Gaza and Warsaw: The Iron Fist in Action

On a visit Tuesday to the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Acre, where Palestinian rioters had torched Jewish property the previous day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the incidents reminded him of “sights from our people’s past, and we cannot accept that.”

I understand him. When I see TV clips of Gaza going up in flames from Israeli bombardment – foreign news clips, to be clear; Israeli TV is entirely focused on Jewish suffering – I am also reminded of sights from the Jewish past.

I see the burning buildings and wailing children of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Jewish revolt of April-May 1943 – the savage, sadistic German response to a futile rebellion by desperate people who had no future and were prepared to sacrifice their lives to preserve whatever scraps remained of their own dignity.


The Dark Side of Israel’s Vaccination Miracle

I had my second Covid vaccination yesterday. Within the next week or so, I should achieve above 90% percent immunity. That doesn’t mean that I won’t catch the virus or transmit it, according to my understanding. It simply means that I will be spared the symptoms. That in itself is a huge relief.

While thankful to have come this far so quickly – hardly anyone I know outside Israel has received the vaccine – my satisfaction is tempered by the awareness that my good fortune is the result of something I have lamented and criticized for my entire adult life.

Israel’s uncanny stranglehold on sentiment in the West has again enabled it to profit over most other countries, without any real justification and despite the human rights abuses that should – and probably would, in the case of virtually any other country – condemn it to international pariahdom.


Ode to Phil Spector

So Phil Spector is dead, then,
crazy fuck, musical magician,
engineer of walls
that Trump could never build.
To know him was to love him,
before he became an unhinged melody.
He was the Wagner of electric excess, the
little corporal of the recording studio.
Inducing hard-ons in teen jeans
and nipples standing to attention under polyester blouses.
But stoned and sodden,
he played god one time too many.
Farewell, then, spectral Phil.
For a while all your stars were shining bright
and then you killed us.

Roy Isacowitz (with thanks to EJ Gordin, 12 ½)


Prayer, Plague, Protest & Pusillanimity

The director of the only hospital in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak resigned yesterday after describing the community among which he works as an “insubordinate mass that kills people.”

“I do not understand what the connection is between religion and what they are doing,” Prof. Moti Ravid told a TV interviewer shortly before his resignation. “They were taught to accept everything and give nothing in return for years.”

Ravid’s resignation came at the behest of the hospital’s management, which later apologized to the community for his statement. Prof Ravid himself clarified that he had been “referring to extremist sects.”


It’s Howitzer Heaven for Trump and Bibi

You won’t find Donald Trump or Benjamin Netanyahu on any list of philanthropists or altruists. They’re takers, not givers.

Interestingly, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, is a well-known philanthropist, though I doubt he sold out the Palestinians due to an excess of altruism.

Behind the peace agreement between the UAE and Israel that was announced yesterday – announced but not signed, note – is a trade-off. Its details have not been made public yet, though it’s not particularly difficult to discern its contours.

One broad hint is the centrality of Trump, who was the third leg in the joint statement issued by the two countries. The US has traditionally played a mediating role in Middle East negotiations, though it’s doubtful if any previous president has needed a “victory” as much as Trump does.


Celebrating 50 years of false reality

Israel’s myth-making industry is having a field day as the country celebrates the Golden Anniversary of the Six Day War.

Even the progressive Israeli newspaper Haaretz saw fit this morning to describe the 1967 war as “a just war; a war of no choice,” before going on to lament the “enormous harm wrought by the war” – namely, the continuing occupation of Palestine and the Palestinians.

The war, according to Haaretz, “changed the character of the state, gave birth to a sub-state in the occupied territories, bolstered messianic religious ideology, distorted the justice system so that it became, in part, a tool that judicially sanitizes the occupation, and cracked the foundations of the Zionist dream.”

All that is true – and it was true long before the 1967 war. The war didn’t create or change the character of the state, the messianic religious ideology or the distorted justice system. All it did was exacerbate what was already in existence.

