Monday, October 10, 2011

Israel and those "real democratic" rights

by Lawrence Davidson
(courtesy of Sonja Karkar, Editor, Australians for Palestine)
9 October 2011

Part I – What “Real Democratic Rights”?

In his speech to Congress on 24 May 2011 Prime Minister Netanyahu boasted
that “Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only
Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights.” This is, of course, a
variation on the oft cited claim that Israel is “the only democracy in the
Middle East.” Leaving aside places like Lebanon and now potentially Tunisia
and Egypt, one can ask just how “real” are these democratic rights the Prime
Minister claims for Israel’s Arabs? Here is some recent evidence that speaks
to this question.

1. At the end of September 2011 the Israeli government announced “a plan to
displace 30,000 native Bedouin Arabs [all of whom are Israeli citizens]…from
their homes [in the Negev].” This would constitute “the biggest
dispossession plan of Palestinians issued by Israel since 1948. It would
forcibly relocate about half of the Bedouin population from their existing
villages, which are older than the State of Israel itself….”

Why should Israel do this to the Bedouin? Is it to facilitate their
enjoyment of their “real democratic rights”? Well not quite. According to
head of the Regional Council of Ramat Ha-Negev, a Zionist settlement in the
region, the reason goes like this, “I want the Negev to be Jewish….Jewish
settlement must grow, must continue…..What do you mean by ‘they [the
Bedouin] also have rights’! You know what–after all this it is no longer
possible to conceal the core problem, which is the struggle over the land.
Who does this land belong to–us or them?”

2. At the Beginning of October 2011 leaders of the Jewish settler movement
announced their intention “to turn Palestinian population centers into
another Srebrenica.” This was their reaction to the prospect of
international recognition of a Palestinian state. Initiating Balkan style
killing fields would represent a marked escalation of ongoing lower level
terror tactics which have seen the destruction of Palestinian crops, the
harassment of Palestinian adults and children, the practice of arson against
mosques, and the occasional outright murder. While this threat was directed
mainly at the Palestinians of the West Bank, the Israelis are bound by
international law to see to their civil rights as well. And since
Netanyahu’s vaunted claim implies Israel’s civilized, law-abiding status
relative to the Arab states, that Palestinian population must be taken
account of.

To show the extent of their respect for the rights of the Palestinians,
settler rabbis have evoked the memory of their American-Israeli “saint and
hero,” Barach Goldstein, whose claim to lasting fame is the massacre of
Muslims at prayer in Hebron back in 1994. And, there has been much
recapitulating of the message delivered in October 2010 by “the spiritual
leader of Shas, the powerful religious political party….that the status of
non-Jews is similar to that of beasts of burden….” And just how many “real
democratic rights” do the animals of Israel have?

3. Just in case you think that these threats are hyperbole, take a look at
reports and video on the recent pogrom-like violence near the settlement of
Anatot. On 30 September 2011 Palestinians along with Israeli allies came to
help a Palestinian farmer plant trees on land he owns near the settlement.
They were attacked and beaten by settlers some of whom were armed policemen.
The attackers have been accurately described as “nearly a lynch-mob.” Then
on 3 October 2011 a mosque in the upper Galilee village of Tuba -Zangariyye
was set on fire by arsonists who left behind the message “Price Tag.” This
is a terrorist tactic used by Israeli right wing extremists. Every time the
Israeli government gets in the way of their racist and expansionist
ambitions (which really is not often enough) they retaliate with acts of
terror against Palestinians.

Part II – Woeful Ignorance

The truth is that Arab-Israelis have always been second-class citizens,
suffering systematic and state sanctioned discrimination. Most of them are
effectively segregated out from the majority Israeli Jewish citizenry. In
this way their “real democratic rights” are rendered largely symbolic. The
only reason they are allowed to vote is because their votes cannot change
the system that discriminates against them. The Palestinians in the Occupied
Territories are even more vulnerable. They are not citizens at all and, even
if Israel annexes the West Bank they never will be. This is because making
them citizens would greatly enhance the likelihood that Arab-Israeli votes
might, in fact, become sufficient to alter the system. The Zionists will
never let that happen. If the choice is between democracy and keeping Israel
a Jewish state, the Israeli establishment will jettison democracy without
thinking twice. In fact, there is a portion of Israeli Jews who have already
jettisoned any regard for “real democratic rights,” even for themselves.

It is interesting to note that 95% of the U.S. Congress seems oblivious to
all this. Indeed, a good number of them recently went off on an all expenses
paid (illegal) junket to Israel which objective observers might consider the
equivalent of giving material aid to a terrorist organization. There is good
reason to believe that this oblivious state of mind is not shared by many of
their constituents, who are slowly but surely being educated about the
criminal nature of Israeli behavior. Unfortunately these constituents have
not, as of yet, made their representatives’ slavish attachment to Zionist
lobby money and influence a voting issue. When will they do so? Perhaps soon
after it is brought home to them that Israel, the “democracy,” has an
unsavory resemblance to Alabama or Georgia in the 1930s and 1940s. If the
settler rabbis have their way this likeness will grow rapidly and thus
become harder to hide. Through their sacrilegious misreading of the Talmud,
these holy men appear anxious to bless lynching on all days of the week
except the Sabbath.

It is not only American Congressmen who are ignorant of Israel’s
deteriorating national character. One might ask just how many Israeli Jews
know how close they are to the precipice of pogrom violence or worse. Some
of course do. In a 14 June 2011 piece by Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman they tell
us “We believe that unless immediate, serious and dramatic action is taken
to improve the situation of the Arab minority and majority-minority
relations, great dangers are in store for Israel. It is no exaggeration to
say that domestic stability, Israeli democracy and future
Israeli-Palestinian peace could all be undermined by a continued
deterioration in Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.” But polls of Israelis
show that the majority, caught up as they are in the dominant culture of
victimhood and fear of the Arabs, are either ignorant of or unconcerned
about the dangers of which Peleg and Waxman warn. Indeed, most of them want
the Arabs segregated or just kicked out and therefore have no problem with
their society’s deteriorating majority-minority relations.

Part III – The National Skinner Box

All of this raises some serious issues:

1. For most citizens the national environment is like a great big Skinner
Box. In other words it is a hothouse of indoctrination. Americans were
taught to hate and fear communists, Russians were taught to hate and fear
capitalists, and Israeli Jews are taught to hate and fear Palestinians.
Nation states do a good job at such indoctrination–making it part and parcel
of the acculturation process. And, under the right circumstances, whole
populations can easily move from hatred and fear to actual mayhem.

2. This sort of deep seated indoctrination results in nationwide habits of
thought that are remarkably hard to change. Think of the inertia of a large
body, say a planet, moving through space. It is going to take a lot of force
to overcome that inertia, usually force of catastrophic intensity. To put it
another way, whole populations trained to seeing the world one way, usually
do not shift perceptions unless something really bad happens to them. That
something can be military defeat, deep and unbridgeable societal divides
leading to civil war, or the severe costs of isolation and economic boycott
visited on them by the outside world. The severity of these forces are
testimony to just how stubborn indoctrinated populations can be.

Any way you look at it, the situation for those Palestinians under Israeli
domination is likely to get worse before it gets better. And it is going to
take a force of catastrophic intensity to really change Israeli behavior. My
money is on BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Dr. Lawrence Davidson is the co-author of “A Concise History of the Middle
East and author of “America’s Palestine: Popular and Official from Balfour
to Israeli Statehood”. He is a member of West Chester University’s history
faculty since 1986. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University
and completed his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Georgetown University and
the University of Alberta in Canada, respectively.,

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