By Ryan McGreal
Published January 09, 2009
Newly-minted Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff yesterday defended Israel's military offensive against Gaza, saying, "Canada has to support the right of a democratic country to defend itself."
Does Ignatieff mean how the Palestinians democratically elected Hamas after Israel and the US forced them to have an election, but then the US and Israel refused to recognize Hamas as the legitimate government and started funneling arms to Fatah militias to destabilize the government and create a civil war to force Hamas into Gaza, after which they set up a blockade around Gaza, broke the ceasefire with Hamas (while blaming Hamas for breaking it) and then launched a massive bombardment complete with horrible atrocities when people in Gaza dared to fight back?
Is that the "right of a democratic country to defend itself" to which Ignatieff is referring?
Of course not. A pernicious double standard justifies Israel's massive military attacks, building demolitions, targeted assassinations and even torture of Palestinians, as well as maintaining its "kill ratio", which Gwynne Dyer calls a:
demonstrated will to kill and destroy on a vastly greater scale than anybody attacking it can manage. Its enemies must know that if one Israeli is killed, a dozen or even a hundred Arabs will die. This has been the dominant concept of Israeli strategy from the very foundation of the state.
Or as the late, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon put it in 2002, "The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful: we must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the heavy price."
It's just astonishing that Ignatieff, formerly a human rights professor at Harvard, turns a blind eye to what can only be described as collective punishment, a crime against humanity.
The violations by Israel are the most heinous crimes against humanity that international law recognizes: occupation, war crimes, torture, collective punishment, denial of habeas corpus, and so on. Hamas is a reaction to Israel's crimes against humanity, not an impetus for them.
When a country is guilty of crimes against humanity, it's incumbent on the oppressors to cease their crimes against humanity, and it's incumbent on the rest of the world to do what it can to encforce those laws.
Israel has failed the former test, while Canada and the other industrialized countries - but especially the US, which carries the balance of international power and actively supports Israeli crimes against humanity - have failed the latter.
Right from the start, Israel was founded unilaterally and in violation of international law in 1948 after Zionists and Arabs alike rejected the UN's Partition Plan. They established the Israeli state by following Plan Dalet, a program of ethnic cleansing that displaced most of the Palestinians living there. Israel's war of independence ejected some 700,000 Palestinians and killed at least 800 in what can only be described as village massacres.
Plan Dalet endorsed:
The destruction of villages (by fire, blowing up and mining) â€“ especially of those villages over which we cannot gain control. Gaining of control will be accomplished in accordance with the following instructions: The encircling of the village and the search of it. In the event of resistance - the destruction of the resisting forces and the expulsion of the population beyond the boundaries of the State.
As Israeli historian Benny Morris has noted about the various massacres, rapes and other atrocities during the expulsion:
That can't be accidental. It's a pattern. Apparently, various officers who took part in the operation understood that the expulsion order they received permitted them to do these deeds in order to encourage the population to take to the roads. The fact is that no one was punished for these acts of murder. [David] Ben-Gurion silenced the matter. He covered up for the officers who did the massacres.
To this day, Israel still refuses to acknowledge the grievance of the Palestinians who were pushed aside and killed to make room for a new country. Since then, Israel has compounded this crime with illegal settlements in Palestinian lands; a significant land grab in 1967 under the pretext of breaking a blockade (how ironic that Israel is now blockading Gaza in much the same way); the invasion and 20 year occupation of Lebanon, complete with massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps; the construction of a wall that separated Palestinians from their own land - often their own farms; and of course the rolling wave of bombardment, demolition, assassination, detentions and torture.
Israel's reaction to the election of Hamas was another in a long string of missed opportunities for peace. Hamas' movement into politics meant they wanted an end to the illegal occupation of their country and were willing to try a political approach after years of violence.
The progression from a militant terrorist group to a political organization was an important step in the right direction, and it led to Hamas abandoning the goal of destroying Israel, agreeing to recognize Israel in exchange for ending the occupation, and so on. Israel's response undercut the source of that moderation and hardened Hamas back into a militant group fighting against the US- and Israeli-equipped Fatah forces.
