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The Arrogance of Occupation



Original Article     By Lev Grinberg

Comments on Article      By Nizar Sakhnini

Lev Grinberg is a political sociologist, and the Director of the Humphrey Institute for Social Research at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. 

Nizar Sakhnini is a Palestinian who had first hand experience of the 1948 Nakba. Having retired about 10 years ago, he is now a devoted activist struggling for a restoration of Palestinian rights and lands.

The Arrogance of Occupation

By Lev Grinberg

This last month has been marked by a dramatic change in the US and European attitudes towards the Israeli occupation. The US first, and subsequently the EU, have adopted the Israeli view that the core of the problem is Yasir Arafat. Bombing Arafat helicopters, confining him to the besieged city of Ramalla, and the recent occupation of parts of the city, have nothing to do with Israeli security or " the struggle against terror". The Israeli Government targeted Arafat, and succeeded to convince first the Israeli public and now the international community that this policy is legitimate. 

Present Israeli action against Arafat was preceded by the construction of an arrogant and paternalist discourse on the "character of Arafat". We, Israelis, are at liberty to dismiss one leader and appoint another in his place. This arrogance, in relation to Arafat, highlights the underlying dimension of the failed Oslo peace process and the Camp David Summit. The discourse labeling Arafat as the essence of the Palestinian problem did not achieve predominance by virtue of the campaign waged by the settlers' leaders in the occupied territories and the extreme right. Rather, it is the discourse of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his foreign minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, developed after the Camp David Summit aiming to hide their resounding failure. The over-simplified reduction of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the character of Arafat, and hence the self-evident magic-wand solution of "removing the obstacle", was constructed by the leaders of the "Left", following their need to explain away the fiasco of their term of office. 

The arrogant discourse is reflected in the urge to enthrone in Arafat's place an alternative, more "obliging" leader, and in the paternalistic argument that "we know what is better for the Palestinians". In effect, each wing of Israel's political spectrum opts for a leader who would best serve its respective purposes. The "moderates" in the Government prefer a moderate, dressed in a business suit who would consent to deal in a rational Western manner, and the "extremists" fancy a Hamas type who could legitimize an open and sanguinous war against "the Palestinian evil". The two camps share the same discourse that the burden for resolving the crisis is on Arafat's shoulders, while simultaneously avoiding Israel's own responsibility. In fact the Government is fighting Arafat and his forces, preventing him and the Palestinian authorities from succeeding in any possible effective struggle against extremist Islam, because Palestinian extremism and terror facilitates hiding the core problem of occupation. 

Arrogance and paternalism is the underlying effect of occupation, which is not peculiar to the Israeli situation. European settlers that occupied regions inhabited by non-Europeans have developed similar discourses. The local inhabitants were classified as inferior and primitive, and deserving no individual rights, certainly no collective right to their homeland. Such has been the state of affairs in Israel\Palestine since the onset of the colonization, and the Oslo peace accords introduced no fundamental change. The land belongs to us, Israelis, we are its masters, and the Palestinians must accept whatever we are benevolent enough to offer them. The indignation of the "Left" towards the Palestinians following Camp David is over their ingratitude and their refusal to accept Barak's "generous" offer. The support of the US for the Israeli attitude caused despair among the Palestinians. 

The Oslo accords were shaped according to the hegemonic arrogance of occupation. Having been initially "granted" Jericho and Gaza, Arafat was placed "on probation". If he passed the test, he would be awarded additional territory; if not, the process would be halted, as Rabin proclaimed (Netanyahu was more direct, as in the slogan he coined: "If they provide results, they'll get more, if they don't, they won't!"). Resumption of the Oslo process depended upon Arafat's "good conduct", his grades to be determined by Israel. Arafat was expected to deliver what the Israeli army had failed to: security to the Israelis. However, he wasn't entitled to protect the security or independence of his people. Hence Arafat's authority was not derived from the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights, rather from Israel's consent to his presence; hence it is also feasible to expel him. 

