By Ewen MacAskill in Washington
30 January 2007
The US government delivered a mild but rare rebuke to
Israel yesterday when the state department said ith might
have misused American-made cluster bombs in its offensive
against Lebanon last summer. A state department spokesman,
Sean McCormack, said that after a US investigation, a
preliminary classified report had been sent to Congress so
that it could decide whether to pursue the issue. "There
were likely violations," he said.
The UN said last year that Israel had dropped 100,000
cluster bombs that remained unexploded, 90% of them in the
last few days of the war, calling it "immoral".
The UN mine office said last week it had found hundreds of
bomblets of types made by the US among unexploded ordnance
recovered in nearly 250 locations in southern Lebanon.
Given the close relationship between Israel and the US,
with Washington providing huge financial aid, it is
unusual for the US to criticise the country.
When Israel buys cluster bombs and other lethal equipment
from the US, it must agree in writing to restrictions on
Mr McCormack said the report "is not a final judgment". He
declined to speculate on what action might be taken
against Israel if a violation was confirmed.
The Reagan administration imposed a six-year ban on
cluster weapon sales to Israel in 1982, after a
congressional investigation found misuse of the weapons
during Israel's war that year with Lebnon.
There is no international ban on using cluster bombs
against fighters. But the Red Cross called for a ban
because their indiscriminate nature means civilians are
often the victims. The US, Russia and the UK have resisted
a complete ban.
Mr McCormack said Israeli officials had been cooperative.
The Israeli army has said all the weapons it uses "are
legal under international law and their use conforms with
An Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev, said he was
not aware of the state department report but when the US
had raised cluster bombs in the past, Israel had been
"forthcoming, detailed and transparent".
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
28 January 2007
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's security
advisers have been amassing weapons in the Gaza Strip and
the West Bank to build up a wider range of forces than
just the presidential guard, Palestinian security sources
The sources said several thousand assault rifles and other
weapons have been set aside in storehouses for members of
Preventive Security and other services that are dominated
by Abbas's Fatah faction and are locked in an increasingly
violent power struggle with the ruling Hamas movement.
Previous arms shipments were earmarked solely for Abbas's
presidential guard with U.S. and Israeli backing. Up to
$170 million, including U.S. funds and Palestinian tax
revenues released by Israel, will provide training,
equipment and other support to the guard, according to
U.S. and Israeli officials.
Palestinian sources did not disclose the source of the
weapons or when they arrived in the Palestinian
The Palestinian security sources, who spoke on condition
of anonymity, said Abbas has yet to authorize distribution
of the assault rifles in storage to the other security
But Hamas officials say forces loyal to Abbas appeared to
be better equipped during clashes over the weekend across
the Gaza Strip, which killed at least 24 people. In most
previous flare-ups, Fatah suffered heavier losses than
Violence between the factions has increased sharply in the
last month since unity government talks broke down and
Abbas called for new elections.
Islamist Hamas beat secular Fatah in parliamentary
elections a year ago. Hamas says holding another vote
would amount to a coup.
The senior Palestinian security sources said between 3,900
and 4,900 Kalashnikovs and M-16 rifles and other weapons
were being stored in the West Bank city of Jericho and in
Gaza for Preventive Security as well as Abbas's National
Security and General Intelligence services.
Several previous shipments of guns, ammunition and other
lethal equipment were delivered to Abbas's presidential
guard from U.S. allies Egypt and Jordan with Israeli
A senior Israeli official said Israel was unaware of any
weapons going to forces beyond the presidential guard.
Of the $100 million in Palestinian tax revenues that
Israel transferred to Abbas's office earlier this month,
$85 million will go towards a U.S.-led program to bolster
the guard, said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Prime Minister
Washington plans to use $86 million of its own money in
coming months to provide the presidential guard with
training and non-lethal equipment, officials said.
Though its leaders are seen as loyal to Fatah, Preventive
Security is not eligible for direct U.S. assistance
because it technically falls under the jurisdiction of the
Hamas-led Interior Ministry.