Israel should have taken the opportunity to try and work with Hamas as, if nothing else, the legitimately elected government of the PA. Instead they sabotaged the new Hamas government, drove a wedge into Palestine (the old divide and conquer trick works every time) and set any imaginable peace process back indefinitely.
The simple fact is that you cannot beat terrorists into submission. Unless you're prepared to annihilate them completely, the best you can do is try to create conditions that encourage them to believe that they can reach their objectives via the political process rather than violence. That, of course, means delivering on the promise to bargain in good faith.
Israel is never going to achieve peace with the Palestinians until it takes responsibility, somehow, for the manner in which the country was founded in 1948 and expanded in 1967.
The public debate in Israel is far more open and candid than the public debate about Israel in North America, where criticism of Israel's actions is almost forbidden.
Public opinion in Israel is sharply split over what Israel should be doing about the "Palestinian problem", but the nature of Israel's political system tends to reinforce a hardline stance on the occupation, settlements, and long-maintained "kill ratio" regardless of which coalition of parties controls the Knesset (Israel's parliament).
Yet the Israeli peace movement is quite significant, and for years large majorities of Israelis have supported some kind of two-state solution to the occupation. The problem is mainly political.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the former leader of the right-leaning Kadima Party, acknowledges that some kind of solution is inevitable if Israel is to survive. He advocates some form of two-state solution that gives Palestinians their own country, as they have a much higher birth rate than Isreali Jews and will soon constitute an absolute majority in Israel.
At a conference in Annapolis in November 2007, Olmert stated:
If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.
Olmert is as frightened of granting full rights to the Palestinians as the Afrikaans in South Africa were of giving the same rights to the black South Africans they had herded into the notorious bantusans. He would rather give Palestinians their own country than allow them full participation in his.
What eventually happened in South Africa was that the oppressors ultimately realized that they could never punish the resistance enough to make them give in.
The government and ANC had reached a stalemate. The ANC realized they could not overthrow the government and the government realized they could not eliminate the ANC. That mutual recognition (by which I mean a mutual realization that the one side did not have the power to destroy the other side and must therefore be reckoned with) was the basis for the peace process that followed.
Go back and read what the Afrikaans had to say about black South Africans and the ANC back in the 1970s and '80s:
They're savages, they're uncivilized, they can't be trusted, they would rise up and slit our throats in our sleep if we gave them a chance, they don't value life the way we do, they would take over the government and destroy our way of life.
Amazingly, the claims embodied in this calculus of oppression never happened when a truce was finally called. Instead, the ANC and the government began the process of Truth and Reconciliation, a series of public sessions designed to achieve what Desmond Tutu called "restorative justice" by offering amnesty in exchange for accountability - laying bare the crimes committed by both sides, apologizing to the affected communities, and agreeing to find ways to put the past behind them and begin to learn how to live together.
This must have been terrifying for the Afrikaans. They were vastly outnumbered and so were guaranteed to end up living under a government composed primarily of black South Africans - the same "savages" against whom they had spent decades protecting themselves through Apartheid - oppression, repression, bantusans, military checkpoints, and so on.
Yet Truth and Reconciliation, for all its problems (including the widely held view that the Commission was wrong to grant amnesty to human rights abusers), has nevertheless been largely successful at achieving a peaceful transition from mutual contempt to a tentative, often grudging but mainly peaceful coexistence between two formerly inimical groups.
I honestly believe that a roughly analogous process is the only long-term possibility for peace in Israel/Palestine. Israel rejects the idea of a one-state solution for pretty much the same reasons that the Afrikaans had opposed it: demographics.
In a few years, Arabs will be a numerical majority in Israel/Palestine. Since Israel is a democracy, Israeli Jews worry about what an Arab majority would vote for.
Still, I seriously doubt that any two-state solution could be viable in the long term. For one thing, the Palestinian territories are not contiguous; this is a large part of why former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's peace plan of the late 1990s failed - it would have established de facto bantusans surrounded by Israeli checkpoints.
For another, between the polyglot demographics of Jerusalem/East Jerusalem and the settlements, the two populations are not separated geographically. Any two-state solution would reasonably entail considerable migration - at least some of it involuntary.
Ethnic cleansing under Ben Gurion's Plan Dalet was a disaster; reverse ethnic cleansing tomorrow would be another disaster, not an undoing of the previous one.