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Tag Archives: PALESTINE

THE SICKLY SMELL OF LIES AND DEATH

John Chuckman

Only the other day, Benjamin Netanyahu earned a small note of immortality when he said the peace talks were ended by the new arrangements between the Palestine Authority and Hamas: Netanyahu’s announcement bundled a record number of lies into one mouthful of words.  There, of course, never was anything properly called peace talks with Israel. There has been only a long series of closed-door personal, and security-scrambled telephonic, exchanges with America’s superbly ineffectual John Kerry, exchanges in which the Palestinians played virtually no role and in which Mr. Netanyahu had absolutely no interest, Netanyahu always setting an impossible set of conditions as prerequisites to anything happening precisely because he does not want anything to happen, while undoubtedly periodically raging with one of his mind-numbing harangues which are impossible to answer rationally for the simple reason they are not rational.

Netanyahu’s announcement is larded with layers of lies much like layers of rock in stratigraphic formations. Perhaps the chief of these being that Hamas – that democratically elected party led by middle-class professionals whose only concerns have been to obtain a fair deal for Palestinians and to provide clean government after the long-term corruption of Fatah – is a dreadful terrorist organization. Of course, you do have to say something along those lines to excuse your warring on civilians, blockading their needs (starting with a viciously-calculated minimal calorie allowance per person), cutting off services, piracy on the high seas, denying fishing rights, kidnapping and murdering politicians, and constant menaces. You wouldn’t do all that to people just trying to run a democratic, clean government, now would you? You might if you viewed the Palestinians in Gaza as a nightmare (a past Israeli prime minister’s actual word), as a source of constant fear, resembling fears in the Old South of revolt in the slave quarters some dark night, something which caused uneasy sleep for plantation families with pistols and knives tucked under their pillows.

Israel, despite the meaningless outpourings and rages of Netanyahu, is not looking for clean government and it certainly isn’t looking for democracy in any of its neighbors’ arrangements. Israel loved thirty years of corrupt and completely undemocratic government in Egypt, and it is Israel’s silent influence with the United States that has returned Egypt’s eighty million people, after one year of democratic government, to tyranny and openly corrupt arrangements. Israel also likes the absolute government of Saudi Arabia because it makes many secret deals with the Saudi princes, eager themselves to suppress democratic tendencies in the region. Saudi Arabia, with its Islamic fundamentalism, once was viewed as an implacable enemy of Israel, but the less-than-idealistic gritty interests of both states have nicely, quietly meshed in recent years with the fabulously wealthy aristocracy of Saudi Arabia viewing democracy and clean government through the same lens as the Middle East’s Crusader garrison state.

Israel is not even looking for peace, peace as any thoughtful, disinterested person in the world would define it. I believe Netanyahu has given new ferocity to an old strategy towards what every past leader of Israel regarded as the problem of the Palestinians, and that involves the goal either of making them so miserable that they will leave en masse or become so compliant they will agree to arrangements which assure their perpetual isolation, inferiority, and servitude. Either or any combination of those two outcomes is what Netanyahu understands as peace. I don’t see any other way of interpreting years of appallingly abusive behavior and law-breaking and injustice on a scale affecting millions. And there is no other way to interpret the American government’s tolerance for the abuse and law-breaking and injustice beyond its secretly sharing the same hopes as Israel’s malevolent leaders, being sick and tired of having to hear about and deal with a grotesque situation involving a few million people in a world where it tries to direct the destinies of billions.

Israel’s limited dealings with the Palestinian Authority – a kind of quasi-government formed out of the Oslo Accords of 1993 for the purpose of managing basic local services and negotiating with Israel – are themselves built on lies. The existing head of that quasi-government, Mahmoud Abbas, was last elected to serve as president until 2009, but with the connivance of the United States and Israel he regularly extends his term, never receiving the least recrimination for doing so, another demonstration of Israel’s love for democracy and clean government. His democratic credentials are further enhanced by the fact that he “governs” only in the West Bank – at least in those portions not yet seized by Israel – having been driven out of Gaza. Yet he is the only one of the Palestinians even admitted to symbolic membership in the “peace talks.” The reason for this is simple: up until very recently, Abbas has been a passive figure who offers Israel no open challenge to the huge injustices of the status quo, very much in contrast to the late Yasser Arafat, who is believed by many to have been assassinated by Israel after an extended period of abuse and threats including the shelling of his house and denying his even attending religious services. Netanyahu, by the way, is on record as having vigorously denounced as unworkable the now pretty much failed Oslo Accords, a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Analyzing “the peace talks,” discovering their rotten construction and the dishonest motives of those involved, yields unpleasant surprises much like those from stumbling accidentally upon a rotten timber and seeing a myriad of critters scrambling and flying off in all directions. John Kerry carries on his charade in the Middle East while at the same time lying about Russian news sources and threatening a red line for Russia to make it pay dearly for its “transgressions” in Ukraine. And there is still the hypocritical pretence about the induced horrors of Syria for which Mr. Kerry along with his boss bear direct responsibility.