Western officials said Abbas's military build-up was meant
to counter strides by Hamas in smuggling more powerful
weapons into Gaza for its fast-growing "Executive Force"
and armed wing, known as the Izz el-Din al-Qassam
The West Bank is dominated by Fatah but the group fears
Hamas is secretly training forces there. Of the new
weapons for Abbas's wider forces, 3,000 have been
earmarked for the occupied West Bank, Palestinian security
Some analysts have warned that fighting between Hamas and
Fatah could turn into a proxy war, with the United States
supporting Abbas and Iran backing Hamas.
But David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy said the security aid was "defensive" and that
the goal was to avoid a situation in which "Hamas believes
it can swallow or even intimidate non-Hamas forces and
take over Gaza."
Western diplomats say Hamas appeared to have a military
edge in any prolonged fight with Fatah for control of
First deployed by the Hamas-led government in the narrow
coastal strip in May, Hamas says its "Executive Force" has
grown from an estimated 3,000 members to nearly 6,000.
With U.S. support in the coming months, Abbas's
presidential guard is expected to expand from 4,000 to
4,700 men. Palestinian officials say the force could
eventually grow to 10,000 members.
Preventive Security and Abbas's General Intelligence
service have about 6,000 members each. The National
Security forces have up to 40,000 members in total.
The United States and Israel have also backed a proposal
by Abbas to let about 1,000 members of the so-called Badr
Brigade, a Fatah-dominated force based in Jordan, into the
Palestinian territories, though no date has been set.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Monday, January 22, 2007
By Avi Issacharoff
22 January 2007
The Israel Defense Forces admitted on Sunday that the 44
dirt obstacles it said had been removed from around West
Bank villages did not actually exist.
Last Tuesday, the IDF announced that it had removed 44
dirt obstacles that blocked access roads to West Bank
villages, to fulfill promises made by Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
during their meeting a month ago. Olmert had pledged
measures to ease the lives of Palestinian civilians.
However, a military source admitted on Sunday that these
obstacles "had either been removed before the political
level decided on the alleviations or had been bypassed by
Palestinians earlier, and a decision had been made not to
This statement confirms a claim made recently by United
Nations organizations operating in the territories: that
most of these barriers were not removed, because they had
not existed for months.
In response, the IDF Spokesman's Office said: "The IDF
recently removed 44 barriers in an effort to ease the
movement of the Palestinian population in Judea and
Samaria. These actions are being carried out in line with
assessments of the situation."
The IDF has erected close to 400 such dirt obstacles in
Sunday, January 21, 2007
This week on Crossing The Line, I’ll speak to Nora Barrows-Friedman reporting live from The West Bank for Flashpoints Radio about the ongoing situation in occupied Hebron, Bethlehem and her work with young Palestinian journalists in Diehesha refugee camp. Then later in the podcast our weekly commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal, plus the War’s Toll compiled and read by Scott Burgwin of the Stand Independent News Service. All of this coming up,
Monday, January 15, 2007
Is it alright if I call you that? I mean, you seem like a down home kinda guy; I'm just asking. Anyway, I watched your interview on "60 Minutes" last night and I thought you were just great!
No seriously, I did think that. I love the quick-witted comments you made about the whole Iraq thing. you know what? The progressive left, 75% of the country, Congress (especially Sen. Sam Brownback) and others need to step off!
Who are they to say we shouldn't have more troops in Iraq. They're not president. Right? They aren't are they? I'm just asking cause things move so quickly here in Internet-land.
20,000 more troops is nothing. Besides, we've only lost a little over 3,000. Hell in WWII we lost about 50,000 or so; and in Vietnam we dropped about the same amount, more or less. And look at the war between the states; 620,000!!!!! Gees, Lincoln couldn't manage a war to save his butt that's why Booth shot him. But not you Mr. President (I'm gonna go with this title instead. I don't wanna offend), you've barely even given the U.S. a scratch on the arm in terms of casualties. Good on ya boss!
I'll tell you something Sir, that journalist that interviewed you had some nerve to ask whether mistakes were made. Sure they were, but it's not like you were over there making them. it's not like you were in the military for longer than the amount of time to get fitted for your reserve flight uniform. You have generals, analysts, foot soldiers, and a study group to blame. What were they doing all this time?
