Rene — Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust

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Special Features By Richard Falk
Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust
by Richard Falk, TFF Associate
July 11, ’07
There is little doubt that the Nazi Holocaust was as close to
unconditional evil as has been revealed throughout the entire bloody
history of the human species. Its massiveness, unconcealed genocidal
intent, and reliance on the mentality and instruments of modernity
give its enactment in the death camps of Europe a special status in
our moral imagination. This special status is exhibited in the
continuing presentation of its gruesome realities throughfilm, books,
and a variety of cultural artifacts more than six decades after the
events in question ceased. The permanent memory of the Holocaust is
also kept alive by the existence of several notable museums devoted
exclusively to the depiction of the horrors that took place during the
period of Nazi rule in Germany.
Against this background, it is especially painful for me, as an
American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and
intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a
reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust.’ The word is
derived from the Greek holos (meaning ‘completely’) and kaustos
(meaning ‘burnt’), and was used in ancient Greece to refer to the
complete burning of a sacrificial offering to a divinity. Because
sucha background implies a religious undertaking, there is some
inclination in Jewish literature to prefer the Hebrew word ‘Shoah’
that can be translated roughly as ‘calamity,’ and was the name given
to the 1985 epic nine-hour narration of the Nazi experience by the
French filmmaker, Claude Lanzmann. The Germans themselves were more
antiseptic in their designation, officially naming their undertaking
as the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Qestion.’ The labelis, of course,
inaccurate as a variety of non-Jewish identities were also targets of
this genocidal assault, including the Roma and Sinti(‘gypsies),
Jehovah Witnesses, gays, disabled persons, political opponents.
Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of
Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective
atrocity? I think not.
The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they
express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and
its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering
conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of
conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate
appeal to the governments of the world and to international public
opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies
from culminating in a collective tragedy. If ever theethos of ‘a
responsibility to protect,’ recently adopted by the UN Security
Council as the basis of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is applicable, it
would be to act now to start protecting the people of Gaza from
further pain and suffering.
But it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to do anything in the
face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and
taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent
their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian
political force.
Even if the pressures exerted on Gaza were to be acknowledged as
having genocidal potential and even if Israel’s impunity under
America’s geopolitical umbrella is put aside, there is little
assurance that any sort of protective action in Gaza would be
taken. There were strong advance signals in 1994 of a genocide to come
in Rwanda, and yet nothing was done to stop it; the UN and the world
watched while the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnians took place, an
incident that the World Court described as ‘genocide’ a few months
ago; similarly, there have been repeated allegations of genocidal
conduct in Darfur over the course of the last several years, and
hardly an international finger has been raised, either to protect
those threatened or to resolve the conflict in some manner that shares
power and resources among the contending ethnic groups.
But Gaza is morally far worse, although mass death has not yet
resulted. It is far worse because the international community is
watching the ugly spectacle unfold while some of its most influential
members actively encourage and assist Israel in its approach to
Gaza. Not only the United States, but also the European Union, are
complicit, as are such neighbors as Egypt and Jordan apparently
motivated by their worries that Hamas is somehow connected with their
own problems associated with the rising strength of the Muslim
Brotherhood within their own borders. It is helpful to recall that the
liberal democracies of Europe paid homage to Hitler at the 1936
Olympic Games, andthen turned away tens of thousands of Jewish
refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. I am not suggesting that the comparison
should be viewed as literal, but to insist that a pattern of
criminality associated with Israeli policies in Gaza has actually been
supported by the leading democracies of the 21st century.
To ground these allegations, it is necessary to consider the
background of the current situation. For over four decades, ever since
1967, Gaza has been occupied by Israel in a manner that turned this
crowded area into a cauldron of pain and suffering for the entire
population on a daily basis, with more than half of Gazans living in
miserable refugees camps and even more dependent on humanitarian
relief to satisfy basic human needs. With great fanfare, under
Sharon’s leadership, Israel supposedly ended its military
occupationand dismantled its settlements in 2005. The process was
largely a sham as Israel maintained full control over borders, air
space, offshore seas, as well as asserted its military control of
Gaza, engaging in violent incursions, sending missiles to Gaza at will
on assassination missions that themselves violate international
humanitarian law, and managing to kill more than 300 Gazan civilians
since its supposed physical departure.
As unacceptable as is this earlier part of the story, a dramatic turn
for the worse occurred when Hamas prevailed in the January 2006
national legislative elections. It is a bitter irony that Hamas was
encouraged, especially by Washington, to participate in the elections
to show its commitment to a political process (as an alternative to
violence) and then was badly punished for having the temerity to
succeed. These elections were internationally monitored under the
leadership of the former American president, Jimmy Carter, and
pronounced as completely fair.
