Israel’s Approved Ethnic Cleansing

Edward S. Herman

As described in Part 1,
Israel has been able to establish and maintain a “Jewish” state —hence a
racist state—and systematically “redeem” the land from the large indigenous
Palestinian population—that is, engage in large-scale ethnic cleansing—because
in this case the United States found ethnic cleansing not only tolerable but
worthy of aggressive support. An international consensus has condemned the
Israeli occupation for decades, and huge majorities in the UN have
periodically called for an Israeli exit (e.g., 144-2 on Resolution 242 in
December 1990), but the United States and Israel have said “nyet,” so nyet it
has been.



Thus, instead of having
to leave the occupied territories Israel continues to push out the locals by
force, uproot their trees, steal their water, beggar them by “closures” and
endless restrictions, and it suffers no penalties because it has U.S.
approval, protection, and active assistance (see below). The partners also
deny Palestinians any right to return to land from which they were expelled,
so 140+ contrary UN votes, and two Security Council Resolutions—both vetoed by
the United States—have no effect; and in a remarkable process of
doublethink—and double morality—Israel is free to expel more Palestinians in
the same time frame in which their protector spent billions and great moral
energy in a campaign to return worthy victims in Kosovo.

remarkable process is this: the Palestinian people periodically rebel as their
conditions deteriorate and more land is taken, homes are demolished, and they
are treated with great ruthlessness and discrimination. Many are among the
hundreds of thousands expelled earlier, or who have still not forgotten their
relatives killed and injured by Israeli violence over many years—and
Palestinian deaths by Israeli arms almost surely exceed Israeli deaths from
“terrorism” by better than 15 to 1. Judith Stone, a frequent visitor to
Palestine, says, “I have yet to meet a Palestinian who hasn’t lost a member of
their family to the Israeli Shoah, nor a Palestinian who cannot name a
relative or friend languishing under inhumane conditions in an Israeli prison”
(“Quest for Justice,” After this long
history of expulsion and murder they are still under assault. In this context,
if they rise up in revolt at their oppressors this is not “freedom fighters”
or a “national liberation movement” in action, it is “irrational violence” and
a return to “terrorism,” and both Israeli and U.S. officials (and therefore
the mainstream U.S. media) agree that the first order of business is to stop
this terrorism.

Back at the
time of the first Intifada, U.S. Ambassador Robert Pelletreau was explicit
that the “riots” in the occupied territories “we view as terrorist acts
against Israel.” Correspondingly, U.S. policy was to put no pressure on Israel
to curb its repression or alter its policies, essentially giving Israel carte
blanche to use “harsh military and economic pressure” till “in the end, they
will be broken” (Yitzak Rabin). In the second Intifada, once again there is
absolutely no U.S. pressure on Israel to change its policies. Arms aid and
training programs to Israel have been stepped up—35 Black Hawk military
helicopters supplied in October 2000 and nine Apache attack helicopters bought
from Boeing in February 2001; U.S. training in urban counter-insurgency
tactics that would help Israel to take control of Palestinian urban centers,
provided in mid-September 2000; and joint U.S.-Israeli military exercises
along with the redeployment of Patriot missiles from Germany to Israel in
February 2001—and as in the past all UN resolutions of condemnation and calls
for an international presence in the occupied territories have been ignored or
vetoed by the United States on behalf of its ethnic-cleansing client.

This of course
makes the process self-fulfilling. A people under continuous oppression and a
long process of “redemption of the land” at their expense is given no peaceful
recourse by Israel and its patron—Oslo was an agreement confirming all
Palestinian losses, with no right of return or compensation promised, no
ending of expropriations and expulsions in the occupied territories, and with
any benefits to the victims dependent on future negotiations. But that future
never came: since 1993 the Palestinians have been ground down further, and
Israel has continued its steady encroachment and increased its brutalization
(the more recent Barak-Clinton Bantustan offer is discussed in Part 3 under
“Apologetic Frames”). In consequence, the Palestinians periodically burst
forth with bombings involving the self-immolation of desperate men, and with
mass upheavals, as in the two Intifadas.

But in the
definitional system of oppressor and patron this is terrorism, horrifying and
intolerable. What Israel has done making this people desperate is not terror.
As State Department PR person James Rubin explained after another spate of
Israeli demolitions of Palestinian houses, this was “a wrong signal” for a
delicate stage in peace talks (NYT, June 23, 1998). Not bad in
themselves and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, just a wrong
signal. Madeleine Albright called on the Israelis to refrain from “what
Palestinians see as the provocative expansion of settlements, land
confiscation, house demolitions and confiscation of IDs” (NYT, October
15, 1997). Only “the Palestinians” see these actions as “provocative;”
Albright did not find them objectionable in themselves or illegal. In fact,
under Clinton the United States finally rejected the international law and
almost universal consensus on the occupation, declaring the territories not
“occupied Palestinian lands” but “disputed territories” (Albright). By U.S.
fiat Palestinian lands became open to settlement by force by the ethnic
cleanser who the United States has armed to the teeth, and who has
aggressively brutalized while creating “facts on the ground” during the
“dispute,” which will not be settled until the victims end their terrorism.