I have to admit, I've seen the light now Sir. I had issues with you in the past, but you've made a believer out of me. I don't care what the naysayers say about no WMDs; Saddam not being a threat to the U.S.; insurgencies growing; more than 100 Iraqi bodies a day being found; Conservative military periodicals saying things are being handled bad; an overwhelming majority in the U.S. and the world saying this whole thing is wrong; instability in Iraq being so bad that even the Israelis wished that Saddam was back in power; the whole lot of them don't know Jack!
You just keep doing what our doing Mr. President. You'll right this ship; you'll turn that corner; you'll find those WMDs; the republicans will keep the White House in '08; and history will remember you.
Yes Sir, your doing a heckuva job, W! Thought I'd paraphrase ya when you said that to Brownie when he was down in New Orleans. By the way, hows that shaping up?
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Hello one and all. The latest podcast is available featuring an interview with Sam Bahour, so good ahead and click here!
Also if you wish to provide a link for your listeners, please feel free and do so. Again I thank all of you for your continued support.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Yes, There is Apartheid in Israel
By SHULAMIT ALONI
Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what's right in front of our eyes. It's simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practises its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population.
The US Jewish Establishment's onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: through its army, the government of Israel practises a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies. Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp. All this is done in order to keep an eye on the population's movements and to make its life difficult. Israel even imposes a total curfew whenever the settlers, who have illegally usurped the Palestinians' land, celebrate their holidays or conduct their parades.
If that were not enough, the generals commanding the region frequently issue further orders, regulations, instructions and rules (let us not forget: they are the lords of the land). By now they have requisitioned further lands for the purpose of constructing "Jewish only" roads. Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night--all that on stolen land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated and he is sent on his way.
On one occasion I witnessed such an encounter between a driver and a soldier who was taking down the details before confiscating the vehicle and sending its owner away. "Why?" I asked the soldier. "It's an order--this is a Jews-only road", he replied. I inquired as to where was the sign indicating this fact and instructing [other] drivers not to use it. His answer was nothing short of amazing. "It is his responsibility to know it, and besides, what do you want us to do, put up a sign here and let some antisemitic reporter or journalist take a photo so he that can show the world that Apartheid exists here?"
Indeed Apartheid does exist here. And our army is not "the most moral army in the world" as we are told by its commanders. Sufficient to mention that every town and every village has turned into a detention centre and that every entry and every exit has been closed, cutting it off from arterial traffic. If it were not enough that Palestinians are not allowed to travel on the roads paved 'for Jews only', on their land, the current GOC found it necessary to land an additional blow on the natives in their own land with an "ingenious proposal".
Humanitarian activists cannot transport Palestinians either.
Major-General Naveh, renowned for his superior patriotism, has issued a new order. Coming into affect on 19 January, it prohibits the conveyance of Palestinians without a permit. The order determines that Israelis are not allowed to transport Palestinians in an Israeli vehicle (one registered in Israel regardless of what kind of numberplate it carries) unless they have received explicit permission to do so. The permit relates to both the driver and the Palestinian passenger. Of course none of this applies to those whose labour serves the settlers. They and their employers will naturally receive the required permits so they can continue to serve the lords of the land, the settlers.
Did man of peace President Carter truly err in concluding that Israel is creating Apartheid? Did he exaggerate? Don't the US Jewish community leaders recognise the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination of 7 March 1966, to which Israel is a signatory? Are the US Jews who launched the loud and abusive campaign against Carter for supposedly maligning Israel's character and its democratic and humanist nature unfamiliar with the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 30 November 1973? Apartheid is defined therein as an international crime that among other things includes using different legal instruments to rule over different racial groups, thus depriving people of their human rights. Isn't freedom of travel one of these rights?
In the past, the US Jewish community leaders were quite familiar with the meaning of those conventions. For some reason, however, they are convinced that Israel is allowed to contravene them. It's OK to kill civilians, women and children, old people and parents with their children, deliberately or otherwise without accepting any responsibility. It's permissible to rob people of their lands, destroy their crops, and cage them up like animals in the zoo. From now on, Israelis and International humanitarian organisations' volunteers are prohibited from assisting a woman in labour by taking her to the hospital. [Israeli human rights group] Yesh Din volunteers cannot take a robbed and beaten-up Palestinian to the police station to lodge a complaint. (Police stations are located at the heart of the settlements.) Is there anyone who believes that this is not Apartheid?
