Israel and Palestine

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Articles on Israel after 2014
What Netanyahu and Putin have in common
The art of inventing inexistent wars
Israel's promised land
Articles on Israel before 2013

  • (September 2014) What Netanyahu and Putin have in common. Vladimir Putin is viewed by the West as a ruthless aggressor who has caused a civil war in Ukraine and is morally responsible for the death of the 298 passengers of a Malaysian airline hit by a Russian-made missile shot by Russian-trained rebels. Nonetheless, Putin enjoys in Russia an approval rating of over 80%.
    Benjamin Netanyahu is viewed by most of the world as a ruthless aggressor who has started a war in Gaza and is morally responsible for the more than 2,000 civilians killed by Israeli bombs. Nonetheless, Netanyahu enjoys in Israel an approval rating of over 80%. Both these men are catering to a nationalistic public with perfectly rational nationalistic explanations. Putin tells Russians that, after all, eastern Ukraine has historically been Russian (the Russian state, in fact, began in Kiev); and the people there do speak Russian. Netanyahu tells Israelis that Hamas is a vicious enemy bent on destroying Israel and must be disarmed at all costs; and indeed Hamas shot more than 4,000 rockets over Israel indifferent to where they would fall.
    The way these actions are seen around the world is similar. A poll by Globescan/PIPA conducted in 23 countries showed that people rank Israel lower than Russia (and barely above North Korea) in terms of good influence on world affairs. A Gallup poll in the USA showed that support for Israel is declining across the board but especially among young people (a majority condemned Israel for the invasion of Gaza).
    The two also have another thing in common: they are likely to be defeated. Netanyahu basically accepted all Hamas demands in return for a truce, obtaining virtually nothing (in fact, Hamas might be stronger than ever within the Palestinian territories after this heroic war, or, at least, Israel's only Palestinian interlocutor, Palestinian president Abbas, has been completely discredited by this Israeli-engineered war). Israel lost another war against a "terrorist" group after losing the war in Lebanon against Hezbollah. What Israel wanted is the demilitarization of Hamas. What Hamas wanted is an end to the blockade of Gaza. Neither will get 100% of what it wanted, but Hamas is going to get more than Israel will. Netanyahu can boast that the Iron Dome missile defense (largely paid by the taxpayers of the USA) has worked wonders, but the truth is that Israel has been hit by thousands of rockets of very poor (Iranian) quality. If these rockets did it, it is scary to think what more sophisticated rockets would do. Hardly something to be proud of.
    Putin, barring a massive direct intervention of Russia into eastern Ukraine, is likely to lose in Ukraine, where rebels don't seem to enjoy popular support and only rely on Russian supplies. The long-term damage caused by this war will not be negligible. Russia's economy is sliding into recession, the rouble hit an all-time low against the dollar, both allies of Russia and enemies of Russia are now worried that they will be next in the list of countries where Putin feels he has to protect the Russian-speaking population, Eastern European countries will become stronger supporters of NATO, Ukraine itself might shift into the European Union orbit much faster than it would have otherwise done, and good luck telling the Chechens that they are not entitled to a referendum the way Crimea was entitled to.
    Internally, there are easy parallels between the two if one considers the Palestinians as being the opposition in Israel (the various Jewish parties are mostly just different brands of the same Zionist product). Putin applies draconian tactics to silence his opponents and their friends, a system of state terror inherited from the old Soviet KGB. Israel is a state that still practices the stone-age ritual of destroying the home of the family of a "terrorist". Imagine if your brother committed a crime and the state came and destroyed your home as punishment for what your brother's did. That's what Israel does on a routine basis. So much for the rule of law.
    The big difference between the two is that they represent two different kinds of danger to the world community. Israel is fighting not only for its own reasons but also on behalf of its Arab neighbors. Hamas is not much of a threat to Israel, but Islamist groups like Hamas constitute a much bigger threat to the various kingdoms and emirates of the region that increasingly view the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and Al Qaeda as different facets of the same threat to the established order. They also view Hamas and Hezbollah as representing Iran's regional power at a time when the Sunni kingdoms and emirates are afraid of Iran's growing influence (via Iraq and Syria). Israel is used as a pawn in the global war between Shia and Sunni Islam (Iran vs. the kings and emirs of the Middle East). The danger, of course, is that Israel is defending medieval states and brutal dictatorships in the 21st century, a strategy that might backfire badly if the Arab masses decide that they are tired of being forced to live in medieval times under brutal dictatorships.
    Putin, instead, is fighting merely for Russian prestige. He represents the last resurgence of old-fashioned European nationalism and expansionism. His implicit argument is valid: why keep Russian-speaking ethnic groups under non-Russian governments? why not annex those regions to Russia if they prefer it that way? This logic has been largely abandoned in Western Europe after it fueled two world wars. The reason that Western Europeans are worried about Putin's anachronistic reasoning is that they don't want to get trapped into another chain reaction of the kind that started the first world war (coincidentally exactly 100 years ago).
    Unfortunately, neither Netanyahu nor Putin can be stopped: the USA gives Israel carte blanche and Russia has too many nukes to be bombed to order; both have strong support at home. The same was true of many other nationalist leaders of the past, those who caused the two world wars and many other horrors of the 20th century, using precisely the same strategy: create a self-legitimizing nationalistic logic that guarantees their reelection, a logic that soon becomes an unstoppable force.

