Jewish 'progressives' from this kind of hypocrisy.