Jimmy Carter does not need me to defend his reputation that has been sullied by Israelophile community officials. The trouble is that their love of Israel distorts their judgment and blinds them from seeing what's in front of them. Israel is an occupying power that for 40 years has been oppressing an indigenous people, which is entitled to a sovereign and independent existence while living in peace with us. We should remember that we too used very violent terror against foreign rule because we wanted our own state. And the list of victims of terror is quite long and extensive.
We do limit ourselves to denying the [Palestinian] people human rights. We not only rob of them of their freedom, land and water. We apply collective punishment to millions of people and even, in revenge-driven frenzy, destroy the electricity supply for one and half million civilians. Let them "sit in the darkness" and "starve".
Employees cannot be paid their wages because Israel is holding 500 million shekels that belong to the Palestinians. And after all that we remain "pure as the driven snow". There are no moral blemishes on our actions. There is no racial separation. There is no Apartheid. It's an invention of the enemies of Israel. Hooray for our brothers and sisters in the US! Your devotion is very much appreciated. You have truly removed a nasty stain from us. Now there can be an extra spring in our step as we confidently abuse the Palestinian population, using the "most moral army in the world".
[Translated by Sol Salbe]Shulamit Aloni is the former Education Minister of Israel. She has been awarded both the Israel Prize and the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Thursday, January 04, 2007
By Orly Halpern
5 January 2007
Jerusalem - Although few tears were shed in Israel over
Saddam Hussein's death last week, a small but growing
chorus -- including government officials, academics and
Iraqi emigres -- is warning that Israel could find itself
in more danger with him gone, and that it might even
regret having welcomed his toppling.
"If I knew then what I know today, I would not have
recommended going to war, because Saddam was far less
dangerous than I thought," said Haifa University political
scientist Amatzia Baram, one of Israel's leading Iraq
Saddam was feared and reviled in Israel, both as a tyrant
and as an enemy of the Jewish state. He demonstratively
supported Palestinian terrorists, and few have forgiven
his bombarding of Israel with Scud missiles during the
1991 Gulf War.
"Retrospectively, justice has been done," Deputy Defense
Minister Ephraim Sneh told Israel Radio this week. Still,
he cautioned, Israel must now be concerned "about what is
liable to happen in the future."
Saddam's death, Sneh warned, could lead to "a
reinforcement of Iranian influence in Iraq." He said that
Iraq had turned into a "volcano of terror" following the
war, with "destructive energies" that could spill over
into Jordan and Israel.
Such misgivings, though rarely aired publicly for fear of
offending Washington, reach high into Israel's security
establishment. Yuval Diskin, director of the Shin Bet
security service, told a group of students in a military
preparatory program last May that Israel might come to
regret its support for the American-led invasion in March
"When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot
who controls his people by force, you have chaos," Diskin
said, unaware that the meeting was secretly recorded. "I'm
not sure we won't miss Saddam." The tape was later
broadcast on Israeli television.
Although Iraq was long feared as a formidable enemy of the
Jewish state, on the eve of the invasion it was poor and
powerless. Palaces across the country were made of cheap
plaster. Nuclear and biological weapons seen as threats by
the Bush administration were nonexistent.
Baram, the Iraq expert, said that before the war started,
he advised American officials of problems they might face
afterward. What he did not anticipate, he said, was the
scale of terrorism that would spread across the country,
calling it "much, much more than I expected."
Since the invasion, chaos has swept Iraq. Terrorist bombs
in public places, sectarian attacks between Shi'ites and
Sunnis, and ordinary criminal violence kill tens of people
daily. One study estimates that some 650,000 Iraqis have
died violently since the war, killed either by American
and allied forces, terrorists or criminals.
Even some of those who suffered directly from Saddam's
brutality told the Forward that in retrospect, Israel was
better off with him than without.