Encapsulated in the Haaretz editorial are two key myths about the Six Day War: That the war was forced on Israel, which had no option but to launch the first strike; and that the occupation is at the heart of the dispute with the Palestinians. Had Israel not been forced into occupying the West Bank, the narrative goes, everything would be peachy. While the ‘just war’ myth has become integral to the national collective memory and is shared by virtually all Israelis, the ‘occupation as the root of all evil’ myth is the foundation stone of the anti-occupation Zionist left.

Both are equally false. The 1967 war was the culmination of nineteen years of mutual provocation and aggression between Israel and an Arab front comprising Syria, Egypt and Palestinian refugees-turned-guerillas. The armistice lines agreed at the end of the 1948 war – and particularly the disputed areas which the UN described as “no-man’s land” – satisfied no-one. Refugees seeking to return to land occupied by Israel in 1948 were shot by the hundreds, if not the thousands, and Israel encouraged kibbutzim to cultivate land in the disputed areas, resulting in repeated military retaliation by Syria, including dogfights over the Golan Heights.

It was widely believed in both the IDF and the government that Israel had missed a golden opportunity in 1948 by not grabbing the entire biblical Land of Israel. “I’ve never forgiven the Ben-Gurion government – it didn’t let us finish the job in 1948-1949,” said Yigal Allon, commander of the Palmach in 1948 and subsequently Israel’s foreign minister. There is ample historical evidence that the 1967 war was regarded by many prominent Israelis as an opportunity to correct the mistake made in 1948.

In the years leading up to 1967, Allon, Moshe Dayan and many other leading soldiers, politicians and cultural figures constituted a Greater Israel lobby that actively promoted and planned for the conquest of the West Bank. According to Tel Aviv University Professor Yehouda Shenhav, “In June 1963, when Levi Eshkol took office as Prime Minister, Chief of Staff Tzvi Tzur and his deputy Yitzhak Rabin presented him with Israel’s desirable borders: the River Jordan, in the depths of the Jordanian West Bank; the Litani River, 30 kilometers into Lebanon; and the Suez Canal, beyond the Egyptian peninsula of Sinai.”

On the Arab side, the Palestinian refugee problem created in 1948 was regarded as an immense wrong that needed to be righted. Thus, both sides indulged in continuous needling and military provocation, attempting to overturn a status quo that was not acceptable to either of them. An Israeli attack on Syrian forces on the Golan Heights in April 1967 was described by Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin as an attempt to “humiliate Syria.”

There was brinkmanship before June 1967, particularly during a crisis on the Israel-Syria border in 1960, which was finally defused by UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The latter was no stranger to imperial ambitions – only a very blunt message from US President Dwight Eisenhower prevented him from declaring the Sinai as part of the “Third Kingdom of Israel” after the 1956 Sinai Campaign – but he had come around to the belief that the demographic consequences of ruling over the Palestinians would be fatal for Israel.

The repeated tit-for-tat provocations and brinkmanship that preceded the 1967 war were hardly new; what had changed was the environment. Hammarskjold and Ben-Gurion were no longer in office to calm the passions on both sides, the Greater Israel lobby was waiting for an opportunity to make its move and Egypt’s over-confident president Nasser miscalculated how far he could go. It was a war waiting to happen, but it was neither just nor a war of no-choice. And Israel made the first move.

The second myth – that the occupation is the core issue that needs to be resolved – totally ignores the historical roots of the conflict. Jews and Palestinians didn’t live in peace and harmony until 1967; they had clashed repeatedly since the start of large-scale Jewish immigration to Israel in the early twentieth century. Returning the borders of Israel to the so-called Green Line – with or without settlement blocs, land swaps and all the other enduring legacies of the occupation – may remove a major irritant, but it won’t resolve the root cause.

Returning to the Green Line is favored by the Zionist Left because it would leave the kibbutzim, the moshavim and the original Ashkenazi political-economic elite with all the Palestinian land and property they expropriated in 1948 and from which they have profited ever since. It would also enable them to continue living in their self-created moral bubble, according to which Israel was a just and moral society until 1967.