Russia Today, the newspaper Kerry recently publicly criticized, can have nothing to its shame to compare with The New York Times which one day published images supposedly proving Russian soldiers were active in Eastern Ukraine and shortly after retracted when the lie was hurled in its face. The same New York Times, it was revealed, passes its reportage on Israel through Israeli censors before publication, providing a standard of journalistic integrity it would be hard to match. What Kerry and Company are actually upset about is Russia’s new, sophisticated use of the press and broadcasting. Gone are the not-believable voices of the Soviet era, words by apparatchiks featuring such colorful expressions as “running dogs.” Instead we find thoughtful reportage and analysis reaching out to people in the West, correcting misrepresentations imposed by their own leaders through outlets like The New York Times and America’s major networks. America’s Cold War era monopoly on “credible press” is gone (in fact, it never was that credible, only seeming so by contrast to the old Soviet efforts). With the monopoly’s disappearance, America’s unrestricted ability to “get a story out there,” as someone from the CIA might say, also has suffered, and Mr. Kerry clearly isn’t happy about the fact.

As for Kerry’s comments about red lines and making Russia pay, it would be difficult to come up with a poorer example of diplomacy from America’s supposed chief of diplomacy. Of course, the last time we heard the expression “red line” concerned the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government, something that never happened, but the American official words about a red line served as a kind of segue to the actual, totally-immoral use of such chemicals by some of the fanatics America secretly supports. And just a short while before that use of “red line,” we had the world’s most predictable liar talking about red lines for Iran, a country he threatened and continues to threaten but which has never threatened him.

Kerry’s public face on the situation in Ukraine is just as rankly dishonest as his “peace talks” in the Middle East and his words about Syria. The fact is that Ukrainian groups America has supported secretly for years with almost unlimited amounts of CIA-infiltrated money overthrew an elected government, and they did so before previously-agreed arrangements for new elections which were intended to appease the divided factions in Ukraine. Part of the way these groups seized power was through the dirty work of right-wing thugs, who, among other acts, served as snipers shooting many hundreds of people dead in the streets of Kiev. Now, we see this self-proclaimed government receiving visits by America’s CIA Director and Vice President for unexplained reasons. Was there ever a less honest effort at pretending democratic forces are at work in a crisis? Please, Mr. Kerry, who is it that you think you are convincing of anything, beyond your own dishonesty and remarkably limited diplomatic skills?

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A VAST WASTELAND OF EFFORT SPENT: AMERICA’S RAMPAGE THROUGH THE MIDDLE EAST

John Chuckman

I read that six thousand people have been killed by sectarian violence so far this year in Iraq, surely a good rough measure of what America’s invasion achieved there. In Afghanistan, America’s chosen man publically disagrees with America’s ideas of what withdrawal means, how many occupying American forces should remain, and the role the Taleban should play. Killing remains a daily occurrence, including regular instances of American special forces murdering civilians, drugs flow freely through the country and out to the world, and most women still wear the burka. Libya is reduced to rag tag bands engaged in fighting like rival gangs of bandits. Syria writhes in agony as the victim of an artificially-induced civil war with even the use of nerve gas on civilians by America’s proxy fighters winked at and lied about.

Such are just the continuing aftershocks of America’s violent, senseless campaign on the Middle East and the Muslim world.

The screams of the hundreds of thousands of initial victims of cluster bombs, Hellfire rockets, depleted uranium explosions, and white phosphorus were what Condi Rice once described as “the birth cries of a new Middle East,” likely just before she set off on another shopping spree to New York for more cute new shoes. You might say Condi and her psychopathic associates assumed the God-like perspective in their work, as the people being devastated were regarded with the importance of ants being squashed by gleeful children in a playground.

Ideas of “nation building” around all the slaughter and destruction are now almost forgotten in the press where they were once earnestly discussed like big government social programs of the 1960s. It is hard to know whether those ideas were ever taken seriously in Washington by the platoons of Pentagon consultants over expense account lunches or whether they were never intended as more than glib slogans and talking points for politicians’ convenience, banners with nice words to cover piles of bleeding bodies. No clear-thinking person ever took the idea seriously, but as we know there is not a great deal of clear thinking in times of war, nor is there much of it at any time among American politicians.

The notion that you can change the basic culture and social structure of a nation of tens of millions over a foreseeable time span is laughable. Culture, including the unpleasant parts contained by any of them, is a complex of habits, beliefs, relationships, and prejudices formed over an immensely long period in the workings of a people’s economy. Just as language and religious traditions cannot be greatly altered or undone quickly, so too all the other aspects of a culture. It is simply nonsense to believe otherwise. The efforts, over much of a century, by Russia’s Communists to change an ancient culture, including its church and national customs, should serve to intimidate glib references to nation-building.

The single most important part of any serious effort to change a place and its ways of doing things is the steady advance of its economy. It is the fluidity of a nation undergoing long-term economic growth that gradually washes away old and inefficient and fearful customs, changing everything from the nature of marriage and the way families work to the kind of clothes people wear and food they eat. After all, America’s backwaters still enjoyed family picnics at public lynchings as late as Franklin Roosevelt’s day, and it was largely the cumulative effects of economies restructured over decades with increasing opportunities and movement of people and ideas that brought those ghastly practices to a close.

Even changing minor aspects of an entire society, as we’ve seen many times in our own, is a long effort. Smoking is the clearest example of this, it having taken over half a century, despite medical understanding of its hazards, to move us from smoking being a stylish part of every Hollywood film to cigarettes being hidden behind the counters at corner stores.