Baghdad-born Avraham Eini was a teenager when his father
was arrested and tortured by Saddam's security agents in
the 1970s. "He later died of his wounds," said 54-year-old
Eini, who had escaped with his family and settled in Ramat
Gan. Two decades later, in 1991, Iraqi Scud missiles fell
200 yards from his house.
Eini said he felt a sense of "revenge and relief" when
Saddam was executed last week. Yet, he said, "Israel would
be safer today if Saddam stayed in power."
Saddam and his Ba'athist revolutionary colleagues came to
power in 1968, a year after the crushing defeat of Arab
armies by Israel in the Six-Day War. Vice president and
strongman of the regime, Saddam had an attitude that was
decidedly anti-Israel, following Ba'athist ideology and
postwar Arab sentiment. One of his first notorious moves
was to hang 17 alleged spies, nine of them Jewish.
Throughout the 1970s Saddam's anti-Israel rhetoric
continued, along with his hounding of Iraqi Jews and his
support for the Arab Liberation Front, a militant
Palestinian group that shelled Israel from southern
Lebanon. He took full control as president in 1979,
escalating his rhetoric and brutality. Shortly afterward,
Iraq was invaded by neighboring Iran, touching off a
bloody, eight-year war that inflicted huge hardship on
Iraqis and Iranians alike. Saddam further tightened his
regime and launched a furious arms race.
In 1981, alarmed at Iraq's nuclear weapons project, Israel
sent warplanes to destroy the nuclear plant at Osirak,
fueling the dictator's hostility.
A few years into the Iran-Iraq war, however, Saddam
moderated his anti-Israel stance. Some observers believe
he merely hoped to curry favor with Washington. Others say
that even so, it might have led to a thaw. Jews in Iraq
were now protected by a special unit and had a phone
number to call if harassed. "Nobody could touch us," said
Emad Levy, who lived in Iraq at the time.
In 1982 Saddam told a visiting congressman that he
supported the "existence of an independent Palestinian
state accepted by the Palestinians." He added, "It is also
necessary to have a state of security for the Israelis."
Israeli officials publicly dismissed the feelers as a
Soon after, Saddam moved closer to Egypt, which he had
previously snubbed for making peace with Israel. Iraq's
government-controlled newspapers began using the word
"Israel" in place of "the Zionist enemy."
In early 1986, Israel's then-prime minister, Shimon Peres,
a supporter of secret American-Iran arms deals, stopped
supplying Iran and sent aides to meet secretly with Iraqi
officials. The contacts were reported in the Israeli press
but firmly denied by both sides. "Nothing came of the
meetings," Baram said, "but they showed that something was
Later in 1986, when the hawkish Yitzhak Shamir became
prime minister, the meetings were shut down.
Today such talks are inconceivable. There is no one to
talk to in a nation collapsing into warring factions.
Following the invasion, Israel no longer faces a military
threat from Iraq. But terrorist threats have moved closer.
Last year, Iraq-based terrorists staged a deadly triple
bombing attack on Amman hotels, and Al Qaeda attacked an
American naval target in the Jordanian port of Aqaba, next
door to Eilat.
The Iraqi threat was once quite serious. Iraq sent troops
to fight in three wars against Israel, beginning in 1948.
After the Iraq-Iran cease-fire in 1988, Iraq started
rebuilding its arsenal -- including its nuclear project.
But after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, America led an
attack in 1991, forcing it to withdraw and to accept
intrusive arms inspections, and punishing economic
Even at their peak, Saddam's nuclear ambitions were not
necessarily aimed at Israel, experts say. "I never
believed that Iraq stood to attack Israel," said Yoram
Meital, a professor of Middle East studies at Ben-Gurion
University. Even when it lobbed 39 Scuds at Tel Aviv,
"Iraq attacked Israel in the first Gulf War in order to
cause Israel to attack Iraq and bring the disintegration
of the international coalition against Iraq" by prompting
Arab states to withdraw.
"He could have shot chemical weapons at Israel, but he
didn't," said political scientist Eitan Barak, a security
specialist at Hebrew University.
