I am currently reading a book by Jeff Halper, who heads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, called War Against The People: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification (Pluto, 2015). For anyone who was bemused (to say the least) by Labour’s so-called ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ this book is essential reading. Deeply researched and highly objective, Halper’s book lays to rest any idea that it is wrong to criticise Israel for being a ruthless and it has to be said at times tyrannical apartheid state. These accusations of course (it must be said) do not amount to a demand for the extinguishing of that country—but merely the policies which makes it a target of much justified vilification. It also exposes the utter absurdity of the ‘two-state solution’ as talked up by the Jewish Labour Movement as if it were anything but a fig leaf for further colonial appropriation of Palestinian land. That there is such a thing as ‘Palestinian land’ is clearly contested by many Israelis, including the half a million or so who have moved their settlements on to it.
One of Israel’s great claims is that it is a democracy appearing like a mirage in the middle of a desert of autocratic, despotic (read Muslim) countries who have never held human rights in high regard, never mind democracy. They have a point. But at least we know where, e.g. Saudi Arabia stands, or possibly the United Arab Emirates (with whom Israel has now established diplomatic relations). At least you can’t accuse Mohammed Bin Salman of being beholden to the democratic myth making machine. His opponents are beaten but not at the ballot box (maybe just in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, allegedly with the assistance of an Israeli developed cyber spy technology—check out search terms NSO and Khasshogi). What’s worse? A clear, brutal dictatorship indulged by the West for its oil, or a stand-out democracy that serves practically as the 51st state of the USA (a statehood some lefties used to ascribe to the UK)?
Israel has played its public relations well over the decades, and is now alarmed that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has gained some limited traction in the West. BDS is not a substantial threat to Israel at the moment, but with the heightened sensitivities, nay paranoia of the likes of Netanyahu, his government has stepped up its lobbying and influencing activities to ensure that critics’ reputations are sullied or preferably destroyed.
But what has Israel got to defend in terms of its decades' long persecution of the Palestinians? I was struck by this quote from an advisor to the Israeli government as recently as 2006, when Hamas had just won an election (an election!) in Gaza. Dov Weisglass said ‘The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.’ (Halper, p. 158) This was in the context of a wider blockade of Gaza. A punishment which continues.
Israel’s much vaunted status as the only democracy in the middle east bears little scrutiny, if you are a Palestinian living in territory which is now no-man’s land –land which can be, and is, ripped from under you at a moment’s notice. It’s the sort of thing which would enrage a Surrey villager if some developer came along and said the field next door was to be developed for housing (government proposals on planning will soon put a stop to their silly complaints.) But if that Surrey villager thought it would be good to organise a protest how I wonder would they feel if they had to deal with the crushing Israeli military rules governing protest in the occupied territories? Here’s Israeli military rule 101—forbidding ‘meetings of 10 or more persons ‘where the subject concerns or is related to politics.’’ Punishment: up to 10 years in prison. You’re not even allowed to possess artwork. (Halper, p.163).
Halper’s book is essential reading, and not just because of the Palestinian issue. One thing I’m sure of is that it is not a book that the likes of Margaret Hodge & Co. will have dipped into.