By Kieran Kelly
The immediate reaction by Israel to the UN vote to grant non-member state status to Palestine was to announce an expansion of illegal settlements and the withholding of tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority. At the same time they have increased the tempo of terror raids and incursions that amount to miniature military assaults. Additionally they have raided NGO offices while arbitrary detentions have targeted both political and human rights activists.
While these Israeli actions are a source of great suffering for Palestinians, it is tempting also to see them as being a sign that the Zionist project is doomed. As James Petras has written, Israeli terror is “intentionally open and flagrant”. The reaffirmation of their willingness to openly defy international law and norms undermines their supporters on the international stage whilst both strengthening and multiplying their critics. The UN vote was a key indicator (and somewhat of a warning) that a majority of UN member states were at last preparing to take seriously their obligations to Palestinians. There is a degree of momentum and, however glacial, it can only move in one direction. South Africa’s ruling ANC has adopted boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel as official policy in an almost unanimous vote. UN members states are all obliged under a number of UNGA and UNSC resolutions to take measures akin to this, and given the existence of this BDS framework it is inevitable that others will follow South Africa.
Inertia and US hegemony (which will ensure that there is always a price to be paid for defiance) would normally ensure a very slow maturation of the anti-Zionist consensus, but Israeli actions seem almost designed to accelerate their own international isolation. One might almost assume that they consider it more worthwhile, at this stage, to establish “facts on the ground” which would partially dictate final dispositions. After all, as with South Africa, the strongly enforced requirement to accede to “liberal norms” prohibits state action to rectify social injustice throught the redistribution of private property, no matter how illegitimately obtained in historical terms. Going back at least as far as Irish Home Rule, standard decolonising practice has been to ensure that when formal sovereign power changes, as little as as is humanly possible changes in terms of wealth and real power. I am assuming that a putatively post-Zionist Palestine will in fact be one in which Palestinians must contend with an intimate neocolonialism in which both old and new forms of injustice abound.
In terms of what “facts on the ground” Israel is creating, there are the demographic and territorial changes in the West Bank. The lack of territorial contiguity created by Israeli settlements and, more to the point, by the Israeli controlled “Area C”, make the West Bank considerably less than a Bantustan. Gaza is a Bantustan, Rafah notwithstanding. Israel controls Gaza’s borders and airspace, choosing what may enter Gaza and what may not. In geographic terms the West Bank is something else altogether worse. Israeli settlements are also creating a serious demographic situation in the West Bank. Already one sixth of the West Bank population are Jewish settlers with Israeli citizenship. In addition to the growth brought about by new settlements, these settlers, as if mirroring the dramatics of Israeli claims of a “demographic threat”, are actually outbreeding Palestinians by some margin.
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Creating facts on the ground has always been the driving impulse for Israel, starting with Israeli statehood itself. After statehood, however, the most important fact to reify was the non-existence of Palestinians. There is a reason why early Zionists made claims of “a land without a people” and always referred to Palestinians as “Arabs”, and why Golda Meir herself was pointedly insistent that there were “no such thing as Palestinians”. The failure to make real this non-existence of a Palestinian people has really meant that Zionism (or at least that which insists on an exclusively Jewish state, rather than a democratic state which might also be a “homeland” for Jews in some non-Apartheid manner) is fundamentally unsustainable. The application of inalienable universal human rights to Palestinians would spell the end of Zionist Israel. The international community has proven more than willing to ignore those rights for Palestinians, as they often are for other oppressed groups. But, much though certain parties would like to, no one has yet argued that human rights do not apply to Palestinians because, say, they are actually a species of marsupial.
The Israeli response to the fact that Palestinians persist in existing and being human has been genocide. There is a list of “areas” into which Raphäel Lemkin subdivided genocidal actions when he created the concept of genocide. In every single enumerated “area” Israel systematically commits acts of genocide. The resultant genocide may be a slow genocide, but it is in one sense a maximal genocide, equal in comprehensiveness, if not intensity, to the genocide of Poles by Germany (which was Lemkin’s central exemplar of genocide). This means that Israel is acting to attack the social, cultural, moral, political, and religious aspects of Palestinian identity as well as killing Palestinians. Perhaps most creepy of all, because it is most redolent with connotations of Nazi inhumanity, is the applicabilty of the “racial discimination in feeding” used by the Germans, and replicated by Israel with regard to Gazans.
The international community tries very hard to ignore Israel’s genocide. Zionist Israel is a strategic asset for the US, and the US ensures that other states bear its interests in mind (or pay the price). But there is a limit, and Palestinian resistance has forced the Israeli’s into exceeding that limit. The average bureaucrat in a government, intergovernmental organisation, or NGO would like nothing more than to pretend that the situation in Palestine is not a relevant concern, but Israeli actions are forcing such persons into taking a stance. This can be illustrated with the example of football. Palestinian football is extremely threatening to Israel because even individual players may become internationally known, which humanises Palestinians and will inevitably draw unwelcome public attention to the conditions of oppression under which Palestinians live. This, in turn, undermines the selective blindness of international officialdom (because the public does not understand that oppression should only be of concern where it coincides with the potential for strategic gain). But for Israel to take steps to suppress Palestinian football, also draws attention to the Palestinian plight. Thus, there was a backlash against the detention without charge of Mahmoud Sarsak, and international footballers and fans displayed solidarity for Palestine during the latest large-scale assualt on Gazans. In a serious blow to pusillanimousness, Israel chose to bomb Palestine Stadium in Gaza city so that even FIFA president Sepp Blatter, must now side with Palestinian footballers and fans, which is perilously close to suggesting that Israel might have done something bad by bombing them.
That is why the recent increased tempo of Israeli oppression and settlement is a hopeful sign from a certain perspective. Stepping back from the most immediate concerns, greater Israeli action only speeds the approah of a dénouement, or the beginning of a process of dénouement, or failing that the first of a series of dénouements. Short of the outbreak of a World War or an outright international repudiation of the rule of law and human rights norms en masse, this can only be beneficial to Palestinians as a major step towards justice and peace.