Albright has
stressed that there is “No moral equivalency between suicide bombers and
bulldozers” (Newsweek, August 18, 1997). Clinton, standing next to
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres as the latter defended a blockade of the
Palestinians that was adding to their misery, put the blame on Hamas who were
allegedly “trying to make the Palestinians as miserable as possible” (Philadelphia
, March 15, 1996). There was not the slightest hint that Israel
was contributing to Palestinian misery despite massive expropriations and 300
devastating “closures” after 1993.

So it is not
Israeli policy, which amounts to a continuous and illegal assault on and
displacement of the Palestinians, that is ultimately at fault and that must be
changed to resolve this conflict. Albright can’t recognize that decades of
“bulldozers” necessarily produce suicide bombers, although she was quick to
find that much less repression in Kosovo produced “freedom fighters;” nor can
she distinguish between systematic policy (i.e., bull-dozers) and
uncontrollable outbursts from victims that do not constitute policy. The
inability of these U.S. officials to see Israel’s hugely discriminatory and
brutal expulsions, demolitions, mistreatment and plain exploitation as
seriously wrong in themselves, illegal, or causal manifests a complete
identification with and apologetic for the ethnic cleansers. Five years ago a
senior Clinton White House official declared that “We are not going to
second-guess Israel” (PI, March 15, 1996), and on March 19, 2001, Colin
Powell assured the Jewish lobbying group AIPAC that, “We are dedicated to
preserving this special relationship with Israel and the Israeli
people…[and] a secure Israel with internationally-recognized borders remains
a cornerstone of the United States foreign policy.” Now as in the past, and
with only rare exceptions, as in the case of the unauthorized Israeli attack
on Egypt in 1956, Israel will get strong U.S. support for whatever it does,
and the ethnic cleansing of its unworthy victims can proceed as required.

One of the
triumphs of Oslo was its buying off of Arafat, making him into a second class
client and an enforcer of the pathetic “settlement,” with U.S. and Israeli
funds and training exchanged for his commitment to keep his people in line and
control “terrorism.” (For a compelling account, with full background, Chomsky,
World Orders Old and New, 1994.) The formula for the wholesale
terrorists (Israel) has always been: whatever violence we perpetrate is
“retaliation” and it is up to the retail terrorists (Palestinians) to stop
terrorizing and then we might “negotiate” with them in a “peace process.”
Israeli leaders say “You can’t ask us to stop expanding existing settlements,
which are living organisms” (Netanyahu), as if this were not in violation of
UN resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and even the 1993 Oslo

U.S. officials
can never bring themselves to say that what Israel is doing is wrong—at worst
it may send “a wrong signal,” etc. And they follow closely the Israeli party
line that “terrorism” (Palestinian, not Israeli) must be stopped first, so
that the “peace process” can be put back on track. For Albright, “security”
was primary, and she told Arafat that “she needed a commitment and action on
the subject of security” before she could make a credible approach to Israel
on other issues (WP, September 12, 1997). “Security” always means
Israeli security, not Palestinian, for Albright—or for Colin Powell—just as
for Israeli officials. Here as elsewhere these high U.S. officials internalize
the Israeli perspective and the idea of “security” for the unworthy victims
doesn’t arise, any more than the notion that Israeli insecurity arises from
the much greater Palestinian insecurity that inevitably results from Israeli
policies. In his visit to Jerusalem in March 1996, Clinton spoke of “the awful
persistence of fear”—but only in reference to Israelis, not to Palestinians (PI,
March 15, 1996). This is an internalized racist bias that has characterized
U.S. official statements and media and expert opinion here for decades.


Reasons For
and Modalities of Support

Why does the United
States support Israel’s ethnic cleansing? Broadly speaking, the reasons boil
down to two factors. One is Israel’s role as a U.S. proxy in the Middle East
and its integration into the U.S. security system, which encompasses not only
keeping the Arab world in line, but also providing services like supplying
arms to the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, the Pinochet government of Chile,
Mobutu, Idi Amin, apartheid South Africa, and the Guatemalan and Argentinian
terror states. Because of these services, Israel’s victims are not merely
unworthy, they also become “terrorists” and part of the “Islamic threat” for
the U.S. political elite and mainstream media.

The second
factor is the exceptional power of the pro-Israel lobby, which for many years
has bought and bullied politicians and the media, so that they all vie with
one another in genuflections to the holy state. This bullying is especially
strong and effective in Canada and the United States, but it applies widely,
and the distinguished British reporter Robert Fisk, describing the abuse he
has suffered in reporting on the Middle East, says that “the attempt to force
the media to obey Israel’s rules is now international” (“I Am Being Vilified
For Telling the Truth About Palestinians,” The Independent, December
13, 2000).

These factors
feed into the intellectual and media culture in complex ways that
institutionalize the huge bias, with pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian
perspectives internalized and/or made obligatory by potential flak and
pressure from above and without. This is extremely important, as there is no
reason to believe that the U.S. public would support a massive and brutal
ethnic cleansing program if they were given even a modest quantum of the ugly
facts, if the main victims rather than the ethnic cleansers were humanized,
and if the media’s frames of reference were not designed to apologize for
Israeli expropriation and violence. However, the ongoing media and
intellectual biases do very effectively complement the national policy of
support for the ethnic cleansing state, just as they helped cover up national
policy supporting Indonesia’s murderous occupation of East Timor and roused
the public to a pitch of frenzy over the unapproved Yugoslav violence in
Kosovo. Z


Part 3
will review the modalities by which Israel’s more than half-century long,
massive, and ongoing ethnic cleansing is made palatable.