Exaggeration of such threats and grievances, Barak and
other say, led American policy-makers, with Israel's
blessing, to replace a bad situation with a much worse
"Saddam's regime was preferable -- not only for us but for
all the states in the region, except for maybe the
Iranians," Barak said. "Saddam held together a divided,
tribal, hostile state of Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds. He
was a single man who made all decisions, and he was a
rational leader. The moment he was gone, everything fell
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
The Future of Israel as Nation State
By URI AVNERY
"I DON'T care about the principles! All that I want is that my wife can live with me and that we can raise a family!" cried out the engaging young man on the TV talk show.
Sammy is an Arab citizen from Acre, studying for a doctor's degree at Haifa University. Something terrible happened to him: he fell in love with the wrong woman - a Palestinian from Jenin in the occupied territories. He had met her by accident in Ramallah, obtained for her (on false pretences, he admits) a permit to stay in Israel for one day and married her. Since then he can visit her only once every few weeks in Jenin.
She cannot come to live with him in Acre, because the Knesset has enacted a "temporary" law that forbids categorically, without any exceptions, Palestinian women in the occupied territories from joining their husbands in Israel. (That applies equally, of course, to the Palestinian husbands in the occupied territories of Israeli Arab women.)
The freedom of love and marriage is one of the basic human rights. Its denial to 1.4 million Israeli citizens, solely because they are Arab, is a severe violation of the international Bill of Rights that has been signed by Israel. It also attacks the roots of Israeli democracy.
The pretext - what else could it be? - is "security". Among the 105,000 Palestinian women from the occupied territories who, in the course of the years, have married Israeli citizens, 25 have taken part in terrorist acts. 25 (twenty-five!) as against 104,975 (one hundred and four thousand nine hundred and seventy-five!)
But, as usual with us, "security" is serving here as camouflage for the real reason. Behind the prohibition lurks the demographic demon, a demon with a sinister power over the brains of Israelis, that can twist their thoughts, extinguish the last spark of decency and morality and turn quite normal human beings into monsters.
His emissaries scour the world for Jews, real or imagined. They have discovered (and brought to Israel!) Indians who claim to be descended from the tribe of Manasseh, one of the ten tribes that were exiled by the Assyrians - according to the Bible - from Palestine some 2720 years ago. In New Mexico they have discovered families whose ancestors were supposedly Jews baptized 500 years ago under the threat of the Spanish Inquisition. They bring Russian Christians, who have a tenuous connection with Jewish families, and the Falashmura from Ethiopia, whose Judaism is rather dubious. All of these are dragged to Israel and obtain immediate citizenship and a generous "absorption subsidy". But a young woman from Jenin, whose family has lived in this country for centuries, is not allowed to live here with her husband, whose forefathers have lived in Acre for generations. All because of that fearful demon.
A HUNDRED and twenty years ago Asher Ginsburg, known as Ahad Haam ("One of the People"), a great Jewish thinker, visited Palestine and was horrified by the way the Jewish settlers treated the native Arabs. Since then, many pretexts for pushing Arabs out have been invented. Almost every year the pretext in vogue has changed. Now a new one has become fashionable: "the Nation State". Tsipi Livni was perhaps the first to use it.
Israel is a "Nation state" of the Jews, and therefore it has the right to do anything that serves Jews and harms non-Jews, even when they are Israeli citizens. "The good of the individual has to give way to the common good!" a respected professor said about the case of Sammy, "and the common good forbids allowing the Palestinian wife of Sammy to enter Israel, which is the Jewish Nation State."
That sounds simple and logical. The Nation State exists for the nation. But it is not simple at all. It raises several intractable questions. For example:
What is the nation in question? A world-wide Jewish nation? An Israeli-Jewish nation? Or just an Israeli nation?
And what kind of nation state are we talking about? The French nation state at the end of the 18th century? The Polish nation state that came into being at the end of World War I? Or the American nation state as it exists today? All these are models of a nation state - but very different from each other.
ANYONE WHO argues that Israel is the state of the world-wide Jewish nation is emptying the word "nation" of all content. This would mean that our state belongs to a community most of whose members do not live in Israel, are not Israeli citizens, do not pay Israeli taxes and have no vote in Israeli elections. American Jews like Henry Kissinger, Paul Wolfowitz and Thomas Friedman, while committed body and soul to Israel, would vigorously deny that they belong to the Jewish "nation" rather that to the American.