And this is all the more true when you employ force, as the United States does habitually. People do not react well to aggression, and it is not the way to change anything which it may be desirable to change. On even so basic a level as raising children, our laws and courts and schools have evolved to rule out physical force. And despite decades of the war on drugs with its seemingly endless march of folly – armed raids, mass arrests, seizures, and imprisonment plus tens of billions spent – we have made no perceptible progress on what all of us recognize as a gigantic medical and social problem.

But when the force you employ includes B-52s, F-16s, and private armies of hired cutthroats, it is a certainty you will change little beyond the death rate.

The United States government now has been swept by a new enthusiasm in the application of violence. It is a new interpretation of the concept of airpower. In places like Libya, America embraced the almost benign-sounding concept of a “no-fly zone” to bomb and shoot the crap out of a national army fighting rebels. It developed the concept over the decade after the first Gulf War where it enforced a no-fly zone that was actually an active program of attacking any Iraqi installation or suppressing any movement it wanted while an embargo continued to inflict terrible suffering on the children of Iraq. Another version of the concept was used in the invasion of Afghanistan. The United States bombed the country with everything it had, including B-52s doing carpet-bombing, while most of the fighting done on the ground was done by other Afghans, the tribes of the Northern Alliance serving as American stand-ins.

The new approach has several advantages. It sends fewer coffins back home so that political opposition to the killing abroad never grows as it did in the Vietnam holocaust. It’s likely cheaper, too, than sending in and supplying large numbers of troops. After all, I read somewhere that just the air-conditioning bill for American troops in Iraq ran into many billions of dollars. And it maintains a kind of polite charade about not really invading a place.

Over the same period, another form of airpower came into its own, drones used as platforms for Hellfire missiles targeted by remote control. The Israelis, always leaders in the work and technology of murder, used a version of this method in what they blithely call “targeted killings,” a long series of acts known to most of the world by the terms “extrajudicial killing” or “disappearing people” or “political assassination.” Al Capone might have called it simply “rubbing guys out.” Well, whatever you choose to call it, the United States is in the business in a serious way now, having murdered people in Somalia, Bahrain, Pakistan, Yemen, and perhaps other places we don’t yet know about.  It has killed several thousand this way, many of them innocent bystanders and all of them people charged with no crime and given no due process.

Of course, Israel’s long string of murders have achieved little beyond making still more enemies and dragging in the gutter any claim it may once have had to ethical reputation or worthy purpose. And just so with America’s valiant effort by buzz-cut thugs sitting in crisply-pressed uniforms at computer screens playing murderous computer games with real people in the explosions.

As for diplomacy and reason and rule of law, these are practices almost forgotten by America in the Middle East, as it mimics Israel’s reprehensible behavior towards the people of the occupied territories and neighboring states. And all democratic values have been laid aside or bulldozed over in Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and other places as Israel’s special interests are put before the democratic and human rights of many, many millions of people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

 

Some Israelis are fond of comparing Israel’s displacement of Palestinians to the historical experience of North Americans in displacing indigenous people, but the comparison is inaccurate on almost every level. First, comparing events of two hundred years ago and today is misleading: norms of human rights and ethics and law have changed tremendously in that time. Besides, people all over the world see and read of such injustices today, something not possible at an earlier time.

Second, the indigenous people of, for example, Canada consist of roughly one million out of a national population of 35 million, whereas Palestinians have reached slightly more than half the population of Israel-Palestine which is about eleven million. The scale and relative size of any event are important, as we are reminded time and again concerning the Holocaust

Third, the original indigenous North American people lived in a non-intensive economy of hunting and gathering and early agriculture, activities not compatible by their very nature with European settlement and development in a given region. But the Palestinians often are shopkeepers and farmers and tradesmen and professionals, activities fully compatible with the European development Israel represents.

Fourth, and most importantly, all of North America’s indigenous people are full citizens of their countries with rights to move and to work anywhere and the right to vote in elections and the freedom to marry anyone or claim any benefit owing to a citizen, whereas Israel holds the best part of five million Palestinians (Gaza, West Bank, and East Jerusalem) in a seemingly perpetual state of having no rights and no citizenship. A Jewish Israeli cannot even marry a Palestinian Israeli without serious consequences. The million or so Palestinians who are Israeli citizens – owing to the accidents of war in 1948 and certainly not to Israel’s embrace of diversity – are only technically so, having passports but having many restrictions and constant suspicions placed upon them. More than a few influential Israelis have spoken to the idea of driving them entirely out of the country at some point.

If, as Israel always insists as a pre-condition for peace talks, Israel were to be formally recognized by Palestinians as “the Jewish state,” what happens to the million or so Palestinians who are now (nominally) Israeli citizens?

Israel long has been concerned with the relative rates of growth of Jewish and non-Jewish populations in Israel proper and in the occupied territories. The populations are now roughly equal for the first time, and from now on the Jewish population likely will diminish as a fraction of the whole. These relative growth rates reflect the advanced European and American status of many Ashkenazi Jews, the people who largely run and own Israel. Advanced people today in all Western countries do not replace their populations. That is why even stable old European states are experiencing social difficulties with large in-migrations.

Significant in-migration always changes a country. Even a country such as Britain which we are used to thinking of in a well-defined set of characteristics is undergoing change, but the truth is our thinking about the character of a place like Britain is illusory. Britain over a longer time horizon was Celtic, Roman, Germanic, and Norman French with bits of others such as Vikings thrown in – all these going into the make-up of what we call the British people, what we think of as represented by, say, Winston Churchill with derby, umbrella, cigar, and distinctive accent, but, of course, Sir Winston also was half American (his mother).

