Monthly Archives: August 2011

Palestine is Still the Issue: The projection bias of Israeli war crime apologism

My column for Ceasefire Magazine, published 20 August

By Asa Winstanley

Sigmund Freud defined ‘projection bias’ as a form of defence in which feelings are displaced onto another party, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. This is a phenomenon that you come across quite often when studying Israel’s apologists. Like the partisans of other colonial movements, Zionists are quite prone to denying their own crimes while at the same time projecting them onto their enemies.

Take “human shields”. This is a trope you come across quite a lot in the propaganda of the Israeli army when it is trying to explain and apologise for its war crimes. As in the case of their 2008-2009 attack on the civilian population of Gaza, they claim the civilian casualties were not their fault because Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups used Palestinians as ‘human shields’.

In fact, as Norman Finkelstein often underlines, multiple reports on the 2008-2009 attacks on Gaza, issued by respected human rights groups (such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International), as well as the UN’s Goldstone report, say otherwise. They found no evidence that any such thing took place – despite being highly critical of Hamas and other groups for armed attacks on Israel.

Yet the same human rights groups often document many cases of Israeli soldiers using Palestinian civilians as human shields to discourage armed resistance. There have been numerous instances of Israeli soldiers forcing Palestinians, often no more than children, to walk at gunpoint into houses which they then ransack and search. They sometimes take over such homes and hold the families inside hostage (see, for example, Amnesty International, “Gaza civilians endangered by the military tactics of both sides”, 8 January 2009).

The armed attack near Eilat (far in the south of Israel-Palestine – a long distance from Gaza,) on Thursday (18th Aug) reminded me of this phenomenon too. Although some Israeli press reports referred to an attack on a civilian bus, it seems from what evidence is available that the bus was full of Israeli soldiers moving from a base. The very first reaction the Israeli army press office put out on its official Twitter account was “5 #IDF soldiers injured from shooting @ #Israeli bus”, though this line soon changed. Press photos of the wounded, however, clearly show the casualties wearing Israeli army uniforms.

The Egged Bus company (who it seems operated this line) does run public transport in Israel. But you might well ask what the Israeli army was doing transporting its soldiers down to Eilat using the public transport system.

This is a common Israeli practice. When I lived in Palestine, on the few times I had to travel to Tel Aviv from the West Bank (via Jerusalem,) walking around the public bus stations I was struck by the sheer number of armed, uniformed soldiers who used the public bus system. Anyone who has used buses in Israel for any length of time will tell you they often have more soldiers than civilians on them.

The phenomenon is so widespread that it can only be a deliberate policy. Does some $3 billion a year in military aid from the US government not provide it with enough funding for its own troop transportation? So Israel not only uses Palestinians as human shields, but it even “hides” its soldiers amongst its own civilian population – exactly what Israeli spokespeople accuses Hamas of. Talk about projection.

Let us be clear: any attack on civilians, by any party, is against international law and morally wrong. Israel is the prime perpetrator of targeting Palestinian and other Arab civilians. Indeed, its very first instinctual “reaction” Thursday night was to bomb civilian targets in Gaza (including one home Israel said belonged to a fighter from the Popular Resistance Committees,) killing six Palestinians including at least one child.

The PRC have denied involvement in the Eilat attack: “The occupation wants to pin this operation on us in order to escape its own internal problems” a spokesman told the AFP agency. It is worth noting that the spokesperson also defended the Eilat operation, so it seems to make little sense that he would lie about any involvement.

The attacks on Palestinians go on, and the death count is rising as I type. Israel regularly bombs Gaza, just a few days ago, it invaded the central Gaza Strip and killed a teenager, shooting him “more than 10” times in the head and body, according to medical officials, but the Western press seem not to notice it, unless and until they have Israeli casualties to report too.

The conflict over Palestine will only end once Israelis face up to the reality that they are occupiers running an apartheid state, and stop projecting their own image onto the natives they are occupying. This change will not come from within Israeli society: there are no examples in history of an occupying power voluntarily giving up on colonialism.

It will only come about through Palestinian resistance, of various forms. Armed resistance against military targets is legal under international law, a right that everyone living under occupation can exert. Edward Said once said: “I think it’s important to attack occupation forces… occupation, apartheid has to be resisted”. Of course, the Palestinians also have, contrary to persistent Western illusions, a very long and remarkable history of non-violent, popular resistance, which we in the West can continue to sustain and support through the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’movement.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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UK bans Israeli settler rabbi who called for killing of non-Jews

Published by The Electronic Intifada

Palestinian religious leader and rights activist Sheikh Raed Salah was arrested by the UK government in June, supposedly for “flouting” a ban on entering the country, as much of the UK press put it.