Years ago, the Knesset enacted a law that denies anyone the right to run for elections without publicly accepting that Israel is "the state of the Jewish people". However, it is Israeli citizenship alone that decides who can vote.
So perhaps our nation-state really belongs to a Jewish-Israeli nation? Is Israel the nation state of its Jewish citizens only? Many Israelis may feel that way. But that is contrary to Israeli legislation, which says that all citizens are equal before the law. According to the Supreme Court and official doctrine, Israel is a "Jewish and democratic state". A sort of square circle or round square.
Israeli identity cards record the holder's "nation". Cards belonging to Jews say: "Nation: Jewish". Years ago, the Supreme Court rejected the petition of a citizen for the entry "Nation: Israeli". Now the court is dealing with another petition of dozens of citizens (myself included) who want the item in their cards to read "Nation: Israeli".
Is this country really an Israeli nation state? If so, does the Israeli nation include all Israeli citizens, much as the American nation includes all US citizens? In particular - does this nation include the 1.4 million Palestinian-Arab citizens, about a fifth of the state's population?
ISRAEL'S ARAB citizens suffer discrimination in almost all spheres of life. The list, which is no secret, would fill several pages. Just as examples: the education system spends on an Arab child one fifth of what it spends on a Jewish one. The health system spends on an Arab citizen much less than on a Jew. Almost all Arab local councils are bankrupt, one of the reasons being that the government pays them per capita much less than Jewish councils. An Arab citizen cannot get land from the Land Authority, which holds almost all the land in Israel. Not to mention the built-in official discrimination of the Law of Return and the Law of citizenship.
Twice Israeli soldiers and policemen have shot at Arab demonstrators who are Israeli citizens, killing several of them - once in 1976 ("Land Day"), the other time in 2000 ("the October Events"). They never shot Jewish demonstrators in Israel. (Once the police shot a Jewish demonstrator who was shooting at them from the roof of his home.)
Now everybody understands that a confrontation with the problem cannot be evaded anymore.
At the end of the 1948 war, in which the state of Israel was founded, only a small number of Palestinian-Arabs remained. Most of their compatriots had fled or been driven out. The cultural, social and political elite left at the beginning of the war. The pitiful remnant that was left was subjected for 18 years to a regime of intimidation and oppression called "military government". But the second generation mustered up the courage to raise its head.
Now a third generation has grown up. Many of its members, both male and female, have attended universities and become entrepreneurs, professors, lawyers and physicians. Recently, their representatives published a "vision" which demands not only the elimination of all forms of discrimination, but also religious, cultural and educational autonomy.
That is a revolutionary message, and several similar documents are also on their way. Today the Arab citizens are a self-confident community with their own (unrecognized) institutions and political parties. This community is now more than twice the size of the Jewish community that founded the State of Israel in 1948.
The existence of a national minority of this size cannot be ignored. It cannot be pretended anymore that the problem does not exist, or that it can be solved (and dismissed) by some millions of shekels more. Israel is facing a fateful decision, which will not only determine the character of its relations with its Arab citizens, but also the very character of the state itself.
THERE IS no sense in arguing with those who hope publicly or secretly for ethnic cleansing and the removal of all the Arabs from the state, and indeed from the whole country between the sea and the Jordan River. Neither is there much sense in arguing with those who want to keep the Israeli Arabs as second-class citizens, estranged from the state and deprived of influence. That is a time bomb.
Israeli democracy is faced with a choice between two alternatives:
(a) A citizen's state, in which all the citizens are equal, irrespective of ethnic origin, nation, religion, language and gender. In Israeli political jargon, that is called "a state of all its citizens" - an absurd appellation, for how can a democratic state not belong to all its citizens?
Such a state is not concerned with ethnic origin and religious faith. Every group of parents can decide how to educate their children (in the framework of certain parameters fixed by the state). There will be no difference between a Jewish, Arab or Polynesian citizen. Relations between the individual and the state will be based solely on citizenship. Example: the United States, where every person automatically becomes part of the American nation upon receiving citizenship.