Ethnic purity of any sort is a nonsense, and one hesitates even to use the phrase after the lunacies of the Nazis. Oddly, early in the Third Reich, the Nazis had considerable difficulty agreeing on what defined a Jew for purposes of the infamous 1935 Nuremberg Laws. After years of preaching hatred against Jews during their rise to power, you might think the Nazis clearly understood exactly what the object of all that hatred was, but that proved not to be the case. Under the compromise reached between various factions of the party, “three-quarter Jews,” those with three Jewish grandparents, were considered Jews. “Half-Jews,” those with two Jewish grandparents and two “Aryan” grandparents, were considered Jews only if they practiced the faith. “Quarter Jews” were considered as non-Jews. Attempting to rationalize the irrational always leads to absurd, not to say dangerous, results.

And yet, in a bitter paradox, Israel perpetuates a version of this thinking. A conception of just who is a Jew is necessary because all those regarded as Jews have the right to immigrate to Israel and to receive generous assistance in settling there. But as with any such conception, it suffers disagreements and adjustments over time, a recent one involving whether to recognize certain African groups holding to ancient variations of Jewish belief. Moreover, inside Israel there are great disagreements about rules set by one group of Jews, the ultra-orthodox, governing important parts of the lives of other groups of Jews.

As for today’s population shifts, the larger a country’s population, the more easily it absorbs in-migrants with minimal disturbance, but countries the size of Denmark or even Holland have experienced serious disturbances given the generosity of their past acceptance of refugees. And just so Israel, whose small population has struggled with huge in-migrations of Russians and others in recent decades. Many older Israelis have been irritated by them, and many of the Russians irritated at what they find in Israel. Smaller groups of in-migrant Jews and of refugees, ones with dark skins, have aroused some very ugly scenes recently in Israel, especially among the ultra-orthodox, scenes not altogether different to those of Bull Connor’s Birmingham, Alabama.

The Arab population in Israel-Palestine grows along the rates of third-world populations which have not experienced full demographic transition, something demographers have identified as an historic event in all advanced countries, a one-time population adjustment from the ancient human pattern of high birth and death rates to a modern one of low rates for both. High birth rates yield a young and growing population in any land where high death rates once claimed the lives of many children and kept population growth suppressed, but vaccines and improvements in diet and hygiene have lowered traditional infant mortality in many parts of the world. In advanced countries, the pattern has been for birth rates to fall once lower death rates are seen as the new reality, yielding slow to non-existent or even declining population growth. This last part of demographic transition requires a degree of prosperity to be achieved, something which Israel’s occupation makes impossible for Palestinians.

Countries with modern, non-replacement levels of fertility must rely on in-migration to grow and, in many cases, just to keep their populations where they are. All of advanced Europe and the United States and Canada are in this situation. A declining population has many implications, from shortages of key skills and talents to a decreased pool for soldiers and an outright decline in a country’s economic output. All advanced nations today maintain their populations through immigration.

Israel has been built almost wholly through immigration. Because Israel defines itself in such limiting terms as a state for only one group of people, with that group being a tiny fraction of world population (about 15 million out of 7 billion), Israel faces likely an insurmountable problem obtaining required future migrants. Its last source of substantial population growth was from Russia, and there are no more large pools of Jewish population left in the world willing to trade their situation for that of Israel. Jews now living comfortably in Europe and North America are certainly willing to visit Israel and perhaps donate and perhaps even do a business deal, but most are not willing to pack up and move there.

And why should they? Life is good in Europe and much of North America. In modern Israel there are endless tensions and arguments and difficulties, and immigrants face everything from national service requirements (for men and women) to punishing taxes and high costs of living and, in more than a few cases, intense prejudices. It is not surprising that recent World Bank data show significant net out-migration for Israel over the last 5 years, something new in the country’s brief history.

Why does Israel hang on to the occupied territories, the source of great stress and conflict, with their Arab population approaching 5 million? The answer, to a great extent, is found in a concept called Greater Israel. Greater Israel is supposed to reflect information from the Old Testament about the extent of biblical Israel. It includes the West Bank and Gaza, a slice of Syria, much of Lebanon, and other bits, all depending on which of several definitions you accept, there being no maps in biblical literature and words having been used with far less precision than we accept today. And there is something almost silly and chimerical about taking so literally ancient writings which include people being swallowed by a whale or turned into a pillar of salt. Whether chimerical or not, It is easy to see how dangerous the concept is today.

Many astute observers believe Israel’s 1967 War was deliberately engineered to seize much of the territory required for Greater Israel. At the time, France and the United States, while promising security for Israel, warned it not to use the war to increase its territory, but Israel did use the war that way. One of the explanations for Israel’s intense attack on the USS Liberty, a well-marked spy ship about which Israel had been informed in advance, was to silence America’s minute-to-minute information as Israel hurriedly turned its armored forces from Egypt towards the north and murdered hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war to expedite the operation. Israel’s own behavior since 1967 certainly supports the idea of conquest as the war’s goal.

