Sunday, April 25

Six decades of dispossession

Founded on ethnic cleansing, erasing the Palestinians remains the modus operandi of the state of Israel, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank With a strange combination of self- righteousness and self-gratification, Israel this week celebrated its 62nd anniversary. Using skilfully fabricated sound bites, Israeli leaders sought to deflect blame for the lingering conflict with the Palestinians and the stalemated political process, invoking the old mantras about the Jewish homeland and the miraculous establishment of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel was extending one hand towards peace while the other was holding a sword in self-defence. Meanwhile, Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders used the occasion to assert Israel's determination to continue to build settlements on occupied Palestinian land, including in occupied East Jerusalem.

"We are a peace seeking nation that prays for peace," he said.

Shimon Peres, Israel's president, also claimed that Israel wanted peace: "On this blessed occasion, I want to say in the name of the state of Israel at large: We don't seek war. We are a nation that yearns for peace, but knows, and will always know, how to defend ourselves."

Peres's words came less than 24 hours after one Israeli official warned that Israel would "send [Syria] back to the Stone Age" in any military confrontation. Israel continues to occupy the Syrian Golan Heights taken in 1967.

Overlooking Israel's decades-old repressive occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as last year's relentless campaign against the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders tried to draw a rosy picture of a state that stands falsely accused by extremists in the international community. Meanwhile, though singing the praises of Israeli democracy, the rampant discrimination against Israel's Palestinian citizens -- who make up more than a quarter of Israel's population -- was equally ignored.

Last week, Israel announced plans that would lead to the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and places of residence in the West Bank. The plans were viewed by most Palestinians, including the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), as a revival of the policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians -- the policy upon which Israel's existence was founded.

Some Palestinian officials argue privately that despite 62 years since Israel's creation in Palestine, ethnic cleansing remains Israel's ultimate if undeclared strategy towards the Palestinians, both in Israel proper and the territories occupied in 1967. Israeli officials deny the charges. However, Israeli behaviour on the ground fully vindicates the Palestinian view.

In East Jerusalem, which Israel unilaterally declared part of its "eternal and undivided capital," Israeli authorities have continued meticulous efforts aimed at emptying the town of its non-Jewish inhabitants. There are nearly half-a-million Palestinians living in Jerusalem and its vicinities.

Similarly, Jewish settler thugs, often in tacit coordination with the occupation army, are stepping up attacks on and acts of vandalism against Palestinian villagers, especially in areas adjacent to Jewish settlements. This week, several Arab cars were torched and a mosque desecrated in the Nablus region, apparently by gangs from nearby settlements.

What is more alarming about these Jewish terrorist attacks against Palestinians is that the attacks do not come in response to Palestinian resistance, but rather as a "price tag" in response to half-hearted efforts by the Israeli government to partially freeze settlement expansion in response to American pressure.

Israel's Independence Day ceremonies saw Israeli leaders reiterating familiar rejections of any equitable resolution to the enduring conflict with the Palestinians, such as the creation of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state. At the same time, the majority of Israelis reject the idea of annexing the West Bank into Israel, fearing that Israel would lose its Jewish identity as a result.

Some Israeli leaders, such as Moshe Yaalon, former army chief of staff who now holds the post of minister of strategic affairs, say openly that the war of 1948 has not really ended. In interview this week with the rightwing Israeli paper, The Jerusalem Post, Yaalon suggested that Israel would first have to achieve total victory over the Arabs before contemplating a lasting solution.

Like Netanyahu, Yaalon is frustrated that many Europeans and Americans have come to view the Israeli occupation as the cause of instability in the Middle East. The problem, Yaalon suggests, is "Jihadi Islam".

On the other hand, Yaalon -- who epitomises the current Israeli government view -- doesn't reject the concept of a Palestinian state outright, so long as this state doesn't encompass East Jerusalem or lead to the dismantlement of Jewish colonies in the West Bank. "I don't care, then, if they would call it a state or even an empire," he said.

For the current Israeli leadership, the "neutralisation" of the "Iranian threat" is taken as a precondition for any progress on the Palestinian front. Israel is widely believed to possess 200- 300 nuclear warheads. Overemphasis of the Iranian "threat" is seen by many as a "red herring" aimed at retaining Israeli military supremacy and hegemony in the region.

Indeed, most Palestinian and Arab observers dismiss the Israeli "Iran scare" as a mere a "tactical trick" aimed at disposing of any potential foe in order to further enhance Tel Aviv's manoeuvrability on the Palestinian issue. In other words, Israel wants to strip the Palestinians and Arabs of real or potential assets while delaying as long as possible the quest for a lasting solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

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