But it later emerged that Home Secretary Theresa May issued the exclusion order only two days before Raed Salah entered the UK for a speaking tour. Crucially, neither he nor his tour organizers had any idea there was such a ban in place. A lawyer acting for the Home Office admitted as much in the High Court on 15 July, saying Salah “didn’t do anything wrong.”

Following his initial arrest, UK courts have released Salah on bail pending the outcome of his challenge to a government order that he be deported, and have also rejected a government appeal aimed at having his bail revoked.

While the UK Border Agency (UKBA) gave no prior warning to Salah, it was revealed last Wednesday that the same agency gave a written warning of a ban to an extremist Israeli settler named Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, who has incited the murder of non-Jews, including civilians and children.

A UKBA letter to Elitzur detailing an exclusion order was published by the Voice of the Jews website on Wednesday. It said Elitzur fell foul of UK policy against “Unacceptable Behavior,” and gave examples including the justification of “terrorist violence” (“Restraining order from the UK to author of The King’s Torah” [Hebrew], 10 August 2011).

The letter is addressed 20 July, only two days after Salah was released on conditional bail pending a full hearing of a judicial review against his deportation from the UK. It states that Theresa May on 11 July (while Salah was still detained) “personally directed that you [Elitzur] should be excluded from the UK on the grounds that your presence here would not be conducive to the public good” — exactly the same grounds she used to exclude Salah.

It then goes on to specify Elitzur’s authorship of a book called Torat Hamelech or The King’s Torah, which details how Jewish religious law supposedly permits the killing of non-Jews and “advocates Jewish discrimination against Gentiles,” as the UKBA put it.

According to the letter, the book further states: “Anywhere where the presence of a gentile poses a threat to Israel, it is permissible to kill him, even if it is a righteous gentile who is not responsible for the threatening situation.” Israeli media reported quite extensively on the book from the time it was published (see “Another rabbi detained over ‘racist book’,” Ynet, 19 August 2010).

Why wait till now?

While Salah strongly denies making the anti-Semitic statements attributed to him by enemies, and cited by the Home Office, Elitzur make no bones about writing the racist book. The website of the Jewish religious school in Yitzhar (an Israeli settlement near the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank) openly lists Elitzur as the author of The King’s Torah, along with another rabbi, Yitzhak Shapira (“Od Yosef Chai” [Hebrew], accessed 11 August 2011).

Why the ban was only issued last month remains unclear. The King’s Torah was published in 2009, and got more attention in the Israeli press in 2010 when Elitzur and Shapira were arrested for incitement to racism. The Voice of the Jews article claims “Elitzur had no plans to travel to Britain in the near future, and the step was taken as a preventative one.”

Home Office confirms letter

The Electronic Intifada contacted the Home Office — the UK’s interior ministry — to ask why the letter had been issued now (the UKBA is part of the Home Office). Although a spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the letter, the official refused to comment on the timing, stating only: “We can confirm that Mr. Elitzur has been excluded from the UK on grounds of unacceptable behavior. The government will refuse people access to the UK if we believe they might seek to undermine our society. Coming here is a privilege that we refuse to extend to those who seek to subvert our shared values.”

The spokesperson also declined to comment on whether the case had been coordinated with Israel, or if it had any links to Salah’s case, saying that they don’t discuss the details of individual cases.

Could the UKBA’s ban on Elitzur be designed to “balance out” the ban on Salah and make it appear as if UK policy is non-discriminatory, or to somehow equate Salah — a well-respected community leader who has not called for violence — with a racist extremist who has? It is difficult to tell from the evidence. However, it is clear that while allegations of racism against Salah are, at best, based on extremely shaky evidence, Elitzur’s racism is not in doubt.

“Settler revolt”

As a settler leader, Elitzur has been at odds with the Israeli state, mainly on the basis that Jewish settlers should have an even freer hand to colonize the West Bank. In 2009 he was involved in what Israeli journalist Didi Remez described as a “settler rebellion” against the so-called settlement freeze.

Elitzur detailed plans for how to thwart the Israeli army and police: “When in every settlement a police patrol car becomes an unwanted presence, and administration inspectors understand they have 10 minutes to run away before their tires are punctured, the government’s ability to enforce its decrees will drop sharply” (“Document: Settlers prep to terrorize West Bank,” Didi Remez’s Coteret blog, 6 December 2009).

