Thursday, November 30, 2006

Carter: Peace, Not Apartheid for Palestine

NOTE: I really am composing my follow-up to the Dixie topic, believe me. I just suffer a bit from blogger ADD and all this interesting stuff keeps coming up, like this one.

Former President Jimmy Carter has penned a new book critical of Israel and US policy in Palestine entitled, "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid" . With regard to that title I humbly give reference to an earlier post from these very pages on the subject. This is a book I definitely plan to pick up.

Democracy Now! has a post up about the minor controversy surrounding this book. The entry is notable not only for Mr. Carter's viewpoint -- one that is rarely if ever heard in our ostensibly free press -- but also for it's citation of the sharp criticism of those views coming not only from the political right and the usual assortment of Israelophiles collectively known as the "Pro-Israel lobby" but also from the supposed political left in the form of such persons as incoming House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the incoming Judiciary Chairman John Conyers. Check this out...

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is accusing Israel of creating an apartheid system in the West Bank and Gaza. The charge comes in his new book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been deeply involved in Middle East policies for the past three decades. As president he negotiated the Camp David Accords - which secured a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt.

In his new book, Jimmy Carter writes, "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land."

Carter criticizes Israel for building what he describes as an imprisonment wall through the West Bank. He accuses Israel of strangling the residents of Gaza where the poverty rate has reached 70 percent and where the malnutrition rate mirrors countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. And Carter is critical of Washington's role. He writes, "The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories."

OK, so you get the gist. Mr. Carter dares to call Israel's policies towards Palestinians and the US government's complicity therein what they really are -- apartheid policies. Per my previous post referenced in the link above, consider the peculiarities of this supposed "lone middle-east democracy". I now repost my citation of Bruce Dixon's "Israeli Apartheid" from The Black Commentator:

Imagine, if you will, a modern apartheid state with first, second and eleventh class citizens, all required to carry identification specifying their ethnic origin. First class citizens are obliged to serve in the armed forces, kept on ready reserve status until in their forties, and accorded an impressive array of housing, medical, social security, educational and related benefits denied all others.

Second class citizens are exempted from military service and from a number of the benefits accorded citizens of the first class. They are issued identity documents and license plates that allow them to be profiled by police at a distance. Second class citizens may not own land in much of the country and marriages between them and first class citizens are not recognized by the state. Second class citizens are sometimes arrested without trial and police torture, while frowned upon and occasionally apologized for, commonly occurs.

Citizens of the eleventh class, really not citizens at all, have no rights citizens of the first class or their government are bound to respect. Their residence is forbidden in nearly nine-tenths of the country, all of which they used to own. The areas left to them are cut up into smaller and smaller portions weekly, by high walls, free fire zones and hundreds of checkpoints manned by the army of the first class citizens, so that none can travel a dozen miles in any direction to work, school, shopping, a job, a farm, a business or a hospital without several long waits, humiliating searches and often arbitrary denials of the right to pass or to return. Posh residential settlements for the first class citizens with protecting gun towers and military bases are built with government funds and foreign aid on what used to be the villages and farms and pastures of the eleventh class citizens. The settlers are allotted generous additional housing and other subsidies, allowed to carry weapons and use deadly force with impunity against the former inhabitants, and are connected with the rest of first class territory by a network of of first-class citizen only roads.

Citizens of the eleventh class are routinely arrested, tortured, and held indefinitely without trial. Political activism among them is equated to “terrorism” and the state discourages such activity by means including but not limited to the kidnapping of suspects and relatives of suspects, demolition of their family homes, and extralegal assassination, sometimes at the hands of a death squad, or at others times by lobbing missiles or five hundred pound bombs into sleeping apartment blocks or noonday traffic. Passports are not issued to these citizens, and those who take advantage of scarce opportunities to study or work abroad are denied re-entry.

The apartheid state in question is, of course, Israel. Its first class citizens are Israeli Jews, the majority of them of European or sometimes American origin. The second class citizens are Israeli Arabs, who enjoy significant but limited rights under the law including token representation in the Knesset. The eleventh class citizens are not citizens at all. They are Palestinians.

And let us not forget the views of Oren Ben Dor, an Israeli citizen who teaches Philosophy at Southampton University's School of Law in the UK. On the recent Isreali demolition of the entire nation of Lebanon he writes...

"What exactly is being defended by the violence in Gaza and Lebanon? Is it the citizens of Israel or the nature of the Israeli state? I suggest the latter. Israel's statehood is based on an unjust ideology which causes indignity and suffering for those who are classified as non-Jewish by either a religious or ethnic test. To hide this primordial immorality, Israel fosters an image of victimhood. Provoking violence, consciously or unconsciously, against which one must defend oneself is a key feature of the victim-mentality. By perpetuating such a tragic cycle, Israel is a terrorist state like no other."

Again, this is an Israeli talking. So, getting back to the DN's coverage of Carter's book:

Some of the most vocal critics of Carter's book have been fellow Democrats. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously."

Lets stop right there for a moment and take that in. It is actually "wrong" to suggest that ISRAEL instutionalizes ethinially based oppression? Nancy, dear Nancy, what else would you call it? Ethnicity is literally everything if you live in Israel. I vigorously question the "vigor" with which such a manifestly accurate "allegation" can be rejected.

John Conyers does only slightly better...

John Conyers, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, urged Carter to change the title of the book, which he described as "offensive and wrong."

What a disappointment! These quotes are incomplete and absent the context of the actual question the speakers may have been asked so I should moderate my criticism some. But taken at face value these statements really bother me. Not because they're suprising. They are not. The power of the Pro-Israel lobby is the stuff of legend and the subject of conspiracy theories the world over. And it is also probably wise for the Democrats, having yet to enjoy their first day at the congressional helm, to avoid picking big fights by co-signing controversial viewpoints at this juncture (regardless of whether or not those viewpoints should actually be controversial at all). Still, this kind of outward attack on Carter's work strikes me as more than avoidance on thier part. Simply withholding an endorsement would have accomplished that. But instead they took that extra step to almost excioriate Carter's valid commentary, virtually ruling out any acknowledgement of the facts on the ground.

As this episode illustrates, in case anyone doubted it, that the power of the "Pro-Israel"* lobby it is quite real. Behold the power of cheese.

* - I say "Pro-Israel" in quotes because that framing implicitly assumes that fairness to Palestinians is "anti-Israel", which it is not. As Mr. Ben Dor argues, the state of Isreal as currently constituted is unsustainable specifially because of it's institutionalized system of ethnic and religious-based injustice. No nation and especially nothing approaching a democracy, can survive a constant state of war, especially if that war is waged against both it's own citizens and it's immediate neighbors. A peaceful and, most importantly, equitable solution to this crisis is the most "Pro-Isreali" stance one can take. The alternative is it's eventual collapse and descent into sectarian and ethnic chaos.