One suspects many Israeli leaders secretly believe in Greater Israel, with a number of them having spoken about it. It is important to know that the ultra-orthodox – whose parties are required for either major party’s forming a government – are the fiercest and most unapologetic believers in Greater Israel. For them “the promised land” must be as promised thirty centuries or so ago. Of course, believers in Greater Israel are not typically heard to explain what would happen to millions of Palestinian residents, other than such flip notions of their all moving to Jordan where they supposedly belong. What we see in Israel’s regular building of new settlements in the occupied territories does, for all the world, resemble a policy of slow-motion ethnic-cleansing towards creating Greater Israel. It certainly is a policy extremely hostile to any hopes of peace and stability.

How can you be so hostile and yet say that you search for peace? You cannot, at least in the real world. So how does any realistic person interpret Israel’s continued stealing of other people’s homes and farms? Israel calls these periodic thefts “facts on the ground” towards negotiation, but that ambiguous expression much resembles Israel’s public pledge never to be the first in the region to employ nuclear weapons, yet we all know that Israel does indeed have nuclear weapons while no one else does (most recent estimate is 80 nuclear warheads and a stockpile of fissile material adequate to better than double the number). While many Israelis rail against liberals who criticize such things, the simple fact is that the very definition of liberal-minded makes it impossible to accept them.

No place can sustain a sense of crisis indefinitely, something Israel has done since its founding, and the continued occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan Heights only add greatly to that sense of crisis. The costs in material terms and in psychological ones are high. Indeed, it is an unnatural thing for any state to sustain itself as a garrison state, a garrison state being a fortified place where service in the armed forces, various secret services, and a large bureaucracy concerned with such matters, provides an unhealthily large part of the national economy. Such institutions consume great amounts of wealth and produce little beyond basic security, and any nation with an inordinately large set of such institutions is at a comparative disadvantage to other nations not so burdened.

Apart from the immense cost of occupation, Israel’s army is showing increasing signs of unhappiness and demoralization with its role in the occupied territories. Adding to the general malaise expressed by hundreds of soldiers and veterans, the recent government commitment to subject the ultra-orthodox to military service for the first time is sure not to prove a happy experience. It is the ultra-orthodox parties who have most driven the ferocity of Israel’s position with its neighbors. These are the people who every once in a while run out and seize Palestinian land, building shacks on it and calling it a settlement, or who chop down ancient olive groves so that the Palestinians who own them cannot make a living. And these are the people who absolutely will not live with others who are different, including even many other Jews. Their men will not ride with women on a bus, and there is a long history of attacks on people living near or passing through their neighborhoods, as the defacing of non-orthodox temples, the physical assaults on outsiders in the streets, and such extreme acts as burning down the homes of women regarded as loose, sometimes with the occupants inside. When their young men and women have to wear uniforms and do duties in the occupied territories and at borders – and note women as well as men are drafted into the army – they are going to be very unhappy, but if the government fails in its intentions, there will be continuing unrest in the larger part of Israel, many of whom regard the ultra-orthodox as an embarrassment and a national problem.

Israel hopes with such measures as drafting the young ultra-orthodox to better integrate them into society, but this seems a hopeless idea. Can you integrate old-order Mennonites into society at large? To even attempt to do so is to destroy the foundation of their beliefs, much like America’s futile attempts to alter behaviors of fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan.

Since the beginning there have been internal conflicts in Israel between the ultra-orthodox and others. Many outsiders are not aware of the extent of the secular, indeed worldly, nature of a great part of Israel’s population. A very large part of Israel’s population is secular, estimated at well more than 40% while the orthodox and ultra-orthodox are about 20%. Yet many social rules legislated in Israel are to please the ultra-orthodox – after all, they do hold the balance of power in Israeli elections – and since a great part of Israel’s population is not observant in religion, regarding its Jewish identity as cultural, most Israelis live under legislation with which they are uncomfortable, but it is difficult to imagine how these differences and irritations can ever be rectified. Indeed, within Israel’s Jewish population, the only people with larger-than-average birth rates are the ultra-orthodox. Much as with Mennonites or old-fashioned Mormons, the ultra-orthodox eschew many of the benefits of modern society and live to some extent as though it were still the 19th century, including 19th century rates of fertility.

It is also demoralizing for a good part of the population to realize that their country is in much the same business as past discredited societies such as apartheid South Africa. How else can it be, given the occupied territories and Israel’s notion of itself as the Jewish state? It is also demoralizing to read overwhelming expressions of disapproval in the world’s press and to see the reactions of others when travelling on an Israeli passport. Indeed, the Israeli government has gone to the desperate extreme of paying thousands of students to counter criticisms of Israel on internet commentary and social sites around the world.

The elite class of Israel consists largely of Ashkenazi Jews from Europe and North America. Recent historical research and DNA testing do tend to support an old but unproven idea, once subject to the accusation of anti-Semitism, that their origin is not the ancient Hebrew people but a 7th to 9th century people from the Caucasus called the Khazars, converts to Judaism. And, to add more irony to the situation, historical research (and some DNA testing) supports the idea that today’s Palestinians are in part descendants of the Hebrews. There is no record from Rome of its having expelled the population when it conquered the region, nor would such an act be characteristic of Rome in its many conquests. Whatever the final truth of the matter, these ideas, now taken seriously by some world-class scientists and scholars, can only add to the unease and discomfort of modern Israelis.

Israel, since its founding, has been the most subsidized state in the world, maybe even in the history of the world. Israel’s economy for that reason cannot be sensibly compared to anything. It receives about $500 per year per Jewish citizen from the United States, and it has done so for decades. But that is only the beginning. There are periodic loan guarantees of tens of billions. There is constant access at the highest level for this nation with the population of Ecuador, something no other country, even a far more important one, has.

