Published by Verso, September 2006, 260 pages.
Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, The Road Map to Nowhere, is about? What is it trying to communicate?
This book offers a detailed history of the Israeli occupation of Palestine since 2003, where my previous book on this topic ended (Israel/Palestine – How to end the war of 1948).
In the present political atmosphere in the US and Europe, anybody who expresses criticism of Israelâ€™s policies is immediately silenced as an anti-Semite. Part of the reason why the pro-Israel lobbies have been so successful in their use of this accusation is the massive lack of knowledge about what is really happening in Israel-Palestine. Without the facts, the dominant narrative remains that Israel is struggling to defend its very existence. Attention focuses mainly on the horrible, despicable Palestinian terror; hence critics of Israel are often accused of justifying terror. My aim in this book is to provide the facts, as they unfold â€“ openly – in the Israeli media.
During the period covered in the book, Israel did everything possible to stall any chance of an agreement with the Palestinians. As has become commonplace in the recent history of the occupation, this period opened with a new peace initiative â€“ the road map. The Palestinians accepted the plan and declared a cease fire, while the Western world was celebrating the new era of peace, the Israeli army under Sharon intensified its policy of assassinations, maintained the daily harassment of the occupied Palestinians, and eventually declared all-out war on Hamas, killing all its first-rank military and political leaders. Later, as the Western world was once again holding its breath in an eighteen-month wait for the planned Gaza pullout, Sharon did his best to fail the newly elected Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and turned down his offers of renewed negotiations. Later, when this policy led to the collapse of Abbas’ government and the victory of Hamas in the elections, Israel declared war on the Palestinian leadership and society.
In Israel/Palestine, I described the period between 2000 and 2002 as the darkest period in the history of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. But in the period since, under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, it became even worse. Sharon started a massive project of ethnic cleansing in the areas of the West Bank bordering Israel. His wall project robs the land from the Palestinian villages in these areas, imprisons whole towns, and leaves their residents with no means of sustenance. If the project continues, many of the 400,000 Palestinians affected by it will have to leave and seek their livelihood in the outskirts of cities in the center of the West Bank, as has already happened in the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya. The Israeli settlements were evacuated from the Gaza Strip, yet the Strip remains an open-air prison, completely sealed off from the outside world, nearing starvation and terrorized from land, see and air by the Israeli army.
Throughout this period, the Israeli political system has been in a gradual process of disintegration. (In a World Bank report of April 2005, Israel was found to be one of the most corrupt and least efficient in the Western world.) It became even more evident than before that the military is the dominant force in Israeli political life, often dictating both political and military moves. At the same time, what Israel has brought to perfection in this period is that war can be always marketed as the tireless pursuit of peace.
Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
My major source of information in constructing the history of this period is the Israeli media. In the Israeli newspapers much more information is available about what is happening and what is being planned than appears in any foreign coverage. One often hears statements interpreting this as signifying that the Israeli media is more liberal and critical of Israelâ€™s policies than other Western media. This, however, is not the explanation. With the notable exception of courageous and conscientious journalists like Amira Hass, Gideon Levi and a few others, the Israeli press is as compliant as elsewhere, and it faithfully recycles military and governmental messages. But part of the reason it is more revealing is its lack of inhibition. Things that would look outrageous in the Western world are in Israel considered natural daily routine.
I try to bring as much of the story as possible in the direct voice of the media sources I use, because often the tone is no less revealing than the content. I also try to give some of the stage to alternative critical voices in Israeli and international media.
While the Israeli media remains the best source for government and military plans, a change I have noted since the writing of Israel/Palestine is that its reporting of the Israeli armyâ€™s actions in the territories has substantially shrunk. Often, daily atrocities are either ignored, or pushed to the back pages with minimal coverage. A reliable alternative source of information during this period has been the British Guardian. But to get a full picture of the daily reality of the occupation one also needs to read the Palestinian internet media.
What are your hopes for The Road Map to Nowhere? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking?
These are difficult times, when Israel‘s policies seem to be winning, with no barriers of international law or justice on its road of destruction.