(b) A national state, in which a Jewish-Israeli majority exists side by side with a Palestinian-Israeli minority. In such a state, the majority has its national institutions, but the minority, too, is recognized as a national entity, with clearly defined national rights in certain spheres, such as culture, religion, education etc. (These rights were defined by the right-wing Zionist leader Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky as early as a hundred years ago, when he drew up the "Helsingfors Plan" demanding rights for the Jews in Russia.) Example: the status of the Catalans in Spain.
Some days ago, the researcher Yossi Amitay drew my attention to an article written by Pinhas Lavon one month (!) after the founding of the State of Israel. Lavon (who later served as Minister of Defense and was implicated in the infamous "Lavon Affair') analysed the problem of the Arab minority after the war. He suggested a choice between an "autonomist" approach which would allow the minority to form its own autonomous institutions in a state dominated by the majority belonging to another nation, and a "state-values" state, in which all citizens would be treated according to universal and egalitarian standards.
Lavon preferred the second alternative (a state belonging to all its citizens), and so do I.
NOT LONG ago, Avigdor Liberman presented a plan of his own: to give up the so-called "triangle" region (on the Israeli side of the Green Line) together with the dense Arab population living there, in exchange for the annexation of Palestinian territories in which Jewish settlers are living. The principle: Jews to Israel, Arabs to Palestine.
Liberman, the racist who immigrated from the former Soviet Union, has learned from Stalin that whole communities can be treated like chess figures. Only very few people took this plan seriously. It is well known that Liberman advocates the (so-called "voluntary") ethnic cleansing of all the Arabs from the state and from the occupied territories. His "plan" is quite unrealistic anyhow, because most of Israel's Arab citizens live in Galilee and the Negev, far from the Green Line, and Liberman does not suggest giving up those.
The interesting part of the ploy was not the "plan" itself, but the reaction of the Arab citizens to it. Not one single Arab voice was raised in favor of the idea. The Arab citizens are determined to remain citizens of Israel, even when a Palestinian state comes into being next to it.
This community wants to integrate itself in the life of Israel, its economy, democratic institutions and social fabric. It has succeeded in doing as much as it has been allowed to. It wholeheartedly supports the creation of a State of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but intends to remain a national minority in Israel - much as most American Jews supported the creation of the State of Israel but themselves preferred to remain as a minority in the US.
Israel, for its part, cannot give up 1.4 million hard-working inhabitants who pay taxes and contribute their share to the national product. History shows that a country that drives out whole communities always loses. Spain has not recovered from the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims 500 years ago. France was grievously hit be the expulsion of the Huegenots. Germany still suffers from the expulsion (and worse) of the Jews.
I AM an Israeli. I certainly want to live in a State of Israel where the majority speaks Hebrew and the Hebrew identity, the Hebrew culture and the Hebrew tradition can be developed. That does not restrain me at all from striving for a situation in which the Palestinian citizens of the state are free to develop their own national identity, culture and tradition.
The nation-state took form some centuries ago on the ruins of the feudal and dynastic state, in response to the needs of the era. The economic, technological, military and cultural developments of the time demanded the organization of larger territorial-political units, like France, Britain and Germany. In order to consolidate such a state, every nation invented for itself a unifying national history (more or less "imagined", as the scholar Benedict Andersen termed it) and imposed it on conquered or voluntarily incorporated peoples (Corsicans, Scots, Bavarians, Basques and many others).
This kind of nation-state has now become obsolete. Reality has changed. The United States created a giant federal state spanning half a continent, and later Germany and France have created the European Union and turned over to it economic, military and even political functions that used to be exercised by the nation-states.
The nation-state as such remains in existence, because it fulfils a deep-seated human need to belong to a group. But it is gradually turning into a multi-cultural, open and liberal state, that absorbs (although not painlessly) millions of foreigners, because it cannot exist without them. The USA was the first to take this course, and now this is happening even in the small countries of Eastern Europe - the very countries where many of the early Zionists were infected with their narrow and fanatical kind of nationalism.
If the State of Israel does not want to explode from within, it must sooner or later become such a state - an Israeli state in which Sammy from Acre can live in dignity, together with his wife Lola from Jenin.Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.