    See also: What Netanyahu and Putin have in common, part II

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (July 2014) The art of inventing inexistent wars. Let's see... Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been looking for every possible excuse not to make peace with the Palestinians... The Palestinians created a joint government of technocrats approved by both Fatah (that Israel recognizes) and Hamas (that Israel does not recognize despite the fact that Hamas won fair and democratic elections)... Netanyahu had already said he would refuse a deal with any Palestinian government of unity that includes Hamas, but was under pressure to negotiate with the party that (after all) won the only free elections ever held in Palestine... Now three Israeli teenagers were found dead in the occupied West Bank (Israeli settlements built in defiance of international law)... Netanyahu immediately accused Hamas of having ordered the killings (although we haven't seen any damning evidence yet and Hamas has repeatedly denied involvement)... Israeli fanatics (presumably supporters of the abovesaid illegal settlements) killed a Palestinian boy in revenge for the killing of the three Israeli teenagers (both the killers of the Israeli kids and of the Palestinian kid are mere suspects, no trial and no conviction yet, so the whole story is unfolding around Netanyahu's superhuman ability to pinpoint the killers and the motives without any help from detectives and judges)... Netanyahu pretended to be outraged by the revenge killing, but nonetheless happily escalated the tension with Hamas (more than 400 arrests, 6 kids shot dead, at least 2 houses demolished)... Hamas eventually had to react in order not to lose face, and so they started shooting rockets at Israel... None of the rockets has killed anyone (or caused any significant damage) but Netanyahu ordered retaliatory strikes by the Israeli air force... In 200 hours about 200 Palestinians got killed, an average of one each hour, at least seven of them teenagers and children... Meanwhile Israel is searching for the two suspects in the killing of the three Israeli teenagers, both suspects being indeed low-level operatives of Hamas but also members of the Qawasmehs clan that opposed peace talks with Israel (just like Netanyahu opposes peace talks with Hamas)... Meanwhile Netanyahu is resorting to Israel's usual strategy of collective punishment, demolishing Palestinian buildings as well as denying entry to thousands of Palestinians who commute daily to work inside Israel...
    Throughout the escalation it never occurred to Netanyahu that maybe, just maybe, part of the responsibility for the death of those three teenagers lies with the government that authorized and encouraged the illegal settlements and still refuses to reach any peace deal that would legalize those settlements.
    Netanyahu keeps repeating that no civilized country would accept the rain of rockets unleashed on Israel by Hamas, but he forgets to mention that no civilized country would tolerate illegal settlements on its soil by a neighboring country (and no other democracy demolishes the homes of the families of suspects).
    Netanyahu, defined "a congenital liar" by a head of state who dealt frequently with him (former French president Sarkozy), has done it again: he lied to the Israeli public that Israel was searching for the missing kids when in fact he already knew that they were most likely dead (a recorded call to Moked 100 and blood in the car were withheld from the public) and the whole "search" operation was simply a charade whose real goal was to dismantle Hamas' operations in the West Bank.
    The problem for the Palestinians is that, in this escalation, Netanyahu has very little to lose: the only people who are dying are Palestinians, and the costs of Israel's warfare are paid by the taxpayers of the USA. The Palestinians used to get arms from two countries: Iran and Syria. Now that Iran is trying to make peace with the USA and that Syria is busy putting down a revolution, and that every regime in the Middle East is scared of the Muslim Brotherhood (loosely affiliated with Hamas), the Palestinians have no friends left. Netanyahu's philosophy is impeccable: start a war only when your enemy is disarmed and has no allies that can come to its rescue.
    Like it or not, a few facts stand against Israel (facts, not opinions):
    1. Hamas, that won fair democratic elections, is the legitimate government of Palestine, a state recognized by the majority of the world (134 out of 193 member states of the United Nations);
    2. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law (and possibly under Israeli law itself);
    3. Israel keeps the people of Gaza under a blockade that, by its own admission, is not militarily effective (i.e. it mainly affects ordinary families);
    4. There is no evidence that the murder of the three Israeli teenagers (in theory the spark that ignited Israel's campaign) was ordered or approved by Hamas, nor has Israel even pretended to show the evidence.
    Palestinian anger is totally justified. There is nothing in Israel's behavior that shows the slightest interest in treating the Palestinians with dignity and respect.
    Netanyahu's hypocrisy is blatant: first he refused to continue peace talks with the Palestinian Authority because members of Hamas had entered the Palestinian government of unity, but then he negotiated the truce in Gaza directly with Hamas itself.
    Having lost the war, Israel announced its biggest seizure of occupied Palestinian land in a generation. Israel looks increasingly like the radical extremist, whereas the Palestinians look like the reasonable moderate. The West should side with the moderates, just like pretty much every other country in the world is already doing.

