Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Articles of the day - VIP PA and Bunker Israel: what a depressing world!

The VIPs' hush money

It's no coincidence that a group of young Palestinians now organizing protests in the West Bank against a return to negotiations is called 'Palestinians for Dignity.'

By Amira Hass

Two people signed the entry permit into Israel that Mahmoud Abbas received from Israel's Civil Administration on January 1 (and which will be in force until March 1 ): 1st Lt. Noy Mitzrafi, commander of the permits office, and Lt. Col. Wissam Hamed, a department head in the Israel Defense Forces' operations directorate. It is this limited permit that Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and PLO chairman, complained of receiving instead of his normal VIP permit during a closed meeting of his Fatah faction.

The permit also states that Abbas lives in the Gaza Strip (where, as is well known, he has not set foot since 2007 ); that he is "allowed to go into Israel, except for Eilat, and into the Judea and Samaria region [i.e. the West Bank]," but not to drive a car in Israel. It states that his reason for entry is that he is "a senior PA official"; that he may stay overnight only in the West Bank or Gaza, even though the permit is in force from 00:00 to 00:00 (midnight to midnight ). Also, it says he is allowed to move about without a magnetic ID card, but the permit is "valid despite the [security] prevention" - meaning the Shin Bet security service registers him as a security menace, but the permit is given as a gesture of kindness.

The PA says a few dozen other senior officials have also been stripped of their VIP permits since mid-2011 as punishment for the PA's application for admission to the United Nations as a member state. But regarding Abbas' permit, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories insisted that this was purely a technical error.

Contrary to the interpretation that this was an intentional humiliation of Abbas, for once it's actually believable that this was a mere technical error. Humiliation is part of the system's DNA, and the clerks who implement the system imbibe the techniques of humiliation from the day they enter the army - until they view them as immutable laws of nature.

So what's surprising is neither the error nor the humiliation. What's surprising is that the PA hasn't long since, of its own initiative, renounced this dubious privileged status that the Civil Administration gives its senior officials.

After 17 years of experience, it's not hard to conclude that these ludicrous privileges are an inseparable part of the mechanism of oppression. To be astonished, it's enough to imagine the senior Palestinian official begging the Israeli clerk from COGAT to restore his own and his colleagues' VIP status. Or to be awed by how successful the wizards of the occupation have been at taming the leaders of the colonized with tempting scraps.

On the other hand, there's nothing to be astonished at. Collaborating with the humiliation inherent in VIP status conferred by the occupier is part of the PA's whole concept. Its senior officials lavish praise in their speeches on "popular resistance" (as the preferred alternative to taking up arms ). But in the very sphere where they could easily engage in civil disobedience of their own, they don't do it.

One damning example of this appears in the European Union's report on Area C, the part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. The report states explicitly that the PA has neglected Area C (62 percent of the West Bank ) in its national plans and paid very little attention to the population that inhabits it. As one European diplomat undiplomatically told Haaretz: "The PA is asking us for donations to build another luxury building in Ramallah, not for initiatives in Area C." The symbols of power and the comforts of luxury in Ramallah come a priori at the expense of a possible tactic for altering the balance of power with Israel.

Every senior PA official knows that his superiors' acquiescence in resuming negotiations with Israel, preserving the occupation's order in Area C and continuing security coordination with Israel grant him some respite from the foreign rule's routine harassments, a respite denied to rank-and-file Palestinians. The VIP's permit is the hush money he receives for his accomodation with the status quo.

This is by definition a poor opening position to be in vis-a-vis Israel. Even worse, it's a poor opening position to be in vis-a-vis the Palestinian public. It's no coincidence that a group of young Palestinians now organizing protests in the West Bank against a return to negotiations is called "Palestinians for Dignity."

Welcome to the world’s first bunker state ~ by Jonathan Cook

By Jonathan Cook, – 18 Jan 2012

Room for Jews only in Israel’s ‘villa in the jungle’

Jonathan Cook

Nazareth – The wheel is turning full circle. Last week the Israeli parliament updated a 59-year-old law originally intended to prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from returning to the homes and lands from which they had been expelled as Israel was established.