Carter has recently termed this Israeli/American refusal to accept the
outcome of such a democratic verdict as itself ‘criminal.’ It is also
deeply discrediting of the campaign of the Bush presidency to promote
democracy in the region, an effort already under a dark shadow in view
of the policy failure in Iraq.
After winning the Palestinian elections, Hamas was castigated as a
terrorist organization that had not renounced violence against Israel
and had refused to recognize the Jewish state as a legitimate
political entity. In fact, the behavior and outlook of Hamas is quite
different. From the outset of its political Hamas was ready to work
with other Palestinian groups, especially Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, to
establish a ‘unity’ government. More than this, their leadership
revealed a willingness to move toward an acceptance of Israel’s
existence if Israel would in turn agree to move back to its 1967
borders, implementing finally unanimous Security Council Resolutions
242 and 338.
Even more dramatically, Hamas proposed a ten-year truce with Israel,
and went so far as to put in place a unilateral ceasefire that lasted
for eighteen months, and was broken only to engage in rather pathetic
strikes mainly taking place in response to Israeli violent
provocations in Gaza. As Efraim Halevi, former head of Israel’s
Mossad was reported to have said, ‘What Isreal needs from Hamas is an
end to violence, not diplomatic recognition.’ And this is precisely
what Hamas offered and what Israel rejected.
The main weapon available to Hamas, and other Palestinian extremist
elements, were Qassam missiles that resulted in producing no more than
12 Israeli deaths in six years. While each civilian death is an
unacceptable tragedy,the ratio of death and injury for the two sides
in so unequal as to call into question the security logic of
continuously inflicting excessive force and collective punishment on
the entire beleaguered Gazan population, which is accurately regarded
as the world’s largest ‘prison.’
Instead of trying diplomacy and respecting democratic results, Israel
and the United States used their leverage to reverse the outcome of
the 2006 elections by organizing a variety of international efforts
designed to make Hamas fail in its attempts to govern in Gaza. Such
efforts were reinforced by the related unwillingness of the defeated
Fatah elements to cooperate with Hamas in establishing a government
that would be representative of Palestinians as a whole. The main
anti-Hamas tactic relied upon was to support Abbas as the sole
legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, to impose an economic
boycott on the Palestinians generally, to send in weapons for Fatah
militias and to enlist neighbors in these efforts, particularly Egypt
and Jordan. The United States Government appointed a special envoy,
Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, to work with Abbas forces, and helped channel
$40 million to buildup the Presidential Guard, which were the Fatah
forces associated with Abbas.
This was a particularly disgraceful policy. Fatah militias, especially
in Gaza, had long been wildly corrupt and often used their weapons to
terrorize their adversaries and intimidate the population in a variety
of thuggish ways.
It was this pattern of abuse by Fatah that was significantly
responsible for the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections, along with
the popular feelings that Fatah, as a political actor, had neither the
will nor capacity to achieve results helpful to the Palestinian
people, while Hamas had managed resistance and community service
efforts that were widely admired by Gazans.
The latest phase of this external/internal dynamic was to induce civil
strife in Gaza that led a complete takeover by Hamas forces. With
standard irony, a set of policies adopted by Israel in partnership
with the United States once more produced exactly the opposite of
their intended effects. The impact of the refusal to honor the
election results has after 18 months made Hamas much stronger
throughout the Palestinian territories, and put it in control of
Gaza. Such an outcome is reminiscent of a similar effect of the 2006
Lebanon War that was undertaken by the Israel/United States strategic
partnership to destroy Hezbollah, but had the actual consequence of
making Hezbollah a much stronger, more respected force in Lebanon and
throughout the region.
The Israel and the United States seemed trapped in a faulty logic that
is incapable of learning from mistakes, and takes every setback as a
sign that instead of shifting course, the faulty undertaking should be
expanded and intensified, that failure resulted from doing too little
of the right thing, rather than is the case, doing the wrong thing. So
instead of taking advantage of Hamas’ renewed call for a unity
government, its clarification that it is not against Fatah, but only
that “[w]e have fought against a small clique within Fatah,” (Abu
Ubaya, Hamas military commander), Israel seems more determined than
ever to foment civil war in Palestine, to make the Gazans pay with
their wellbeing and lives to the extent necessary to crush their will,
and to separate once and for all the destinies of Gaza and the West
The insidious new turn of Israeli occupation policy is as follows:
push Abbas to rely on hard-line no compromise approach toward Hamas,
highlighted by the creation of an unelected ’emergency’ government to
replace the elected leadership. The emergency designated prime
minister, Salam Fayyad, appointed to replace the Hamas leader, Ismail
Haniya, as head of the Palestinian Authority.