But that, as Trump might put it, is fake reality. The Palestinian land and property confiscated in 1948 and the 700,000-odd refugees driven from their homes are the very crux of the problem. As is, at a deeper level, the Zionist mindset that persists until today in which the Israeli right to the land is exclusive and Palestinians can be dealt with unilaterally. Zionists have always prayed for the Palestinians to simply disappear, like the unfortunate millions in the TV series “The Leftovers.” Many still do.

Even if the Palestinian Authority – under the same inexorable Israeli and American pressure that caused Arafat to cave in at Oslo – were to agree to the sort of limited, non-sovereign and non-contiguous solution offered by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, it will be no more successful than Oslo. Real peace can’t be forced. And it will require solutions to the real problems – land, refugees and Israeli disdain for the Palestinians and their rights – rather than an exclusive focus on Israeli security and other Israeli concerns. After almost seventy years of statehood and fifty years of occupation Israelis remain staggeringly incurious about what drives the Palestinians.

As Israel marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 war, its collective memory remains impervious to change. Israel is just, noble and wise; Arabs were responsible for all the country’s wars and there is still no partner for peace. Onward to the next fifty!



The surprising longevity of apartheid

The Afrikaner still reigns supreme in the Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest and most popular game reserve. The reception desks, restaurants and stores in the reserve’s rest camps are now manned by blacks, but otherwise little has changed in the past thirty or forty years. Afrikaans-speaking South Africans in khaki clothes and floppy sun hats still dominate among the almost exclusively white clientele. Practical, if not official, apartheid lives on in the Kruger Park, as it does in most of the formerly white areas of the country.

At a Saturday food market adjacent to the Waterfront shopping complex in Cape Town, my daughter and I played “spot the black.” There were many black people, of course, but they were all preparing and serving food. Those paying the money and eating the food were white. When we eventually spotted a colored (mixed race) man eating at one of the tables, we agreed to count him as black. We were bored with the game by then.

Wall-to-wall whiteness also prevailed at Cape Point Vineyards, where I tasted seven wines, one of them magnificent and three pretty good, while overlooking the spectacular beach of Noordhoek on the Cape peninsula. (The tasting, by the way, cost 60 Rand or $4.50.) Same story at Constantia Glen, a boutique winery set among exquisite hills and vineyards close to the city.

At the Waterfront itself, a vast, gentrified portion of the old Cape Town port, there were quite a few, coloreds, Indians and even blacks among the swarming crowds, but that was a semi-multiracial exception. The malls and restaurants in Johannesburg were again solid white. The only times I mingled with substantial numbers of non-white people were in a buffet restaurant in Cape Town (situated in the building that formerly housed The Cape Times newspaper), a weekend market in Hout Bay (which, many whites will tell you, has been “overrun” by their more swarthy countrymen) and at an Indian restaurant in the predominantly Indian area of Fordsburg south of the Johannesburg city center.

And then there was the mall at the Carlton Center, deep in downtown Johannesburg. These days, the city center is a no-go area for whites, who prefer to live with their own kind in the leafy northern suburbs of the city. My friend Jeremy and I ventured into the Carlton Center mall for coffee, finding ourselves the only whites in the place (as far as we could see.) It was a bit unsettling. No-one seemed to pay us any attention and the people we encountered were typically friendly, but after almost two months in South Africa I had grown used to predominantly white surroundings. The Carlton Center was pure Africa, which is a pejorative concept for many whites on the tip of the continent. “Welcome to Africa,” they say, when the electricity suddenly goes out or a black cashier takes too long counting out the change.

Social apartheid is still alive and kicking in South Africa. Twenty-three years after the last apartheid government fell, white families still have black servants, shop in predominantly white shopping centers and live in large houses (with high walls topped by electrified fences) in white suburbs. Today it is a segregation enforced by economics, rather than law, but it looks and feels like the good old days of apartheid and white privilege.

In Sea Point, a mainly white suburb of Cape Town perched between the mountains and the sea, the bid by a Jewish educational trust to purchase an abandoned school and its property led to a full-scale crisis. Social activists demanded that the provincial government, which owns the land, use it instead for building affordable housing for poor people who currently commute long distances to work in the suburb. The government eventually decided to sell the property to the trust, but not before the controversy had aroused a lot of bad blood. All the whites I spoke to about the issue, most of whom would probably describe themselves as liberals and former opponents of apartheid, were opposed to the use of the property for low-cost housing. They used such terms as “social incompatibility” and “lack of economic logic,” but their real objection was to the influx of poor blacks into their white neighborhood.