The purpose of the draconian 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law was to lock up any Palestinian who managed to slip past the snipers guarding the new state’s borders. Israel believed only savage punishment and deterrence could ensure it maintained the overwhelming Jewish majority it had recently created through a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Fast-forward six decades and Israel is relying on the infiltration law again, this time to prevent a supposedly new threat to its existence: the arrival each year of several thousand desperate African asylum seekers.

As it did with the Palestinians many years ago, Israel has criminalised these new refugees – in their case, for fleeing persecution, war or economic collapse. Whole families can now be locked up, without a trial, for three years while a deportation order is sought and enforced, and Israelis who offer them assistance risk jail sentences of up to 15 years.

Israel’s intention is apparently to put as many of these refugees behind bars as possible, and dissuade others from following in their footsteps.

To cope, officials have approved the building of an enormous detention camp, operated by Israel’s prison service, to contain 10,000 of these unwelcome arrivals. That will make it the largest holding facility of its kind in the world – according to Amnesty International, it will be three times bigger than the next largest, in the much more populous, and divine retribution-loving, US state of Texas.

Israeli critics of the law fear their country is failing in its moral duty to help those fleeing persecution, thereby betraying the Jewish people’s own experiences of suffering and oppression. But the Israeli government and the large majority of legislators who backed the law – like their predecessors in the 1950s – have drawn a very different conclusion from history.

The new infiltration law is the latest in a set of policies fortifying Israel’s status as the world’s first “bunker state”- and one designed to be as ethnically pure as possible. The concept was expressed most famously by an earlier prime minister, Ehud Barak, now the defence minister, who called Israel “a villa in the jungle”, relegating the country’s neighbours to the status of wild animals.

Barak and his successors have been turning this metaphor into a physical reality, slowly sealing off their state from the rest of the region at astronomical cost, much of it subsidised by US taxpayers. Their ultimate goal is to make Israel so impervious to outside influence that no concessions for peace, such as agreeing to a Palestinian state, need ever be made with the “beasts” around them.

The most tangible expression of this mentality has been a frenzy of wall-building. The best-known are those erected around the Palestinian territories: first Gaza, then the areas of the West Bank Israel is not intending to annex – or, at least, not yet.

The northern border is already one of the most heavily militarised in the world – as Lebanese and Syrian protesters found to great cost last summer when dozens were shot dead and wounded as they approached or stormed the fences there. And Israel has a proposal in the drawer for another wall along the border with Jordan, much of which is already mined.

The only remaining border, the 260km one with Egypt, is currently being closed with another gargantuan wall. The plans were agreed before last year’s Arab revolutions but have gained fresh impetus with the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Israel is not only well advanced on the walls of the bunker; it is also working round the clock on the roof. It has three missile-defence systems in various stages of development, including the revealingly named “Iron Dome”, as well as US Patriot batteries stationed on its soil. The interception systems are supposed to neutralise any combination of short and long-range missile attacks Israel’s neighbours might launch.

But there is a flaw in the design of this shelter, one that is apparent even to its architects. Israel is sealing itself in with some of the very “animals” the villa is supposed to exclude: not only the African refugees, but also 1.5 million “Israeli Arabs”, descendants of the small number of Palestinians who avoided expulsion in 1948.

This has been the chief motive for the steady stream of anti-democratic measures by the government and parliament that is rapidly turning into a torrent. It is also the reason for the Israeli leadership’s new-found demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel’s Jewishness; its obsessions with loyalty; and the growing appeal of population exchange schemes.

In the face of the legislative assault, Israel’s Supreme Court has grown ever more complicit. Last week, it sullied its reputation by upholding a law that tears apart families by denying tens of thousands of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship the right to live with their Palestinian spouse in Israel – “ethnic cleansing” by other means, as leading Israeli commentator Gideon Levy noted.

Back in the early 1950s, the Israeli army shot dead thousands of unarmed Palestinians as they tried to reclaim property that had been stolen from them. These many years later, Israel appears no less determined to keep non-Jews out of its precious villa.

The bunker state is almost finished, and with it the dream of Israel’s founders is about to be realised.

Jonathan Cook won the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

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