The Middle East’s Oldest Dictatorship
PALESTINE / ISRAEL, 2 May 2011
by Marwan Bishara – Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera’s senior political analayst discusses Israel’s rule over the Palestinians beyond the peace rhetoric.
As the conventional wisdom goes – especially in the West – Israel is the “only democracy” in the Middle East. And that is so, particularly for its Jewish citizens. However Israel has been anything but democratic for the indigenous people of the land, the Palestinian Arabs.
By nature and precedence, foreign military occupation is temporary. Colonialism on the other hand, and more precisely civilian colonisation, is a socio-political system of ruling over another people.
Since its inception at the end of the 19th century, Zionism preached self-determination for the Jewish people in “their” homeland. In reality, Israel has directly or indirectly driven Palestinians out of their homeland, confiscated their properties, rejected their right to return to their homeland despite UN resolutions, and occupied and colonised the rest of their homeland for the last four decades.
Throughout, Israeli military and security services ruled over another people against their will. They oppressed, tortured, exploited and robbed the Palestinians of their land, water and most importantly, their freedom. There has been more political prisoners in Israeli jails than any of its neighbours.
In denial over their predicament, Israeli leaders have taken shelter in the illusion of surplus morality.
This was best expressed by late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, who warned the Arabs: “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.”
A wild illustration of Israeli chutzpah.
Occupation as colonial dictatorship
Unlike other colonial powers and dictatorships in recent memory, Israel took all, but gave nothing in return. The settlements, the bypass roads and the industrial zones it built, are exclusively for Jews.
Israel and its various Zionist organisations have built over 600 towns, villages and other form of settlements for the Jews, but none for the Palestinians – not even those it considers part of its own citizens, who make up almost one-fifth of its population.
And much like other dictatorships, it’s in denial over the damage it has caused to the people under its rule, and delusional over occupation it deems necessary, benevolent, or even divinely promised.
No other dictatorship in the region has been as indifferent and destructive for so long over those it ruled, as the Zionist regime has been in Palestine.
It didn’t hesitate to use lethal, excessive force time and again against those under its occupation. The most recent war crimes have been documented and detailed in various UN reports, including that of Judge Goldstone regarding the 2008/9 war on Gaza, which added or changed little in regards to the reality on the ground.
Like other dictatorships it boasts of sacrificing for peace, demonises its detractors and oppositions, and justifies any wrong-doing on the basis of national security, order and stability.
Although it preached democracy, Israeli leaders long preferred to deal with autocrats, not only in the Arab world but also in the greater Middle East, as well as in Asia and Africa.
Israeli leadership has lobbied for the Mubarak regime in its last days and reportedly its leaders voiced support for assisting Gaddafi.
The illusion of separation
In spite of the six-decade record of Israel’s joint history with the Palestinians, its leadership and supporters still maintain that Israel is nothing like its neighbours; that it’s a democratic oasis in a sea of totalitarianism; that when it fought its neighbours and ruled over them, it did so against its will.
But regardless of the motivation and justification for the post-1948 or post-1967 wars, the resulting reality can’t be ignored. Indeed, it is politically and academically dishonest and counterproductive to speak of Palestinians and Israelis as two separate social and political landscapes.
Any attempt to understand the nature and the political, economic and social – even religious – evolution of the Israeli state in separation from its colonial dictatorship over another people would be futile at best. In reality, misleading and destructive.
The same goes for the Palestinians. Their national and political evolution over the last century, and to a greater extent of the last six decades, is intertwined with that of Zionism and Israeli dictatorship.
Today, the maximum distance between any Israeli and Palestinian is less than nine miles.
Where is the Palestinian revolution?
It was no coincidence then, that the “Palestinian revolution” emerged following Israel’s 1967 war and occupation, when it defeated its neighbours’ post colonial leaders and their national projects, be it pan-Arab nationalism, Baathism, etc.
As Israel allied itself with the colonial and imperial powers of the time – France, Britain and the United States – the Palestinian revolution – as the Palestinian liberation movement was depicted at the time – was inspired by similar anti-colonial struggles, such as the Algerian FLN against the French colonial dictatorship of their country.
But Cold War polarisation, Arab divisions and its own mistakes and blunders led to the disintegration of the ‘Palestinian revolution’. With the advent of the post-Cold War Peace Process in 1991, the Palestinian liberation movement was finally reduced to spearheading accommodation with Israel’s colonialism.
The domestication of the Palestinian liberation movement by the Peace Process soon led to national divisions leading to armed conflict between the Islamist and secular currents under Hamas and Fatah.
Separated by hundreds of checkpoints, ‘security’ walls and fences, and policed by British/American trained Palestinian forces under the supervision of Israel military and security services, Palestinians today live under multiple levels of military dictatorship and police state.
Alas, the Hamas-controlled, Israeli-choked mini entity in the Gaza Strip doesn’t look much different in reality.
Instead of pursuing their struggle for liberation from dictatorship, ‘Palestine Liberation movement’ and PLO leadership in the West Bank are suppressing Palestinian eagerness to join the Arab revolution’s struggle to bring down the – in this case, colonial – regime.
For two decades, the PLO leadership has looked for salvation in Washington, and when that has proved a pipe-dream, it has decided to go to the UN for a recognition of a Palestinian state.
Come September, the PLO leadership will realise that the end result will, at best, be a state on paper, and its true realisation requiring more of the same diplomacy with Israel. All that assuming Washington wouldn’t veto such a draft resolution.
But regardless of the diplomatic acrobatics, at the end of the day, peace is possible between Palestinians and Israelis on the basis of one state, or two independent states divided by the 1967 borders.
It’s however not tenable nor moral, let alone revolutionary, for the Palestinians to be forced into accommodation or peace with Israel’s occupation or its colonial dictatorship.
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