What did Israel undertake in return? Merely to vacate the larger Palestinian towns (and some land in their vicinity, as Israel found fit) thus, allowing Arafat to appoint governors and policemen, but not enabling territorial contiguity or sovereignty. Israel did not take upon itself relinquishment of military control, the creation of a Palestinian state, the granting of economic independence, withdrawal to 1967 borders, and certainly not the resolution of volatile issues such as Jerusalem or the Palestinian refugees. Israel did not even halt or slow down its colonization drive in the occupied territories. The entire agreement rested upon Israeli goodwill. Thus, the second indispensable pre- condition for the success of the Oslo accords was Rabin's retention of power. Rabin's assassination and Arafat's failure to provide for Israel's security rendered the Oslo accords doomed. 

Ariel Sharon is completing now the historical project that he started in 1982 with the occupation of Lebanon. He is working with the same logic based on military power used to destroy the legitimate representation of the Palestinian people. In the case of Lebanon, he was stopped by the international community that prevented him from entering the besieged Beirut. However, he succeeded to enthrone Bashir Jumayel as president of Lebanon. As will be recalled, Jumayel was assassinated within days after his appointment, while the Israeli army was drawn into the 18-year occupation and fight against Lebanese militias that ended in Israel's forcible removal from Lebanon. 

The Palestinians learned well the lessons of Lebanon, and are weary of the Oslo accords that they regard as an alibi for continued occupation. Arafat did not instigate the Intifada, although he may endeavor to lead it so as to retain his status as the leader of the people for whom he is accountable. Unless we, the Israelis, cast off our arrogant mode of thinking, and our position as an occupying power, the present cycle of bloodshed can only intensify, with Arafat and even more so, in his absence. Europe, that has witnessed the arrogance of colonialism as a dominant power, should not return now to adopt similar attitudes even when their source is the Jewish State. International intervention to stop Sharon is urgently needed for the sake of the Palestinians and the Israelis as well.  

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Comments on The Arrogance of Occupation

By Nizar Sakhnini


The brilliant and well-articulated article published by Lev Grinberg clearly depicts the reality of the situation prevailing within the borders of British Mandate Palestine.  Grinberg concluded, "Unless we, the Israelis, cast off our arrogant mode of thinking, and our position as an occupying power, the present cycle of bloodshed can only intensify, with Arafat and even more so, in his absence. Europe, that has witnessed the arrogance of colonialism as a dominant power, should not return now to adopt similar attitudes even when their source is the Jewish State. International intervention to stop Sharon is urgently needed for the sake of the Palestinians and the Israelis as well."

This warning against arrogant thinking and position as an occupying power is not something new in the history of the Zionist-Arab conflict.  It is reminiscent of the warnings that many Jewish intellectuals and leaders have issued from time to time, unfortunately, to no avail so far.

Ahad Ha'am, who himself was a Zionist leader, did not believe that Palestine could accommodate all of Jewry, a Jewish state there, in his estimation, would not solve the problem of the Jews' social and economic status, in reference to Herzl's claim in Judenstaat that the creation of an exclusive Jewish State would solve the Jewish Question.

Following a visit to Palestine in 1891, Ahad Ha'am warned, �We think that the Arabs are all savages who live like animals and do not understand what is happening around.  This is, however, a great error�.  This error unfortunately has persisted ever since.  Ahad Ha�am did not cease to warn against it, not only for the sake of the Arabs but also for the sake of Judaism and of Zion.

Ahad Ha'am returned to the Arab problem in a letter to Moshe Smilansky, written in February 1914.  Smilansky had been bitterly attacked by Palestinian Zionists because he had drawn attention to the Arab problem.  Ahad Ha'am tried to comfort him by pointing out that the Zionists had not yet awakened to reality.  �Therefore, they wax angry towards those who remind them that there is still another people in Eretz Israel that has been living there and does not intend at all to leave its place.  In the future, when this illusion will have been torn from their hearts and they will look with open eyes upon the reality as it is, they will certainly understand how important this question is and how great is our duty to work for its solution." 