Elitzur was arrested by the Israeli police in 2010 over his co-authorship of The King’s Torah (“Another rabbi detained over ‘racist book’ “, Ynet, 19 August 2010).

The case seems to have been quietly dropped since then, although it is possible the charges are still technically active. The UKBA letter to Elitzur was addressed to “Mr Yosef ELITZUR, Yitzhar, West Bank.” The copy appearing on the Voice of the Jews site included headers suggesting it had been faxed to the yeshiva.

Israeli goverment and US tax-exempt support for extremism

Despite apparently being at odds with the school, it emerged at the time that Israel actually funded Od Yosef Chai yeshiva. According to journalist Max Blumenthal, the school received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Israeli government departments in between 2006 and 2010. It also benefited from donations from a US tax-exempt, nonprofit organization called the Central Fund of Israel.

Blumenthal says Yitzhar and its yeshiva are notorious for hosting “a small army of fanatics who are eager to lash out at the Palestinians tending to their crops and livestock in the valleys below them.” The settlement also has apparent links to alleged Jewish terrorist Jack Teitel, and was apparently the launching base for 2008 attacks on the Palestinian village of Burin using homemade rockets (“How to Kill Goyim and Influence People: Israeli Rabbis Defend Book’s Shocking Religious Defense of Killing Non-Jews,” Alternet, 30 August 2010).

The timing of the UKBA letter to Elitzur, two days after Salah was released on bail, seems unlikely to be a coincidence. Did the government have reason to believe Elitzur was intending to travel to the UK, perhaps to speak or raise funds? We simply don’t know, and the government won’t comment. If we take Elitzur at his word when he says he was not intending to travel soon, the government ban smacks of tokenism after the ban of Salah. And why was Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the other author of <em>The King’s Torah</em>, not also banned? Many questions remain unanswered, but perhaps the only thing Salah and Elitzur do have in common is that the Israeli government is unlikely to shed any tears over their respective exclusion orders from the UK.

Dena Shunra contributed reporting and translation from Hebrew to this article.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupationwill be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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Palestine is Still the Issue: The meaning of the Norwegian terrorist’s love for Israeli war crimes

My fortnightly column for Ceasefire magazine, 6th August

By Asa Winstanley

Since Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway two weeks ago, much of the Islamophobic right has been ostensibly scrambling to distance themselves from his terrorist act. English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) appeared on Newsnight pointing out that Breivik called the EDL “naïve fools” in his 1500-page political manifesto, distributed over the internet on the eve of his “martyrdom operation” (Breivik’s term). Jeremy Paxman, outrageously soft-balling, failed to point out that Breivik also said of the EDL that “although having noble intentions [they] are in fact dangerously naïve” because they did not support his particular form of violence.

Another mass killer that right-wing Islamophobic zealots around Europe have certainly not distanced themselves from is the state of Israel. Breivik himself is clearly a big fan of Israel, having a free hand to regularly slaughter Muslims as it does. His rambling online book is full of flattering references to Israel: “So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists,” he wrote, “against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists”. This is from page 1163 of his “compendium”, large chunks of which were reportedly copied from other Islamophobic sources.

Breivik’s extreme Zionism has led to some media attention on the gowning links between Israel and extreme right-wing, and fascist groups from around Europe. Die Spiegel recently ran an article on the subject (“Europe’s Right-Wing Populists Find Allies in Israel”, 29 July). But this has been a growing trend for years now, and still not enough attention is being paid to it.

The British National Party these days of course supports Israel. Their leader Nick Griffin during this controversial 2009 Question Time appearance boasted of his support for Israel saying the BNP was now “the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists”. The EDL is notoriously pro-Israel, waving Israeli flags during their thuggish demonstrations, even establishing a (failed) “Jewish Division”.

Blogger Richard Silverstein has paid a fair amount of attention to Israel’s growing links to European fascists. He recently wrote about a visit of Russian neo-nazis to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) – a story even I couldn’t quite believe until I read past the headline (Settler MKs Welcome Russian Neo-Nazi Holocaust Deniers to Knesset, Yad VaShem, 28 July).

So what is going on here? The common denominator all these right-wing parties and groups have is of course fanatical and bigoted hostility to Muslims. Many commentators have been perplexed by Anders’ Zionism, and have tried to analyse it as if it were some sort of contradiction. But it’s not. The BNP was notorious for anti-Semitism in its past and Griffin is often accused of Holocaust denial. Breivik also clearly has some anti-Semitic ideas, implying that the German Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves: “Were the majority of the German and European Jews disloyal? Yes, at least the so called liberal Jews, similar to the liberal Jews today that opposes nationalism/Zionism and supports multiculturalism” (page 1163 again).
Zionism and anti-Semitism are not contradictory: in fact they often complement each other and have a history of alliances. Tactical synergy led to the Zionist-Nazi Ha’avara (“transfer”) agreement of the 1930s.

