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Al-Aqsa Intifida


Noam Chomsky

After

three weeks of virtual war in the Israeli occupied territories, Prime Minister

Ehud Barak announced a new plan to determine the final status of the region.

During these weeks, over 100 Palestinians were killed, including 30 children,

often by "excessive use of lethal force in circumstances in which neither

the lives of the security forces nor others were in imminent danger, resulting

in unlawful killings," Amnesty International concluded in a detailed report

that was scarcely mentioned in the US. The ratio of Palestinian to Israeli dead

was then about 15-1, reflecting the resources of force available.

Barak’s

plan was not given in detail, but the outlines are familiar: they conform to the

"final status map" presented by the US-Israel as the basis for the

Camp David negotiations that collapsed in July. This plan, extending US-Israeli

rejectionist proposals of earlier years, called for cantonization of the

territories that Israel had conquered in 1967, with mechanisms to ensure that

usable land and resources (primarily water) remain largely in Israeli hands

while the population is administered by a corrupt and brutal Palestinian

authority (PA), playing the role traditionally assigned to indigenous

collaborators under the several varieties of imperial rule: the Black leadership

of South Africa’s Bantustans, to mention only the most obvious analogue. In the

West Bank, a northern canton is to include Nablus and other Palestinian cities,

a central canton is based in Ramallah, and a southern canton in Bethlehem;

Jericho is to remain isolated. Palestinians would be effectively cut off from

Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian life. Similar arrangements are likely in

Gaza, with Israel keeping the southern coastal region and a small settlement at

Netzarim (the site of many of the recent atrocities), which is hardly more than

an excuse for a large military presence and roads splitting the Strip below Gaza

City. These proposals formalize the vast settlement and construction programs

that Israel has been conducting, thanks to munificent US aid, with increasing

energy since the US was able to implement its version of the "peace

process" after the Gulf war.

For

more on the negotiations and their background, see my July 25 commentary; and

for further background, the commentary by Alex and Stephen Shalom, Oct. 10.

The

goal of the negotiations was to secure official PA adherence to this project.

Two months after they collapsed, the current phase of violence began. Tensions,

always high, were raised when the Barak government authorized a visit by Ariel

Sharon with 1000 police to the Muslim religious sites (Al-Aqsa) on a Thursday

(Sept. 28). Sharon is the very symbol of Israeli state terror and aggression,

with a rich record of atrocities going back to 1953. Sharon’s announced purpose

was to demonstrate "Jewish sovereignty" over the al-Aqsa compound, but

as the veteran correspondent Graham Usher points out, the "al-Aqsa intifada,"

as Palestinians call it, was not initiated by Sharon’s visit; rather, by the

massive and intimidating police and military presence that Barak introduced the

following day, the day of prayers. Predictably, that led to clashes as thousands

of people streamed out of the mosque, leaving 7 Palestinians dead and 200

wounded. Whatever Barak’s purpose, there could hardly have been a more efficient

way to set the stage for the shocking atrocities of the following weeks.

The

same can be said about the failed negotiations, which focused on Jerusalem, a

condition observed strictly by US commentary. Possibly Israeli sociologist

Baruch Kimmerling was exaggerating when he wrote that a solution to this problem

"could have been reached in five minutes," but he is right to say that

"by any diplomatic logic [it] should have been the easiest issue to solve (Ha’aretz,

Oct. 4). It is understandable that Clinton-Barak should want to suppress what

they are doing in the occupied territories, which is far more important. Why did

Arafat agree? Perhaps because he recognizes that the leadership of the Arab

states regard the Palestinians as a nuisance, and have little problem with the

Bantustan-style settlement, but cannot overlook administration of the religious

sites, fearing the reaction of their own populations. Nothing could be better

calculated to set off a confrontation with religious overtones, the most ominous

kind, as centuries of experience reveal.

The

primary innovation of Barak’s new plan is that the US-Israeli demands are to be

imposed by direct force instead of coercive diplomacy, and in a harsher form, to

punish the victims who refused to concede politely. The outlines are in basic

accord with policies established informally in 1968 (the Allon Plan), and

variants that have been proposed since by both political groupings (the Sharon

Plan, the Labor government plans, and others). It is important to recall that

the policies have not only been proposed, but implemented, with the support of

the US. That support has been decisive since 1971, when Washington abandoned the

basic diplomatic framework that it had initiated (UN Security Council Resolution

242), then pursued its unilateral rejection of Palestinian rights in the years

that followed, culminating in the "Oslo process." Since all of this

has been effectively vetoed from history in the US, it takes a little work to

discover the essential facts. They are not controversial, only evaded.