To be fair, the precedents for building low-cost housing in the midst of middle-class (read white) neighborhoods have been less than successful. In Hout Bay, formerly a mink and manure oasis some twenty-five kilometers down the coast from Cape Town, the authorities built a few permanent houses for homeless people who had been living on a local beach. Those houses soon turned into a massive squatter camp of some 20,000 people that today straggles a good way up one of the mountains that surround the town. Hout Bay locals say that crime has spiraled and property values have plummeted, both by dozens of percent.

A fire broke out in the camp while I was there and nine people died. Fire engines couldn’t make their way through the sprawl of makeshift housing to fight the blaze.

The concerns of the residents of Sea Point are real. It’s not necessarily racism to be concerned about the value of one’s property and rising crime and it’s arguably human nature to want to retain one’s standard of living. But there’s something seriously askew when the wider context of those concerns is the most unequal country on earth (according to both the Gini index of inequality and the Palma ratio.) By and large, South Africa’s whites have thrived since the end of apartheid, despite the niggling inconveniences of black empowerment, university entrance quotas and bureaucratic bungling. But the majority of the population remains entrenched in horrific poverty.

The failure of the four ANC governments since the first democratic elections in 1994 to tackle poverty and provide basic living conditions (housing, education and healthcare) for the majority of the population has been catastrophic. The incumbent President, Jacob Zuma, doesn’t even seem to have tried, preferring to enrich himself and his cronies. The result has been what South Africans call “state capture,” the takeover of the levers of political and economic power by Zuma and his allies for their own personal financial gain and to solidify their hold on power.

Things reached boiling point at the end of March, when Zuma sacked his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, who had been an obstacle to some of the president’s more flagrant escapades. His replacement, Malusi Gigaba is expected to be a lot more amenable to the Zuma-led kleptocracy. The sacking of the respected Gordhan outraged the international financial community and resulted in the downgrading of South Africa’s debt to junk status by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, two of the Big Three international credit rating agencies. Foreign investment in South Africa is now an endangered species.

Zuma, who is scheduled to step down as the head of the ANC at the end of this year, is said to be grooming his former wife, Nokosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as his successor. If elected, she would replace him as president in 2019, when he has to step down according to ANC rules. Assumedly, he is planning on retaining political clout after he leaves office, not to mention staying out of jail after he loses immunity. With 249 seats in the 400-seat parliament, the ANC is unlikely to lose a no-confidence vote before the end of Zuma’s term. Nor is there much chance of a significant number of ANC MPs turning against the president; Zuma has wisely spread the largesse.

As things stand, then, things are at an impasse. Zuma isn’t going anywhere and he has given no indication that he intends to change his thieving ways – nor those of his allies in provincial governments, the public service, the security forces, the judiciary, parastatals and more. But the money will soon run out. Here are two possible scenarios of what could transpire:

Bereft of foreign investment and bled dry by the kleptocracy, South Africa turns to the IMF for assistance. The terms offered by the IMF are unacceptable – both because they would mean the end of the corruption orgy and because the traditional fiscal recipes of the IMF are anathema to the influential Communist Party of South Africa and its trade union allies. Left to its own devices, South Africa dwindles into an African basket case, with less and less development, state services and growth. Power cuts become routine, infrastructure crumbles and poverty and crime both soar, with the underfunded police unable to cope. The tribal clashes that led to some 14,000 deaths before the 1994 elections flare up again. Armed and hungry men roam the countryside. Whites are now the obvious and natural target. Those who can, pack up and leave, now a lot more concerned for their lives than for their living standards. South Africa becomes a failed state, like Somalia and South Sudan.

