Sunday, January 18, 2009

Outposts of civilization

Israel is a First World country in a Third World region. It is unique among the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in that it is a non-oil-exporting economy with a high per capita income. With one of the highest population densities in the region, it has the ability to satisfy the needs of every citizen, even if it chooses not to do so (poverty rates, for example, are comparable to those in the UK). In a region notorious for looming food insecurity and growing water shortages, Israel maintains a high-technology economy with a big financial sector and, for no small number of its citizens, a properous lifestyle. It also has a reasonable share of the world's billionaires (ten on the most recent count). Eyal Weizman points out that these very suburban bourgeois living conditions are what Israel exports to its colonies in the West Bank and, previously, Gaza. Those heavily fortified village-like compounds with their pitched, red-tiled roofs are islands of luxury and comfort overlooking some of the worst poverty in the world.

Israel is a First World country in a Third World region, but this is a feat that could not have been accomplished without the original dispossession of the Palestinians and the theft of their natural resources and farmland (including about 500 orange groves in Jaffa), and which cannot be sustained without the continued dispossession of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. For example, Israel suffers from the same water shortages that bedevil the rest of the MENA economies, even though it doesn't have to support a large, water-intensive agricultural economy, but one means of resolving this issue is to steal West Bank water supplies. The West Bank's water sustained running taps and swimming pools for 282,000 Israeli colonists as of December 2007 (not including the approximately 200,000 Israelis living in occupied East Jerusalem). The growth rate of this population is currently about 5% a year. To support such growth, new land has to be confiscated on a regular basis.

Outside of the small areas of the West Bank in which the Palestinian Authority formally exerts either civil and military control (Area A) or just civil control (Area B), Israel still maintains its own 'Civil Administration' (Area C, 59% of West Bank territory), which gives planning permission to settlers while restricting the necessary growth of Palestinian villages and towns. When the authorities want to annexe more land for a colony, they either declare it abandoned or insist that it is needed for military security or public services. And despite occasional hypocritical condemnation of 'extremist' settlers who engage in regular pogroms against Palestinians, Israeli rules of engagement authorise IDF soldiers to protect the settlements in quite extraordinary ways. For example, according to Weizman, they are permitted to shoot any Palestinian who looks at the settlements through binoculars or in any other 'suspicious' manner. At any rate, the settler militias are not outlawed, and they are even permitted to collect funds from American organisations. (Intriguingly, there appears to be a number of Israelis who would like to form militias to attack Gaza, and former New York mayor Ed Koch has written in support of such an idea.) And, as the colonies expand, the necessity for obsessively regulating Palestinian movements, imposing ever more severe restrictions on the indigenous citizens of the West Bank, increases. There is evidence that Annapolis, and the sleazy accord that ensued, actually facilitated this process, resulting in a serious contraction in the West Bank economy - despite the fact that the West Bank was supposed to have benefited from a relaxation of the blockade that had been imposed since 2005.

That Israel solves its resource problems in this way is seen by its planners as both natural and just - indeed, Israeli supremacy is taken as proof of its intellectual, cultural and moral superiority. This has always been a mainstay of Zionist colonial ideology: Palestinian Arabs were seen as a negligent, backward race of peasants who had failed to properly develop the land, and therefore must give way to their sophisticated European overlords who, with all the grandiose pretensions of Paul Bert wooing the natives of Annam and Tonkin, entreated locals to see the colonization as a civilizing mission. It is a matter of broad consensus in Israel now that all of the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean belongs to the 'Land of Israel'. Menachem Begin was not deviating from the norm when he scolded Ronald Reagan to the effect that what everyone called the West Bank was actually Judea and Samaria, and that the territory had been 'liberated' from Arab domination in 1967. Livni today explains her support for an eventual 'two-state' settlement in terms of a willingness "to give up a part of the country over which I believe we have rights". From this, it follows that any failure to exercise those "rights" is an act of immense generosity. And it then follows that Israel's failure to respect even the most basic rights of Palestinians, including the right to breathe, is mainly the fault of Palestinians themselves. According to Abba Eban's contemptible maxim, they "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". Palestinian attempts to resist the usurpation of their land and resources are in this light irrational acts of aggression.

The Palestinians must be made to understand. What must they be made to understand? Reportedly, when Lt Gen Moshe Ya'alon was Chief of Staff and suppressing the Second Intifada, he said that the Palestinians must come to understand "in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people." It is necessary to humiliate them, repeatedly, until they understand. It is necessary to isolate, demoralise, divide and deprive them. It is necessary to take out their kids with head shots.