As

noted, Barak’s plan is a particularly harsh version of familiar US-Israeli

rejectionism. It calls for terminating electricity, water, telecommunications,

and other services that are doled out in meager rations to the Palestinian

population, who are now under virtual siege. It should be recalled that

independent development was ruthlessly barred by the military regime from 1967,

leaving the people in destitution and dependency, a process that has worsened

considerably during the US-run "Oslo process." One reason is the

"closures" regularly instituted, must brutally by the more dovish

Labor-based governments. As discussed by another outstanding journalist, Amira

Hass, this policy was initiated by the Rabin government "years before Hamas

had planned suicide attacks, [and] has been perfected over the years, especially

since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority." An

efficient mechanism of strangulation and control, closure has been accompanied

by the importation of an essential commodity to replace the cheap and exploited

Palestinian labor on which much of the economy relies: hundreds of thousands of

illegal immigrants from around the world, many of them victims of the "neoliberal

reforms" of the recent years of "globalization." Surviving in

misery and without rights, they are regularly described as a virtual slave labor

force in the Israeli press. The current Barak proposal is to extend this

program, reducing still further the prospects even for mere survival for the

Palestinians.

A

major barrier to the program is the opposition of the Israeli business

community, which relies on a captive Palestinian market for some $2.5 billion in

annual exports, and has "forged links with Palestinian security

officials" and Arafat’s "economic adviser, enabling them to carve out

monopolies with official PA consent" (Financial Times, Oct. 22; also NYT,

same day). They have also hoped to set up industrial zones in the territories,

transferring pollution and exploiting a cheap labor force in maquiladora-style

installations owned by Israeli enterprises and the Palestinian elite, who are

enriching themselves in the time-honored fashion.

Barak’s

new proposals appear to be more of a warning than a plan, though they are a

natural extension of what has come before. Insofar as they are implemented, they

would extend the project of "invisible transfer" that has been

underway for many years, and that makes more sense than outright "ethnic

cleansing" (as we call the process when carried out by official enemies).

People compelled to abandon hope and offered no opportunities for meaningful

existence will drift elsewhere, if they have any chance to do so. The plans,

which have roots in traditional goals of the Zionist movement from its origins

(across the ideological spectrum), were articulated in internal discussion by

Israeli government Arabists in 1948 while outright ethnic cleansing was

underway: their expectation was that the refugees "would be crushed"

and "die," while "most of them would turn into human dust and the

waste of society, and join the most impoverished classes in the Arab

countries." Current plans, whether imposed by coercive diplomacy or

outright force, have similar goals. They are not unrealistic if they can rely on

the world-dominant power and its intellectual classes.

The

current situation is described accurately by Amira Hass, in Israel’s most

prestigious daily (Ha’aretz, Oct. 18). Seven years after the Declaration of

Principles in September 1993 — which foretold this outcome for anyone who chose

to see — "Israel has security and administrative control" of most of

the West Bank and 20% of the Gaza Strip. It has been able "to double the

number of settlers in 10 years, to enlarge the settlements, to continue its

discriminatory policy of cutting back water quotas for three million

Palestinians, to prevent Palestinian development in most of the area of the West

Bank, and to seal an entire nation into restricted areas, imprisoned in a

network of bypass roads meant for Jews only. During these days of strict

internal restriction of movement in the West Bank, one can see how carefully

each road was planned: So that 200,000 Jews have freedom of movement, about

three million Palestinians are locked into their Bantustans until they submit to

Israeli demands. The bloodbath that has been going on for three weeks is the

natural outcome of seven years of lying and deception, just as the first

Intifada was the natural outcome of direct Israeli occupation."

The

settlement and construction programs continue, with US support, whoever may be

in office. On August 18, Ha’aretz noted that two governments — Rabin and Barak

– had declared that settlement was "frozen," in accord with the

dovish image preferred in the US and by much of the Israeli left. They made use

of the "freezing" to intensify settlement, including economic

inducements for the secular population, automatic grants for ultra-religious

settlers, and other devices, which can be carried out with little protest while

"the lesser of two evils" happens to be making the decisions, a

pattern hardly unfamiliar elsewhere. "There is freezing and there is

reality," the report observes caustically. The reality is that settlement

in the occupied territories has grown over four times as fast as in Israeli

population centers, continuing — perhaps accelerating — under Barak.

Settlement brings with it large infrastructure projects designed to integrate

much of the region within Israel, while leaving Palestinians isolated, apart

from "Palestinian roads" that are travelled at one’s peril.