Another scenario is that Zuma undertakes “radical economic transformation,” which in South Africa is synonymous with nationalization, income and land distribution and stripping whites of company and business ownership. That frees up the capital held by whites and reduces the need for foreign investment. But the poor to whom the land and businesses are distributed don’t know how to farm or how to run a business. Soon, the land is lying fallow and commercial activity is at a standstill. Deprived of their livelihoods and much of their property, most of the whites leave. South Africa becomes a second Zimbabwe.

Perhaps I’m being over-negative and there is still a good scenario for South Africa. But I don’t see it. Even without the corruption of Zuma and friends, the country would still be a bog of inequality, racial tension and class conflict. It remains deeply segregated and has few prospects for growth. The end of apartheid certainly improved human rights and sparked the growth of a small black middle class, but very little prosperity has percolated down. South Africa desperately needs sound leadership and heavy investment, neither of which is visible on the horizon. All I see is a solid mass of very black clouds.


Kibbitz Kvetch

Israel Pursues True Apartheid

For those of us who consider Israel to be an apartheid state, it is sobering to realize that things are likely to get a lot worse before they get better. In South Africa, racial segregation took a long time to gestate, before reaching its full potential in apartheid. The Israeli version is only now showing signs of approaching maturity, never mind reaching its inevitable demise.

The term “apartheid” emerged in 1947 as the slogan of the pro-segregationist National Party in South Africa while it was still in opposition. It represented a slew of policies aimed at tightening white control over the country, deepening segregation and “balkanizing the country into separate socio-economic units,” as Richard Steyn put it in his new biography of South African statesman Jan Smuts.

In other words, apartheid was the formalization of the segregation that had existed in the colonies that made up the Union of South Africa, as it was then, for well over two hundred years. It’s implementation, in the years following the Nationalist victory in the 1948 elections, provided the legal framework for the entrenchment of practices – of a social reality – that, to a large extent, already existed.

The whites of South Africa were no more or less racist after the introduction of apartheid than they were before. What had changed was that they felt sufficiently unencumbered by their previous colonial master, Britain, were more organized and they finally had a plan.

It’s worth remembering that less than 50 years before apartheid became state policy, the Afrikaners were fighting the British in the Boer War, which they regarded as a struggle for survival against the colonial, commercial and, in particular, mining interests – represented by Britain – which threatened to swamp them.

Apartheid, then, was the culmination of a long and hard struggle by the Afrikaners to overcome foreign rule, establish themselves on the land, build up their power and create a nation. The presence of a large black population throughout that process was a problem that necessitated increasingly discriminatory and harsh measures, but until the formation of the Nationalist government in 1948, no overall solution to the race problem was ever put forward.

Even Jan Smuts, an international statesman and the drafter of the preambles to the charters of both the League of Nations and United Nations, was at a loss when it came to solving what was called the “native problem.” For most of his career, he preferred to side-step the issue. It fell to the Nationalist government of 1948 to propose an overarching race policy – apartheid. And it took close to another 50 years for apartheid to collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions and in the face of international obloquy.

In a very similar vein, Israel has failed to come up with a policy for its own “native problem.” It wants the land of the West Bank, but it has no idea of what to do with the population. Like Smuts, Benjamin Netanyahu’s only policy is to side-step the issue, his vague nods in the direction of a two-state solution notwithstanding.

In a technical sense, therefore, Israel is in a pre-apartheid phase. It has the functional segregation, the oppressive measures and an apathetic population that is largely disinterested in the fate of the other. It is apartheid-ready. What it lacks is the legal framework in which to implement its aspiration toward a state in which Jews control all the land and all the power.

That could soon be on the cards. Following the passing of the so-called Settlement Regularization Bill in early February, Knesset members from the coalition have now set their sights on annexing the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim to Israel. That is likely to be followed by further annexation, either on a piecemeal basis or of large swathes of the West Bank in one go.

The Regularization Bill, which retroactively legalized Jewish theft of private Palestinian land, was the first law passed by the Knesset that dealt with the fate of the Palestinians and their land. Until then, the displacement of the Palestinians had been accomplished by means of military decrees and Supreme Court dismissal of appeals by Palestinians or their Israeli representatives against the decrees.

To put it another way, the bill was the first occasion on which the Israeli legislature passed a law enabling discrimination by one segment of society against another. As such, it was an important milestone in the advance to fully-fledged apartheid.