It has a plum free-trade agreement – indeed, without exporting its subsidized crops Israel’s agriculture would disappear – a costly gift to Israel because it has no tangible benefits for Americans. The opportunity cost of the water Israel squanders on tomatoes and clementines to export is unbelievably high because it is the cost of desalination-plant water. It thus sends subsidized produce to the United States under free trade, produce the United States doesn’t even need.

Israel receives billions worth of intelligence and defense cooperation every year from the United States, something few other countries receive. The billion and a half dollars a year going to Egypt is a bribe paid on Israel’s behalf by Americans since the Camp David Agreements. Israel receives heavily below-cost natural gas from Egypt, the result of U.S. pressure. Everyone knows this is scandalous, and the U.S. offered to pay a subsidy if Egypt raised the price. Israel also receives billions from the Jewish communities of America and Europe, and it receives important business intelligence and connections.

The great privilege granted to American Israelis to be recognized as dual citizens, a status of which the United States in general disapproves, means they move back and forth regularly, all the while sharing business and other intelligence. Israel’s farms and cities and water supply were all taken with absolutely no payment or reparations from other people, that being the biggest subsidy ever received, the very substance of the nation. Israel has received tens of billions in reparations from Germany – wholly appropriate in view of the past – but still a subsidy, and today Germany still subsidizes things like submarine construction. The list is even longer than this, but I think the point is clear: Israel is, in no meaningful sense, an independent national economy. It is in truth a gigantic international welfare case.

Israel, despite the subsidies, does not offer a good living for a great many of its citizens. Huge demonstrations – much hidden in the Western press – revealed great discontent in a country where the costs of basics like home ownership are intimidating. And it is hard to see how it can be otherwise in a very small, economically-inefficient country with military and security costs like no other.

Subsidies do not continue forever, and many of the sources of Israel’s subsidies must eventually tire of its never honestly trying to create meaningful peace. Many Jews in America, while continuing to support Israel, increasingly are irritated and embarrassed by its counter-productive policies and often outrageous acts. How long can they be depended upon?

Israelis like to complain of Western liberals and their views of the country, but they fail to remember who their historic allies and enemies were. Today’s “friends of Israel” represented by the likes of Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich or America’s religious right were the very types who exuded anti-Semitism and admired Nazis a bit more than half a century ago. How secure are such attachments?

The Holocaust generation will completely disappear soon, taking with it a great deal of the intense fear and guilt which powered Israel’s creation. The efforts of ideologue Zionists for decades would never have made Israel a reality. It took the immensity of the Holocaust, influencing both Jews and nations like the United States – which could have accepted refugees before the Final Solution, but flatly refused, sending boatloads back to Germany – to create modern Israel. The United States position on Israel has always been riddled with hypocrisy, imposing a terrible burden on Palestinians for something which was neither their fault nor anything they could have prevented and giving huge aid to Israel instead of helping with compensation for Palestinians rendered refugees in their own land.

The virtual industry we have seen in building museums and publishing books dedicated to the Holocaust largely goes against normal human nature: people have a built-in capacity to forget great pain and turn to the stuff of living. Saying that does not mean that the Holocaust will be forgotten, only that it will assume its place in history with so many other terrible events and great upheavals, events and upheavals which are hard historical facts, not ever-present sources of pain and fear. But the Holocaust as a continued rationalization for the injustice and abuse we see in Israel-Palestine is losing its force both inside and outside Israel.

No democratic state can thrive under the long continued presence of a large military and intelligence establishment, the United States being the world’s premier example of this truth. For its size, Israel’s military-intelligence establishment is quite huge. Such institutions simply do not operate under democratic rules, and they do not promote democratic values within society. Quite the opposite, through their training of cohorts of young people, their secret demands on politicians, and secretive operations, they erode democratic values and respect for human rights. That fact combined with Israel’s continued occupation and abuse of millions and the fundamental fact that Israel’s idea of democracy begins with one group making all decisions do mean that Israel’s democracy is a rather poor one.

Moreover, it is an historical fact that democracies, not protected by a Bill or Charter of Rights, will everywhere and always abuse minorities. Power, however granted, is power, and there is nothing magical about democratically-granted power which protects any group or party differing in its views. Yet, by its very nature, Israel can never have a Charter of Rights, and therefore Israel can never be a proper democracy.

Last, Israel plays a decisive role in keeping in place the very dictatorships and monarchs around it that its politicians regularly decry in speeches aimed at American audiences. Why was the Egyptian Revolution, for example, completely turned around so that eighty million people are back to living under a junta? Why was a clean democratic election with Hamas, a party which represented genuine reform from Fatah, treated as a terrorist event, leading to elected officials being arrested wholesale and their leader openly threatened with assassination, a bloody invasion of what is essentially a giant refugee camp, piracy on the high seas, and a years-long punishing blockade? Israel does not want, and will not allow, democracy in any meaningful sense to emerge amongst its neighbors. And the fundamental reason for this is that Israel knows the popular will of virtually all of its neighbors is not friendly to Israel’s most selfish interests. So does that mean that all of Israel’s neighbors are doomed to tyrannies or monarchs in perpetuity? I think it does, so long as Israel is the kind of state that it is.