It is revealing to recall that when Fayyad’s party was on the 2006
election list its candidates won only 2% of the vote. Israel is also
reportedly ready to ease some West Bank restrictions on movement in
such a way as to convince Palestinians that they can have a better
future if they repudiate Hamas and place their bets on Abbas, by now a
most discredited political figure who has substantially sold out the
Palestinian cause to gain favor and support from Israel/United States,
as well as to prevail in the internal Palestinian power struggle.
To promote these goals it is conceivable, although unlikely, that
Israel might release Marwan Barghouti, the only credible Fatah leader,
from prison provided Barghouti would be willing to accept the Israeli
approach of Sharon/Olmert to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
This latter step is doubtful, as Barghouti is a far cry from Abbas,
and would be highly unlikely to agree to anything less than a full
withdrawal of Israel to the 1967 borders, including the elimination of
West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements.
This latest turn in policy needs to be understood in the wider context
of the Israeli refusal to reach a reasonable compromise with the
Palestinian people since 1967. There is widespread recognition that
such an outcome would depend on Israeli withdrawal, establishment of a
Palestinian state with full sovereignty on the West Bank and Gaza,
with East Jerusalem as capital, and sufficient external financial
assistance to give the Palestinians the prospect of economic
viability. The truth is that there is no Israeli leadership withthe
vision or backing to negotiate such a solution, and so the struggle
will continue with violence on both sides.
The Israeli approach to the Palestinian challenge is based on
isolating Gaza and cantonizing the West Bank, leaving the settlement
blocs intact, and appropriating the whole of Jerusalem as the capital
of Israel. For years this sidestepping of diplomacy has dominated
Israeli behavior, including duringthe Oslo peace process that was
initiated on the White House lawn in 1993 by the famous handshake
between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat.
While talking about peace, the number of Israeli settlers doubled,
huge sums were invested in settlement roads linked directly to Israel,
and the process of Israeli settlement and Palestinian displacement
from East Jerusalem was moving ahead at a steady pace. Significantly,
also, the ‘moderate’ Arafat was totally discredited as a Palestinian
leader capable of negotiating with Israel, being treated as dangerous
precisely because he was willing to accept a reasonable
compromise. Interestingly, until recently when he became usefulin the
effort to reverse the Hamas electoral victory, Abbas was treated by
Isreal as too weak, too lacking in authority, to act on behalf of the
Palestinian people in a negotiating process, one more excuse for
persisting with its preferred unilateralist course.
These considerations also make it highly unlikely that Barghouti will
be released from prison unless there is some dramatic change of heart
on the Israeli side. Instead of working toward some kind of political
resolution,Israel has built an elaborate and illegal security wall on
Palestinian territory, expanded the settlements, made life intolerable
for the 1.4 million people crammed into Gaza, and pretends that such
unlawful ‘facts on the ground’ are a path leading toward security and
On June 25, 2007 leaders from Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the
Palestinian Authority met in Sharm El Sheik on the Red Sea to move
ahead with their anti-Hamas diplomacy. Israel proposes to release 250
Fatah prisoners (of 9,000 Palestinians currently held) and to hand
over Palestinian revenues to Abbas on an installment basis, provided
none of the funds is used in Gaza, where a humanitarian catastrophe
unfolds day by day. These leaders agreed to cooperate in this effort
to break Hamas and to impose a Fatah-led Palestinian Authorityon an
unwilling Palestine population. Remember that Hamas prevailed in the
2006 elections, not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well. To
deny Palestinian their right of self-determination is almost certain
to backfire in a manner similar to similar efforts, producing a
radicalized version of what is being opposed. As some commentators
have expressed, getting rid of Hamas means establishing al Qaeda!
Israel is currently stiffening the boycott on economic relations that
has brought the people of Gaza to the brink of collective
starvation. This setof policies, carried on for more than four
decades, has imposed a sub-human existence on a people that have been
repeatedly and systematically made the target of a variety of severe
forms of collective punishment. The entire population of Gaza is
treated as the ‘enemy’ of Israel, and little pretext is made in Tel
Aviv of acknowledging the innocence of this long victimized civilian
societ y.
To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed
genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that
is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes
appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and
should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never
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