Apart from David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu is Israel’s longest serving prime minister and he has fought numerous bruising diplomatic battles. He may not be the most appropriate person to lead Israel into the full bloom of apartheid. That distinction could well fall to Naftali Bennett, head of the avidly pro-settlement Habayit Hayehudi party, who, unlike the prime minister, does have a proper apartheid plan. Until now, Bennett has anchored the right-wing of the ruling coalition and prevented any deviation from the coalition’s pro-settlement line on the part of Netanyahu.

Bennett’s plan would involve the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, the herding of West Bank Palestinians into areas reminiscent of bantustans and the creation of two legal systems, one for Jews living anywhere in the greater territory and the other for West Bank Palestinians. It is a plan of which the South African architects of apartheid would have been proud.

To the best of my knowledge, Bennett’s plan doesn’t envisage discriminatory action against the Palestinians living within Israel proper, but that could be only a question of time. With apartheid fully in place in the West Bank, it’s unlikely that Israeli Jewish baasskap (domination) will tolerate unregulated Palestinians elsewhere. Their model could be the scrapping of the qualified black franchise in South Africa’s Cape Province by the apartheid regime.

If the experience of South Africa is anything to go by, therefore, apartheid is a slow-growing plant that needs ample time and water. In Bennett, Israel has the means, but will it have the time?



The Dying Gasp of Sanity in Israel

Personally, I believe that kids can’t be expected to grow up with morals or values different to those of the environment in which they mature. If a kid grows up watching his mother and father eating missionaries in the deepest Amazonian jungle, he’s going to be a cannibal. Similarly, it would have been exceptional for a kid who grew up with die-hard Nazi parents in the Germany of the Thirties, to have matured into anything but a Nazi himself. It’s a question of nature and nurture.

Elor Azaria, an Israeli army medic, was 19-years-old when he summarily executed Abd Fatah al-Sharif, a Palestinian from Hebron, in March last year. I don’t know anything about Azaria’s home life, but the public comments of his parents and family members since the execution leave little doubt that he didn’t grow up in a home in which the rights – or even the lives – of Palestinians were a major concern. Never mind a Palestinian who had apparently stabbed another Israeli soldier and was therefore a “terrorist,” a category of sub-human as deserving of grace as a cockroach.

I know a little more about the general environment in which Azaria developed, however, having lived in it myself and sent my children to the same sort of schools. Azaria was born into the occupation and the colonial, racist and intolerant society that is has engendered in Israel. For the six years preceding the execution, from the age of 13, he imbibed the poison of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel. He had no choice; it’s everywhere.

At a time when he was most vulnerable and most susceptible to outside influences, Azaria was bombarded by the propaganda of a regime that is inimical to anything even resembling justice and respect for human rights. He learned that Arabs are the implacable and eternal enemies of Israel; that they are little better than animals. He learned disdain for all criticism of Israel and its civilizing mission in the occupied territories.

He learned that concepts such as human rights, justice and freedom are the code words used by sissies, wusses and misguided liberals in their never-ending campaign to besmirch the good name of Israel and weaken it in preparation for destruction at the hands of its enemies

He learned that everything done by Israel in pacifying the Palestinians and securing its hold over the Greater Land of Israel is not only acceptable but blessed. And in the army’s Kfir battalion, a unit dedicated to the pacification and policing of the Palestinians in the territories, he learned that anything goes. Kfir is the settlers’ private security force, courtesy of the state. Loathing for and brutality against Arabs are the tools of its trade.

Those were the building blocks of Azaria’s character. They made him the person he was when, on March 24 last year, he fired a bullet at close range into the head of a severely wounded and totally unthreatening Abd Fatah al-Sharif. He was raised and conditioned to do it.

And let’s be candid. No-one actually believes that he was the first to execute a suspect or prisoner. Approximately 200 Palestinians have been killed since the wave of knifings began in October 2015, about 30 of them uninvolved in any attempted attack, by the army’s own account. It’s unlikely that we will ever know how many of those killings could have been avoided, but my guess is many.