Hugo Bergmann, a philosopher in Prague who was soon thereafter to settle in Palestine, wrote in a book in 1919 called Yavne and Jerusalem that Palestine might become a Jewish state and yet be an entirely un-Jewish land.  "The trial by fire of the truly Jewish character of our settlement in Palestine will be our relationship to the Arabs.  An agreement with the inhabitants of the land is much more important for us than declarations of all the Governments in the world could be [in a clear reference to the Balfour Declaration].  Unfortunately, Zionist public opinion has not yet become conscious of it.  What happened in Palestine before the [First World] War was almost totally of a kind to turn the Arabs into our enemies.  A peaceful confrontation and understanding with them, however, is for us the question of life." 

In the same year Martin Buber demanded that the Zionists should abstain from all political activities, "except those measures which are necessary to create and to maintain an enduring and solid agreement with the Arabs in all fields of public life, an encompassing brotherly solidarity."

Reb Binyomin wrote the following in 1953: "After the State of Israel was established I began receiving news about the terrible things perpetrated both during and after the Israeli-Arab war.... I had never imagined that such could be the spiritual and moral countenance of Israel.... What separates us from the mass of our people?  It is our attitude toward the Arabs.  They consider the Arab as an enemy some even say eternal enemies�  The less candid speak supposedly about peace, but these are only words.  They want a peace of submission, which the Arabs cannot possibly, accept.... We, however, do not see the Arab as an enemy, not in the past and not today.  It is a mistake to think that we are dreamers and do not understand reality.  No� we are realists with the Ten Commandments, and they are the wise men, the realists without the Ten Commandments....  War gave us a state, and war gave the Arabs, besides military defeat and the loss of territory, the problem of refugees.  At the same time it also gave them the concern that, when the State of Israel feels strengthened economically and population-wise through immigration, it will attempt sooner or later to invade the neighboring Arab countries.... The Jewish State is dear to us because it could turn into a treasure for its inhabitants and for Jews all over the world.... But the first condition for its continued existence is a true peace with the Arab states.  What we failed to do before the war we must do now...".  (For more details see: (Hans Kohn, Zion and the Jewish National Idea reproduced in Walid Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest, pp.  807-840)

A major factor that has so far contributed to this unabated and dangerous arrogance is the unconditional political, diplomatic, military and financial support that Israel gets from the U.S. who stubbornly rejects any punishment against Israel's violations of international law by vetoing any resolution at the Security Council to this effect.

The question that many be put forward in this respect, why does the U.S. grants Israel such a card blanch to do whatever she wants to do?  Will this support continue forever?

In spite of all the misleading indicators to the contrary, it does not sound logical that the U.S. will continue with such support no matter what.   And that may explain what prompted George F. Will on 17 August 2001 to publish a column in The Washington Post under the caption "A War and then a Wall" in which he proposed, "A short war -- a few days; over before European and American diplomats' appeasement reflexes kick in -- should have four objectives:

First, to kill or capture those terrorists (and those who direct them) whom Arafat has permitted to remain at large, in violation of his Oslo undertaking and of his promise to CIA Director George Tenet after the disco bombing.

Second, to destroy the Palestinian Authority's military infrastructure built up in violation of detailed Oslo restrictions.

Third, to destroy other physical infrastructure useful to the Palestinian Authority, including all newspaper and broadcasting facilities.

Fourth, and most important, to define, with finality, Israel's borders, around which a wall should be built. All of Jerusalem should be within the wall. Israel's seizure of the Palestinian Authority's East Jerusalem headquarters, Orient House, which has been constantly used for political activities forbidden by Oslo, should signal the end of all talk about the indivisibility of Jerusalem.

It seems that Sharon is taking advantage of the tragedy that took place on September 11 to go ahead with the short war proposed by George F. Will.   Is this possible?

Only God knows what is in Sharon's mind.  How things will develop from this point on?  Too many scenarios are being presented.  However, no matter what will happen, there is one reality that had been proven time and again: in spite of all the odds working against them, the will of the majority of the Palestinian people, the grassroots, and their attachment to their lands and rights was never broken.  Accordingly, Lev Grinberg's conclusion and recommendations point out to the proper way to go.

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