    (Note: Whenever i attack the Israeli government, someone writes accusing me of antisemitism, an old despicable tactic that only ends up creating more antisemitism around the world. I have received three death threats for my "anti-Islamic" articles, so i can hardly be considered biased in favor of the Palestinians. And, incidentally, in the old days most of my articles were way more anti-Palestinian than anti-Israeli: blame it on yourselves, Israeli people, if today independent thinkers like me often turn against your country, and stop blaming the whole world for the problems that YOU, Israeli people, create).

    P.S. The reaction from the USA has been simple: Congress provided Israel with $225 million of US taxpayers' money to buy more Iron Dome missile-defense systems. The House voted 395-8 in favor of the bill. The Senate voted unanimously. This is the same Congress that cannot pass the most elementary legislation because of endless bickering.

    See also: What Netanyahu and Putin have in common, part II

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (February 2014) Israel's promised land. This is actually a semi-review of Ari Shavit's My Promised Land (2014) and of his talk at Stanford.

    The historical psychology of Israel can be dated not so much to Hitler's extermination camps but to the first Arab revolt. In 1936 the Arabs in British-controlled Palestine revolted to protest Jewish immigration. It is a fact that between 1931 and 1935, with tacit British complicity, the Jewish population of Palestine doubled. In any part of the world, whenever immigration picks up, the native population nurtures growing hostility towards the newcomers. It's somewhere in the human genes. To make matter worse, the Jewish immigrants were European: mostly educated and able to speak European languages, and relatively wealthy compared with the paesants and the beduins of Palestine. The natives spoke Arabic, or some kind of dialect, their education was very basic or non-existent, their economic means very humble. The new immigrants, therefore, were not viewed as poor workers in search of a job (as is the case in most episodes of mass immigration) but as colonizers. Whether it was right or wrong that Jews were allowed to immigrate into Palestine (a process that had started when Palestine was ruled by the very Islamic state of the Ottomans) it is more or less natural that it would eventually cause a hostile reaction by the people who had lived there for many generations and who felt that the newcomers were closer to the British rulers. The whole history of Israeli-Arab relationships can be viewed as a footnote to 1936.

    The dream of this Israeli immigrants is brilliantly summarized by Ari Shavit for the California public: those Jews wanted to create the Middle Eastern equivalent of California. A sunny place immersed in science and technology, ruled by a democratically elected government, inspired by European values. To make it even easier, Israel's climate is very similar to California's. In fact, fast forward to the 21st century, and Israel is one of the places that best approximates the lively ecosystem of Silicon Valley's high-tech startups. And its agricultural technology is not second to California's. The only thing that is missing in Israel is Hollywood.

    However, some of the Zionists (starting with Ben Gurion) learned from 1936 that, in order to fulfill that dream, the Jews had to prepare for war, albeit not knowing who the enemy was going to be (initially the Jewish "terrorists" targeted British occupation forces, not Arabs). Basically, Gurion and the other founders of the Israeli state introduced a new meme in the minds of the Jews: "we must kill and must be willing to get killed".

    Needless to say, Hitler's extermination camps reinforced that idea. At the end of World War II Israel was called to test that lesson in its own independence war. It won. It soon had a powerful ally, France, that provided most of the military aid for the young Jewish nation. At the time Israel had only one friend, and it was France. In 1967 that ally betrayed Israel. After the "Six-Day War" of 1967 Charles de Gaulle's government imposed an arms embargo on Israel. Six years later, when Israel was attacked in the "Yom Kippur War", no European country came to its help. The USA dispatched arms for a desperate Israel under siege but no European democracy allowed them to land, except for Portugal (at the time ruled by a CIA-supported dictatorship). That taught another important lesson: the world will not be there to support Israel when it would need help. The ideology of Israel to this day is largely due to the sense of potential loneliness, and it is not a psychological fantasy: it is based on a historical precedent.

    Israelis see themselves as vulnerable. The rest of the world sees them as the strongest power in the region backed by the strongest power in the world, but they see themselves as potentially alone. They went from being David to being Goliath, but their psychology is still the psychology of a David. Israelis are appalled when the world asks them to make peace with the Arabs when there is overwhelming evidence that Israel's Arab neighbors are willing to slaughter brutally their own people.