Azaria’s only crime, in the current moral climate, is that he got caught. He did his Kfir duty in front of a video camera. And in so doing, he let the side down. Dirty work should not be done in public.

The military court that convicted Azaria of manslaughter on Wednesday is an anachronism; a feeble remnant of the law-abiding democracy that Israel still claims to be. It’s a dinosaur that will soon be extinct as a muscular, Putinesque authoritarianism takes over. Government ministers such as Miri Regev and Naftali Bennett criticized the verdict – and rightly so. It has no place in the new era they are creating.

The force is with them – and with the burgeoning army of land-stealing settlers and the cohorts of holy men who preach Jewish exceptionalism, disdain for women, contempt for gay people and hatred for the Palestinian Amalek. They are the future of Israel.

The court’s verdict was not, as some saw it, a victory for sanity and justice. It was a dying gasp; the desperate flailing of a swimmer in rough seas, before the tsunami hits. Sooner than we think, Azaria will be pontificating gravely as a right-wing member of the Knesset.



Kerry Doesn’t Understand the Problem

US Secretary of State John Kerry summed up the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, when he enunciated the Obama administration’s principles for a peace settlement during a speech in Washington.

Of the western countries, only the UK begged to differ from Kerry’s prescription, and that was more about emphasis than essence. And Australia was unable to stop itself from poking its neighbor and perennial rival New Zealand in the eye. But the rest of Europe, China, Russia and even the Sunni Arab states went along with Kerry’s approach.

Trump is likely to put a speedbump in the road of US Middle Eastern diplomacy, which Israel will rush through with alacrity and glee. More damage will be done; more lives wasted. But Trump, too, will eventually come up against the immovable reality of the conflict and return to the traditional approach.

The fact remains that there has rarely, if ever, been such global consensus on a local issue, albeit one with tremendous emotional and geopolitical impact.

But what if the world is wrong?

After all, it has happened before. Slavery, colonialism and even communism were once global endeavors, supported at one time or another by the current western powers and wide swathes of people around the world. Yet they eventually became anathema. It is entirely reasonable to at least ponder whether the world is not on the wrong path this time as well.

There are probably numerous grounds on which the Kerry doctrine can be questioned, but the three keys ones are a) whether Israel’s position is valid, b) whether the two-state solution as proposed by Kerry is fair, and c) whether it is viable.

I don’t doubt the importance of the land to many Israelis and even Jews who don’t live in Israel, but colonial occupation of a land and its people and the resulting brutality, oppression and denial of rights that are necessary to sustain that occupation are not, and can never be, a solution to the conflict. Israel has had 50 years to come up with a plan, but it hasn’t done so. And the simple reason is that there is no way it can both control the land and do justice by the people. Fifty years of occupation and settlement put Israel in the wrong.

Secondly, is the Kerry doctrine fair? Clearly not. Security Council Resolution 181 (from 1947), which Kerry quoted in his speech as the unavoidable basis of a solution, actually went a lot further than Kerry let on. For instance, the resolution allotted some 43% of Mandatory Palestine to the Palestinians (excluding Jerusalem, which was to be shared); the Kerry doctrine gives them only 22%.

It also envisages the Palestinian state as being demilitarized, while Israel would retain its army. And it includes land swaps, in which the Palestinians will have to give away some of their best land. Not to mention that the creation of the state will only follow a transitional period; the Oslo Accords taught us all we need to know about Israel and transitional periods. Needless to say, Israeli sovereignty would not be contingent on a transitional period. The Kerry doctrine doesn’t meet the test of fairness.

Which leave us with the viability of the two state solution. The US, the European Union and much of the rest of the world believes that the establishment of two sides living side-by-side in peace is the only rational and fair solution. The Palestinian Authority is officially committed to the two-state solution and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on record as saying that it his preferred goal, though he is doing everything in his power to ensure that it never comes about.

But the two-state solution will not solve the problem and is therefore not viable.