German Jews were allowed to remove some of their funds in the form of German-produced capital goods which were then sold in Palestine (as well as in the US and Britain), and part of this investment would then be recouped later (you can read about that in Mike Marqusee’s brilliant political memoir “If I am Not For Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew”). There was also the attempt by the Lehi terrorist group of Yitzak Shamir (later prime minister of Israel) to establish links with Hitler during Second World War.

But there are deeper ideological links between Zionism and other ethnocentric right-wing reactionary nationalist movements. They share the same goal: Hitler wanted to get rid of Jews from Europe and the Zionist movement wanted to bring as many European Jews as possible to colonise Palestine. Zionism is “united with anti-Semitism in its retrograde tenets”, as Yasser Arafat said in his famous first speech to the UN in 1974 – “another side of the same base coin”.

To understand this seeming contradiction, we need to understand that, in a similar way to the Nazi hatred of Jews, the bile of the the Islamophobes is not based on any logical thinking or rational opposition to Islam. It is bigotry plain and simple: hatred of The Other. Whip up enough irrationality and politicians can distract you from their schemes – all while you are busy picking on the most vulnerable in society.

While the EDL weakly distances itself from Breivik’s particular form of terrorist violence, it has no qualms about using racist abuse, street violence and intimidation aimed at Muslim communities around the country. Blaming the victim, the EDL outrageously tried to lay the guilt on Muslims for Breiviks’ terrorist attack: “what happened in Norway is a wake-up call. The fact that so many people are scared – people have to listen to that,” says it’s leader (“EDL leader brands Norway gunman Anders Breivik a ‘ horrible monster’”, Evening Standard, 27 July).

At the same time, Breivik’s was clearly not some insane lone gunman, as his lawyer now claims. Read his manifesto and you can see that. It is very deliberately put together. He claims to have spend nine years compiling it, and details the whole process of the how is funded and carried out his terrorist murders. The book contains long, elaborate descriptions of how he built the bomb, and how he prepared for his “martyrdom operation” (although he survived, it appears that he had been willing to die).

It is reported that at his first court hearing Breiviks claims there are other cells of like-minded “cultural conservatives” ready and able to carry out similar attacks. This is probably another one of his fantasies – but if so (and the possibility should still be investigated) it is a calculated fantasy. He is hoping to inspire others to carry out similar acts. That is clear from the detailed instructions in his book. He seems to have spent months “email farming” on Facebook so that he would have a solid list of “nationalists in all European countries” to send is completed manifesto to.

Although the large budget he claimed to have amassed from playing the stock market means it would not be easy to imitate him, we cannot rule out the possibility he will inspire other racist fanatics.

All this only makes combating groups like the EDL, who directly and viciously build on the growing climate of Islamophobia, ever more important. The EDL says it is going to “march into the Lions den” of Tower Hamlets on the third of September. In the spirit of Cable Street, it’s vital to stop the hate-mongers in their tracks once and for all.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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New book exposes brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners

First published by the Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 5 August 2011

Shlomo Gazit, an Israeli general and the first “coordinator of government activities” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip apparently wrote a book in 1985 about Israel’s occupation policies there called The Carrot and the Stick. It is quite telling that such Israeli terminology relates to Palestinians as if they are animals. A new book about Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinians contains strong evidence that these policies have been a lot more about the “stick” of physical and psychological torture than about the “carrot” of persuasion.

Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel is a collection of essays from Pluto Press edited by Abeer Baker and Anat Matar. The contributors focus on different aspects of Israel’s system of political prisons. It is rare for such an anthology to be of such consistently high quality. Quite often essay collections can be a mixed bag but Threat is rarely less than interesting. Palestinian prisoners and the solidarity movements of their families and supporters have long been emblematic in the Palestinian liberation struggle. So the book is an important and welcome attempt to educate English-speakers on this neglected topic.

Consider, for example, this astonishing statistic: “almost half of all the prisoners held by the Israeli prison system are Palestinians who have been sent to prison by the military courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)” (68). Furthermore, this share seems to have been consistently high over a long period: the figure stood between 45 and 60 percent during the first two decades after the 1967 occupation (72).