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, one extremely wealthy American supporter of Israel supplied Newt Gingrich with the best part of $20 million towards Gingrich’s ambition of becoming the Republican candidate. Even in America’s money-drenched political system, such generous support does not come free. The price in this case was Gingrich’s periodically announcing in speeches that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian,” an echo of Golda Meir’s years-ago, dismally dishonest claim. Do Jews in Israel or America really enjoy hearing such paid-for nonsense from American politicians? More than anything, Gingrich resembled a pet monkey on a chain dancing for his supper. Such performances only demonstrate desperation by Israel’s apologists, a kind of frenzied wish-fulfillment to make a tremendous real problem disappear, and I’m sure many are embarrassed or disturbed by them.

Many of Israel’s Ashkenazi people hold dual citizenships, America and other countries having made an exemption to their traditional opposition to dual citizenships. While it might have been an adventure or a special opportunity to live in Israel or an expression of religious or cultural attachment, it is very likely many of them increasingly will take advantage of their situation to return to the lands of their birth. There is a better life for almost any class of people to be had in Europe or North America than in Israel. Better economies, greater opportunities, higher standards of living, no military draft for children, no daily scenes of abuse, no need to rationalize or apologize about your citizenship, no intense, unresolvable internal conflicts, and no sense of being surrounded with hostility.

No matter how many ultimately leave, large numbers of Jews will continue to live in the Middle East, but a purely Jewish state is no more sustainable in the long run than was the Soviet Union with its built-in anti-economic assumptions generating perpetual economic weakness. So, too, a state based on fear, which is in part what Israel is today. Fear does not sustain and ultimately cannot be sustained in any population. Stalin’s Soviet Union operated on fear for a considerable amount of time, but in the end even the dedicated communists desperately wanted to end fear. The many Jews who do remain will have to accommodate the realities of the region. They will come to accept Albert Einstein’s idea of Zionism: Jews living in the Middle East without the apparatus of a special state and a large army and living with respect for their neighbors. Perhaps, what will ultimately emerge is a single nation living in genuine peace. At least we can hope.

ONE-WAY TRIP TO NOWHERE

John Chuckman

At this writing, since the beginning of December, Israeli soldiers have killed about 70 Palestinians. These homicides, committed by some of best armed and equipped soldiers in the world, included children and an old woman. They came after Israel’s wanton destruction of basic day-to-day civilian infrastructure in reoccupying much of the West Bank and suppression of economic activity, acts that have generated conditions comparable to a Great Depression.

Under these circumstances, how is anyone surprised that once again some Palestinians blow themselves up in Israel? Can there be the smallest doubt that Mr. Sharon’s policies are “a one-way trip to nowhere?”

In news of Israel’s reprisal measures, I read that some buildings in Gaza were destroyed, supposedly containing weapons-making facilities.

I could only shake my head. Is it remotely plausible, in the course of his many destructive rampages, that Mr. Sharon has left standing even a potential weapons-manufacturing facility in Gaza?

Would it have been left standing on the promise of good behavior? Perhaps Israel’s policy of “pinpoint targeting” – that is Israel’s euphemism for assassinating mere suspects, a policy only this week given another ringing public endorsement by Mr. Sharon – had wiped out every person capable of running the facility, and it had been spared?

Or was it discovered only within hours of the bombing? Can it be possible that Israel’s army has anything less than the most exquisitely detailed maps of every building, bomb crater, and broken water pipe in Gaza?

In the scheme of things Middle Eastern this seems an insignificant point, but it is a revealing one. Common sense tells us that the report is glaring nonsense.

What of Mr. Sharon’s other reprisals, although one hesitates to use a word that implies the Palestinians still having anything worth destroying?

He closed down three Palestinian universities.

The mysterious connection between higher education and hopeless people who blow themselves up is one understood only by members of Likud and a few gifted clairvoyants. Lynne Cheney, America’s Second Lady, might qualify in light of her venomous campaign against American academics opposed to a vicious, pointless war in Iraq. Perhaps Mr. Sharon should consider putting her on a retainer to explain his idiotic measure.

Israel has also forbidden Palestinians to attend British-sponsored peace talks.

Even Mr. Bush’s official foreign-affairs door-mat, Tony Blair, lost his temper over this measure. A discussion involving Jack Straw and the poisonous Mr. Netanyahu reportedly ended in an ugly shouting match. The British, quite understandably, cannot see why forbidding peace talks is counted a suitable reprisal measure. Perhaps here Mr. Sharon requires the contract services of Jerry Falwell, a man with a remarkable record at trying to explain the irrational.

One despairs of anything sensible happening in the Middle East. Israel’s population is whipped into a menacing hysteria. The Palestinians endure the most terrible privations and endless humiliation. Mr. Bush adopts the more vicious practices of Mr. Sharon and prepares for a meaningless war with Iraq, something that can have only the most de-stabilizing and dangerous consequences for the world.

WHAT SHARON WANTS

John Chuckman

What was the point of the Israeli army’s reducing Mr. Arafat’s compound to ruins, firing shells that came within the smallest margin of error of killing him? Everyone outside the hermetically-sealed thought-environment of Israel and Washington recognizes Mr. Arafat is no more responsible for the violence of Hamas or Hezballah than Mr. Bush is responsible for a disturbed gunman now terrorizing America’s capital city.