To understand why the two-state solution will not solve the problem, we first need to understand the problem itself. For a world that is tired of the conflict and wants to move on – a world that has been trying to stop Palestinians and Jews from killing each other for 50, 70 or even 100 years, take your pick – the two state solution is a godsend. It determines the starting date and place of the problem – June 1967, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – and attempts to solve the problem as so defined in place and time by reverting to the status quo ante. Presumably that will make everyone happy.

But it won’t. The first reason is that the territorial dispute did not begin in 1967. It didn’t even begin in 1948, though that was the year of the greatest upheaval. The dispute began when the first Zionist settlers arrived in Palestine with the goal of acquiring land on which to build the future Jewish state. That was over 100 years ago. Since then, Jews and Arabs have been locked in a struggle for the land, with much bloody water flowing under the bridge long before the 1967 war.

Nor did the problem begin in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians don’t commemorate the Nakba (the expulsions of 1948) just because they know it pisses off the Israelis. They remember it because it left some 700,000 Palestinians as refugees and over 400 villages as rubble – all of the latter in the area defined as Israeli in the Kerry doctrine. And there’s really not much point in debating whether the refugees were expelled or fled. The salient point is that they weren’t allowed back. The fledgling state of Israel prevented the return of the Palestinian refugees to their land and homes as deliberate policy, creating a body of refugees and their descendants that today numbers in the region of five million.

Israel also dynamited and covered over most of the villages and towns from which the refugees had fled, just for good measure.

Kicking the Israeli settlers out of the West Bank and returning to the so-called ’67 lines won’t solve the problem of the refugees. It won’t even tickle it. And without a solution to the refugee problem, there will never be peace. It is far too essential a part of the dispute to be ignored. Nor will it resolve the dispute over the land, much of which was seized or otherwise acquired by the Jews before 1967.

The second reason why the two-state solution won’t make everyone happy is that it ignores national aspirations which, like the refugee problem, are too dominant to be ignored. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Jews regard the West Bank as being the heartland of the territory promised to the Jews by God and are unwilling to see it under foreign, never mind Palestinian, sovereignty.

Personally, I don’t believe in God or the bible, so depriving messianic Jews of their heartland is no skin off my own nose. But I recognize their belief as an insurmountable problem to any peace effort that doesn’t take their national aspirations into account.

Likewise, many Palestinians are just as determined as the messianic Jews to return to their previous homes, lands and “national sanctuary” within the so-called ’67 borders. Kerry spoke vaguely and without much enthusiasm of “compensation,” but what precisely does he have in mind? Jews are not the only ethnic group or nation attached to a specific piece of land. Few of them would be satisfied with monetary compensation and the same goes for the Palestinians.

The unfortunate fact is that both Palestinians and Jews are attached, emotionally, religiously and as former owners, to land on both sides of what Kerry would like to see as the border between the two.  A separation agreement will only exacerbate those attachments. It certainly won’t stop true believers on both sides from trying to return to land they regard as their own.

The final reason why not everybody will be happy with the two-state solution is more prosaic. There are too many Jews now living in the West Bank and they are too well connected politically and too much part of the Jewish-Israeli mainstream for it to be feasible to move them. And even if Israel were to maintain the settlement blocs, as they are called, the large and militant settler community simply won’t accept the evacuation of God-given territory, irrespective of whether or not they live on it

It will mean civil war and no conceivable Israeli leader will take that risk. It was traumatic enough when Ben-Gurion fired on a few hundred militants, crew members and passengers on the Altalena. Doing the same to a sizeable chunk of the population, with its emissaries in every Israeli institution, including in the senior echelons of the army, is simply not on the cards.

I don’t have any easy solution to offer, but it’s perfectly clear to me that the two-state solution as enunciated by Kerry doesn’t even begin to deal with the real core issues – Israel’s colonial history, the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and the national aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians. If the two-state solution were ever implemented, it would be only a finger in the dyke. Trouble will begin rushing through soon enough, because neither side will give up on its claims or aspirations to what’s on the other side.

The place to start is in acknowledging reality and understanding the true nature of the problem. The Kerry doctrine, by treating June 1967 as Day Zero, doesn’t do that. It mistakes only part of the problem for the whole. It’s a real pity that smart and well-meaning people like Obama and Kerry are so blind.