The contributors to this book are from a mix of Israeli, Palestinian and other backgrounds but most are lawyers, academics and professional activists for human rights groups in Israel such as Adalah (with whom Baker works as a lawyer) or B’Tselem. We can also read the words of Palestinian prisoners, recalling their own experiences.

We learn from Alon Harel and Yael Berda about what exactly “security prisoners” are. They are “deprived of many of the rights granted to non-security prisoners” (37). Yet the definition of “security prisoners” is not just those who engage in armed struggle — Palestinian political activists who do not use violence are also classified as such. Berda notes, “It is actually surprising how, under the harsh classification regimes of the security threat, many Palestinians have chosen nonviolent political and social action, even though it carries with it similar consequences to the violent actions” (54).

In reality, the Israeli secret police — the Shin Bet — decides who is a “security prisoner”. Known by its formal title the General Security Services (GSS), the Shin Bet runs a system that is “constructed and applied administratively by the GSS alone” (52). We also learn, in information relevant to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, that the closeness of Israeli universities to the Shin Bet has meant “merging the security apparatuses with bases of academic power” (52).

Apartheid behind bars

The prisoners are emblematic of the whole Palestinian struggle for many reasons, not least of which is the system of apartheid that they are fighting against. It is striking that this applied to the whole of historic Palestine, not just the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It applies to Palestinians living in Israel, too: “In January 2009, there were about 370 Israeli Arab citizens classified as security prisoners. A small number of Jewish prisoners are classified by the IPS [Israel Prison Service] as security prisoners but they are not subjected to the harsh conditions reserved for the Palestinians” (80).

Sharon Weill’s essay is a strong contender for best essay in the book. She proves that because of the separate and unequal legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians there — civil courts for Israeli Jews but military courts for Palestinians — the occupation of the West Bank is best understood as a system of apartheid. I was amazed to learn that “until 2004 the [Israeli military] judges did not need to have any legal background; they were just regular officers, usually very young” (147). She also includes a strong example of how Israeli apartheid applies to even its own (supposedly equal) Palestinian citizens: “While Israeli Jews have been excluded from the military courts’ jurisdiction as a matter of policy, Palestinians carrying Israeli IDs (especially those from East Jerusalem), committing an offense within the OPT, have always been tried there” (141).

Disturbing studies on torture and rape

There is a wide range of rich topics addressed. Palestinian sociology professor Nahla Abdo has a devastating critique of colonial feminism and the “Western Orientalist literature [that has since 2002] emerged to deal with the female military resistance” (59). Abdo shows how Western academics have tried to analyze female Palestinians fighters as a response to a supposed endemic misogyny in Palestinian society — to “wipe away the stigma of being female” as one has put it (59). She proceeds to convincingly dismantle this crude framework of assumptions. Abdo then moves on to sexism and racism in the Israel Prison Service and recounts disturbing case studies — from her own research and interviews with women prisoners — of sexual torture and rape by Israeli personnel.

If I have one reservation about the book it is its inevitable (considering the authors’ professional backgrounds) bias towards the “human rights” narrative, rather than the resistance narrative. For example, the failed case by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din against the practice of transferring Palestinians to prisons outside the West Bank cited by Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard seemed in effect to be arguing for Israeli prisons to be rebuilt in the West Bank (197-198). The Israeli high court rejected the Yesh Din petition on patronizing and spurious grounds. But the fact that a liberal Israeli human rights organization was not instead arguing for all the political prisons to be emptied exposes the contradictions and limits of such legal activism within the system of apartheid Zionism.

The editors — and some of the authors — seem to be aware of this to an extent, and Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka’s essay concluding the book is a good antidote in this regard, since it critiques this tendency. Daka sees the Palestinian Authority as key to this transformation: “the ‘Palestinian Revolution’ was replaced by the ‘Palestinian Authority,’ the mobilization of these young people [in the PA armed forces] signals the replacement of struggle with the ‘rule of law’ and ‘resistance’ with the ‘prevention of armed chaos’ … These new slogans do not belong to a discourse of a liberation movement; they were invoked to make the movement disappear” (238-239).

I would have liked to read more from Palestinian prisoners in their own words: 8 out of the 22 contributions in the book are by Palestinians (including Palestinian citizens of Israel) who are often former or current prisoners. But to be fair, those included offer deep and insightful historical analysis as well as important and troubling eyewitness accounts of torture and ill-treatment in Israeli prisons.

Overall, there is a wealth of history, analysis, documentation and plenty of legal details in this book. And fortunately, the legal details rarely lead into dry or unreadable territory. Threat comes highly recommended.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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