    That explains the fortune of a liar and idiot like Benjamin Netanyahu: he is able to package that sense of vulnerability to the Israeli public. As he keeps repeating, Israelis live in the most dangerous part of the world.

    What he doesn't repeat, and almost nobody dares discuss within Israel, is why Israel lives in the most dangerous part of the world. In 1948 most of the world was ruled by brutal dictators, some of them even cannibals, and war was the norm, not the exception. Fast forward to the 21st century and most of those dictatorships have been replaced by peaceful democracies in Latin America, East and South Asia, Eastern Europe and even sub-Saharan Africa. The notable exception to the progress of democracy and peace has been the very region that Israel inhabits. Israelis seem to take for granted that it is just bad luck. Very few have wondered whether Israel itself has had anything to do with making that region of the world the only one in which there has been virtually no progress towards democracy and peace. Is it really just a coincidence? Or could it be that, instead, the region's failure has been, at least in part, due to the very existence and behavior of Israel? Is it possible that Latin America, most of Asia, Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa have become more democratic and peaceful precisely because they did NOT have a country like Israel in their midst?

    Israel has produced an amazing number of scientists and mathematicians, but it seems to lack historians capable of the simplest form of sillogism. I am not implying that Israel is the only factor that caused the Middle East to fall behind the rest of the world, but it is probably one.

    Israelis forget to mention how the Arab world was before 1948. It was the second wealthiest region of the world after the West. The living conditions in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and so on were a lot better than the living conditions in China, India, Latin America, Africa (all places where mass starvation was the norm), even better than in communist Eastern Europe and even better than in West Germany (then still a country in ruin). The Islamic world has historical problems that have devastating effects on its ability to create science, prosperity and democracy; but they did not arise suddenly in 1948. Instead its decline (relative to the rest of the world) began in 1948 when Israel was born.

    Israelis should face the obvious truth. Israel has spent seven decades making sure that all the problems of the region could not be solved, and, if possible, got worse. Any problem that weakens its rivals in the region is viewed as an opportunity by Israeli leaders. Hence, for example, Israel's support for hated dictators like Mubarak in Egypt, who caused social and economic problems that have distracted the Egyptian population away from the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

    Israel keeps telling the world that all its problems are complex, too complex to be solved quickly. But why are they so complex? One reason is that Israel has always find it convenient to let them become complex. The more complex the problem the more likely that the status quo wins, and the status quo was and is more appealing to Israel than to its enemies. This is the only part of the world in which problems are chronically insoluble. And one reason is that one of the actors does NOT want to solve them. The more problems, the better. Once a Palestinian state is created, Israel will have to pray that it falls into the hands of a brutal dictatorship. A political and economic success by a peaceful Palestinian state would weaken, not strengthen, Israel. Israel has invested too much on the slogan "we are the only civilized, progressive, democratic nation in the region".

    Israel claims that the end of occupation can only come with the end of intimidation (i.e. Israel is occupying Palestine because the Arabs threaten Israel), but the other side of this coin is that Israel needs the intimidation to justify the occupation, and it often does what it can to keep the intimidation alive and kicking (for example, Hamas and Hezbollah need hard-line Israeli prime ministers like Netanyahu as much as hard-line Israeli prime ministers like Netanyahu need Hamas and Hezbollah to justify their prime-minister posts).

    It is telling that the issues dominating Israel's domestic politics are not the ones dominating Israel narratives abroad. Within Israel the real issue of the latest elections was the price of cottage cheese, not the Palestinian state and not Iran's nuclear program. The world media focus on Palestinians, but Israelis focus on their economy and society (which has its own challenging problems to solve). Iran is a bigger issue in the USA than in Israel. The Arab armies ready to invade Israel are a thing of the past, and in any case they are busy with their own problems, and in any case the Israeli air force has proven to be able to crush the enemy in a few days. Therefore the Israelis can focus on the price of cottage cheese instead of the Syrian civil war or the Egyptian "spring".

    Shavit points out that Israelis live in denial. The greatest threat to the survival of Israel is political, not military. Yes, Israel has the best air fighters in the world; but the risk is that the world will not let them take off. Israel's legitimacy is not what it used to be. Israel has been losing a war that was not fought on the ground but in the hearts and minds of the international public opinion.

    This time Israel, that used be to always ahead of the curve, is trailing behind others. It can learn from Iran and the Catholic church, two organizations that last year realized that the tide had turned too much against them. Both reacted with actions that de facto constitute a clever public-relationship campaign: the church elected a Pope who embraces the modern world (instead of demonizing it) and Iran elected/appointed a president who can negotiate with the USA. It is time for Israel to do the same: stop demonizing the rest of the world and start embracing its values.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on Israel before 2014

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.