Another

journalist with an outstanding record, Danny Rubinstein, points out that

"readers of the Palestinian papers get the impression (and rightly so) that

activity in the settlements never stops. Israeli is constantly building,

expanding and reinforcing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel is always grabbing homes and lands in areas beyond the 1967 lines – and

of course, this is all at the expense of the Palestinians, in order to limit

them, push them into a corner and then out. In other words, the goal is to

eventually dispossess them of their homeland and their capital, Jerusalem"

(Ha’aretz, October 23).

Readers

of the Israeli press, Rubinstein continues, are largely shielded from the

unwelcome facts, though not entirely so. In the US, it is far more important for

the population to be kept in ignorance, for obvious reasons: the economic and

military programs rely crucially on US support, which is domestically unpopular

and would be far more so if its purposes were known.

To

illustrate, on October 3, after a week of bitter fighting and killing, the

defense correspondent of Ha’aretz reported "the largest purchase of

military helicopters by the Israeli Air Force in a decade," an agreement

with the US to provide Israel with 35 Blackhawk military helicopters and spare

parts at a cost of $525 million, along with jet fuel, following the purchase

shortly before of patrol aircraft and Apache attack helicopters. These are

"the newest and most advanced multi-mission attack helicopters in the US

inventory," the Jerusalem Post adds. It would be unfair to say that those

providing the gifts cannot discover the fact. In a database search, David

Peterson found that they were reported in the Raleigh (North Carolina) press.

The

sale of military helicopters was condemned by Amnesty International (Oct. 19),

because these "US-supplied helicopters have been used to violate the human

rights of Palestinians and Arab Israelis during the recent conflict in the

region." Surely that was anticipated, barring advanced cretinism.

Israel

has been condemned internationally (the US abstaining) for "excessive use

of force," in a "disproportionate reaction" to Palestinian

violence. That includes even rare condemnations by the ICRC, specifically, for

attacks on at least 18 Red Cross ambulances (NYT, Oct 4). Israel’s response is

that it is being unfairly singled out for criticism. The response is entirely

accurate. Israel is employing official US doctrine, known here as "the

Powell doctrine," though it is of far more ancient vintage, tracing back

centuries: Use massive force in response to any perceived threat. Official

Israeli doctrine allows "the full use of weapons against anyone who

endangers lives and especially at anyone who shoots at our forces or at

Israelis" (Israeli military legal adviser Daniel Reisner, FT, Oct. 6). Full

use of force by a modern army includes tanks, helicopter gunships, sharpshooters

aiming at civilians (often children), etc. US weapons sales "do not carry a

stipulation that the weapons can’t be used against civilians," a Pentagon

official said; he "acknowleged however that anti-tank missiles and attack

helicopters are not traditionally considered tools for crowd control" –

except by those powerful enough to get away with it, under the protective wings

of the reigning superpower. "We cannot second-guess an Israeli commander

who calls in a Cobra (helicopter) gunship because his troops are under

attack," another US official said (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 3).

Accordingly, such killing machines must be provided in an unceasing flow.

It

is not surprising that a US client state should adopt standard US military

doctrine, which has left a toll too awesome to record, including very recent

years. The US and Israel are, of course, not alone in adopting this doctrine,

and it is sometimes even condemned: namely, when adopted by enemies targeted for

destruction. A recent example is the response of Serbia when its territory (as

the US insists it is) was attacked by Albanian-based guerrillas, killing Serb

police and civilians and abducting civilians (including Albanians) with the

openly-announced intent of eliciting a "disproportionate response"

that would arouse Western indignation, then NATO military attack. Very rich

documentation from US, NATO, and other Western sources is now available, most of

it produced in an effort to justify the bombing. Assuming these sources to be

credible, we find that the Serbian response — while doubtless

"disproportionate" and criminal, as alleged — does not compare with

the standard resort to the same doctrine by the US and its clients, Israel

included.

In

the mainstream British press, we can at last read that "If Palestinians

were black, Israel would now be a pariah state subject to economic sanctions led

by the United States [which is not accurate, unfortunately]. Its development and

settlement of the West Bank would be seen as a system of apartheid, in which the

indigenous population was allowed to live in a tiny fraction of its own country,

in self-administered `bantustans’, with `whites’ monopolising the supply of

water and electricity. And just as the black population was allowed into South

Africa’s white areas in disgracefully under-resourced townships, so Israel’s

treatment of Israeli Arabs – flagrantly discriminating against them in housing

and education spending – would be recognised as scandalous too" (Observer,

Guardian, Oct. 15).

Such

conclusions will come as no surprise to those whose vision has not been

constrained by the doctrinal blinders imposed for many years. It remains a major

task to remove them in the most important country. That is a prerequisite to any

constructive reaction to the mounting chaos and destruction, terrible enough

before our eyes, and with long-term implications that are not pleasant to

contemplate.