Two years ago, on July 9 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found the current route of the wall that Israel is constructing to be a serious and egregious violation of international law. The first reactions in Israel were of worried concern. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz presented the government with a report stating: “The decision creates a political reality for Israel on the international level, that may be used to expedite actions against Israel in international forums, to the point that they may result in sanctions” (Ha’aretz, August 19, 2004). Israel hastened to clarify that the wall is a temporary security barrier, which in no way would determine facts on the ground. But in the current political atmosphere, Israel declares it intends to make this wall its border, and no European government even blinks.
Still a year ago, the Western world was celebrating the dawn of democracy in the Middle East. Following Arafat’s departure, the Palestinians were engaging in a real election campaign. Hamas declared its intention to participate in the elections, and to shift from armed struggle to working in the political arena. One would think that this would be viewed as an encouraging and positive development after years of bloodshed. Indeed, the U.S. insisted on the election taking place, despite Israel‘s objections. But alas, the Palestinians have elected the wrong party. How natural it seems to the Western world that the Palestinian people should be collectively punished for their wrong understanding of democracy. The U.S. dictates, and Europe agrees that all aid to Palestinians should be cut, leaving them close to starvation, with the remaining infra-structure and health system crumbling.
Nevertheless, a central point in the book is that the last few years were not just years of victory for Israelâ€™s expansion. World-wide opposition to Israel‘s policies has substantially grown in this period. For example, despite the apparent success of pro-Israel lobbies in silencing any criticism of Israel in Europe, in a comprehensive European poll the majority viewed Israel as the country most threatening to world peace. I argue that for a short while during this period, the U.S. had to yield to European public opinion, and exerted real pressure on Israel. Sharon‘s evacuation of the Gaza settlements was not an act of free will, but a decision enforced on him at the peak of international pressure that followed Israelâ€™s sabotaging of the road map and its construction of the West Bank wall. Though it was kept fully behind the scenes, U.S. pressure was quite massive, including military sanctions. The official pretext for the sanctions was Israel‘s arm sale to China, but in previous occasions, the crisis was over as soon as Israel agreed to cancel the deal. This time, the sanctions were unprecedented, and lasted until the signing of the crossing agreement in November 2005.
This turn of events shows the limits of propaganda â€“ it appears possible to manufacture silence or consent, but it may be impossible to manufacture consciousness. Basic concepts like justice, international law, solidarity with the oppressed, have disappeared from mainstream political discourse, but they are present in peopleâ€™s minds.
This also shows that persistent struggle can have an effect, and can lead governments to act. Such struggle begins with the Palestinian people, who have withstood years of brutal oppression, and who, through their spirit of zumud â€“ sticking to their land – and daily endurance, organizing and resistance, have managed to keep the Palestinian cause alive, something that not all oppressed nations have managed to do. It continues with international struggle â€“ solidarity movements that send their people to the occupied territories and stand in vigils at home, professors signing boycott petitions, subjecting themselves to daily harassment, a few courageous journalists that insist on covering the truth, against the pressure of acquiescent media and pro-Israel lobbies. Often this struggle for justice seems futile. Nevertheless, it has penetrated global consciousness. The Palestinian cause can be silenced for a while, as is happening now, but it will resurface.
My hope is to contribute to this struggle. In the last chapter of the book, I tell the story of the struggle inside Israel/Palestine. The Palestinians along the wall are struggling to save their land. Armed only with the marvelous spirit of people who have held to their land one generation after the other, they stand in front of one of the most brutal military machines of the world. An amazing development of the last three years is that Israelis have joined the Palestinian struggle. For the first time in the history of the occupation, we are witnessing joint Israeli-Palestinian struggle.
As an Israeli, I believe that this struggle provides hope also for the Israelis. Israelâ€™s policies threaten not just the Palestinians but also the Israelis themselves. In the long run, this war over land is suicidal. A small Jewish state of 7 million residents (5.5 million Jews), surrounded by two hundred million Arabs, is making itself the enemy of the whole Muslim world. There is no guarantee that such a state can survive. Saving the Palestinians also means saving Israel.
Tanya Reinhart is Professor Emeritus of linguistics and media studies at Tel Aviv University and, from January 2007, a Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. She has had a regular column in the largest Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, is the author of Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, and contributes regularly to Counterpunch and Zmag.
The Road Map to Nowhere – Israel/Palestine since 2003
Published by Verso, September 2006, 260 pages.