Of course, the question is rhetorical. The reason for the destruction is clear. Mr. Sharon has always exhibited personal animus against Mr. Arafat. He never mentions his name without the rhetorical equivalent of pronouncing a curse. The acts of Hamas or Hezbollah gave Mr. Sharon the excuse to humiliate and frighten him, hoping to destroy him as a political force and push him into exile. There cannot be the slightest doubt Sharon would prefer assassinating Arafat, as he has assassinated so many dozens of others opposing him, but even the unthinking Mr. Bush recognizes the immense strategic blunder of doing that.

With Arafat gone, Sharon could start the last thirty-five years over again. That mystical, nebulous mechanism called the “peace process” could start again – decades of stalling and quibbling, ignoring every United Nations’ resolution while Israel relentlessly inches eastward, absorbing the homes and farms of others – the search for peace through slow-motion ethnic cleansing.

Not that the creation of settlements has ever stopped while Mr. Sharon destroyed both the Oslo Accords, that landmark diplomatic achievement he always held in contempt, and much of the West Bank and Gaza. It would be just so much easier to continue with an opponent who does not have the ear of the world’s statesmen and who has not done everything politically possible to reach a reasonable settlement. It is so much easier to curse Arafat, broadcast his weaknesses, and ignore the fundamental claims he represents.

Mr. Arafat has not been one of the world’s shining statesmen. Nor has his administration in Palestine been marked by the most enlightened practices. But he is, unquestionably, dedicated to peace. He does, despite ups and downs, represent some of the most important interests of his people. And he has shown remarkable courage and tenacity, Sharon’s efforts to remove him having only showcased these qualities before the entire world.

A lot of people in the United States still do not understand that it has always been the policy of extreme parties like Mr. Sharon’s Likud to annex what they call Judaea and Samaria – that is, what is left of Palestine, home to a couple of million Arabic people. Even at the time of the original Camp David Accords, the late Mr. Begin kept muttering those names, Judaea and Samaria, into President Carter’s ear.

A reader recently wrote me about a television documentary on Palestine. He mentioned a settler, who like all the settlers are newcomers who have pushed out residents from places they have lived for centuries, being asked about the Palestinians. Her answer was they should all leave and go where they belong.

Go where they belong? According to this belligerent view, they belong on the other side of the Jordan River, or, indeed, anywhere but in their own homes and on their own farms in the West Bank. I can only wonder whether a person holding such views has ever given a moment’s thought to the reality of shoving two million people out of their homes and into small, poor countries that are not remotely-equipped to deal with massive migration?

The largest internal migration in American history, and perhaps the largest in world history not associated with war, was the great black migration of tenant farmers from the rural South to industrial jobs in the North during the mid-twentieth century. It involved about 6 1/2 million people over several decades. This vast movement of people generated tremendous social difficulties that remain unsettled in the world’s richest country, a land that is many, many times the size of any of Israel’s Arab neighbors.

So how could anyone reasonably expect such a solution in the Middle East? The answer is that reason has nothing to do with it. Israelis with these views simply want the Arabs gone. If you don’t hear echoes of Milosevic, you aren’t listening.

Until Mr. Bush, this idea, its potential for “bad press” clearly recognized, had been little advertised or promoted in North America. Now, it has received some publicity, perhaps offered as “trial balloons.”

Mr. Rumsfeld – in one of his most regrettably-Hitlerian expressions since insisting that Taliban prisoners, after their surrender at Kunduz, should be shot or walled away for good – recently spoke of the spoils belonging to the victor in the Middle East.

That redoubtable American ally, General Dostum, of course, took Rumsfeld at his word about the prisoners. Hundreds of them, after being hideously suffocated, lie in mass graves. One can’t help asking whether American generals are now to apply Mr. Rumsfeld’s spoils-principle to Iraqi oil fields?

Another Republican moral giant, Mr. Dick Armey – not known for charity towards the less-fortunate of any society, even his own – recently chimed in that pushing two-million or so people out of the West Bank would be acceptable to him. Hell, what’s a couple of million Arab lives, right?

And now, the Rev. Jerry Falwell – fundamentalist politico and hate-entrepreneur, a man whose tailored suits are bought with the proceeds of a relentless hate-campaign against a former President, a former First Lady, and all gay people – has added his scholarly opinion that the prophet Muhammad himself was a terrorist. One can almost hear the unspoken link, so why would his followers deserve to live in the Holy Land?

These public statements provide an excellent measure of the moral tone set by Mr. Bush’s administration. America’s long, on-and-off romance with fascism has been stoked back to a warm glow (for background, see my earlier article, “Flirting with Fascism”). Each of these statements should have been loudly condemned by a President with any conscience. Instead, hate-speech is tolerated.

Well, Mr. Sharon now also is building a wall, a truly massive undertaking. Authoritarian personalities and movements seem always to like walls. This one will be a grand re-creation of the Berlin Wall, complete with a strip of no-man’s land, good portions of it at the expense of Palestinian farmers.

This may be what Sharon had in mind when he made statements months ago, contradicting every act and breath of his adult life, that he supported a Palestinian state. One can only imagine what he had in mind with those words, something surely bordering on the nightmares of the gulag. The wall is likely part of his vision. A rump-state, walled off from all natural connections with its neighbor, with every movement in or out controlled, is certain to fail. It would be a state in a bottle. The idea represents a freshening-up of the late Gen. Dayan’s thinking when he said, years ago, that the Palestinians would be made so miserable they would choose to leave.