[Engaging Books is a returning series that features books by various publishers on a given theme, along with an excerpt from each volume. This installment involves a selection from the University of California Press on the theme of Occupation and Militarism in Palestine/Israel. Other publishers’ books will follow on a monthly basis.]
Table of Contents
War over Peace: One Hundred Years of Israel’s Militaristic Nationalism
By Uri Ben-Elizer
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media/Scholarly Praise
Where to Purchase
Call for Reviews
A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict
By Gershon Shafir
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media/Scholarly Praise
Where to Purchase
Call for Reviews
By Uri Ben-Elizer
About the Book
Violence and war have raged between Zionists and Palestinians for over a century, ever since Zionists, trying to establish a nation-state in Palestine, were forced to confront the fact that the country was already populated. Covering every conflict in Israel’s history, War over Peace reveals that Israeli nationalism was born ethnic and militaristic and has embraced these characteristics to this day. In his sweeping and original synthesis, Uri Ben-Eliezer shows that this militaristic nationalism systematically drives Israel to find military solutions for its national problems, based on the idea that the homeland is sacred and the territory is indivisible. When Israelis opposed to this ideology brought about change during a period that led to the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, cultural and political forces, reinforced by religious and messianic elements, prevented the implementation of the agreements, which brought violence back in the form of new wars. War over Peace is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the role of ethnic nationalism and militarism in Israel as well as throughout the world.
About the Author
Uri Ben-Eliezer is a political sociologist and Professor and Chair in the Department of Sociology, University of Haifa. His publications include The Making of Israeli Militarism and Old Conflict, New War: Israel’s Politics toward the Palestinians.
In the Media/Scholarly Praise for War Over Peace
“Israel’s leading sociologist of the military, Uri Ben-Eliezer, reveals the destructive effects of the country’s particular brand of nationalism and its penchant to solve political problems by military means.”—Joel Migdal, author of Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East
“In this comprehensive analysis of Israel’s history from the beginning of the Zionist national movement to the present, War over Peace offers a different and even innovative view of wars.”—Béatrice Hibou, author of The Political Anatomy of Domination
“An impressive explanation of the entire history of modern Israel and its many wars and conflicts with the Palestinians, through the concepts of militarism and ethnic nationalism. Ben-Eliezer demonstrates that wars are often irrational—behind leaders there were always social forces that influenced decisions according to cultural, unchangeable, basic assumptions.”—Gökçe Yurdakul, coauthor of The Headscarf Debates: Conflicts of National Belonging
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From the Introduction:
As I write these words, toward the end of 2018, the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is once again escalating. As Erich Maria Remarque indicated in his novel written in 1929 chronicling the horrors of the First World War, the enemy may change, and operating methods certainly do so, but essentially there is “nothing new on the Western Front.” This is true of Israel, too.
In the north, Israeli fighter jets launched almost nightly attacks on Iranian targets and Hizbullah weapons stashes in Syria, often hundreds of miles from the Israeli border. “Israel will not allow Tehran to turn Syria into a front-line base for operations against us,” Avigdor Lieberman, the defense minister, warned. Regarding the threat of an Iranian retaliation, he remarked, “If mis- siles rain down on us, they will flood down on Iran.” Lieberman was not the first Israeli leader to warn the enemy not to provoke Israel. Readers of this book will encounter similar warnings addressed, for example, to Hizbullah by the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, at the beginning of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, a war from which Israel cannot easily be considered to have emerged victorious. In 1982, Ariel Sharon similarly warned the Palestinian Fatah movement, which was based in Lebanon at the time, not to attack Israel. Did these threats prove effective? Did they solve any specific problem? At times, Israel’s weakness is conspicuous precisely because of its threats. For example, the downing of the Russian plane in Syria on 17 September 2018 as a result of Israel’s military activity, and the deaths of fifteen Russian soldiers aboard the plane, has forced Israel to accept Russian dictates regarding its freedom of action in Syria.
The idea that Israel can dictate its will to the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Iranians, and perhaps even the Russians is, of course, problematic. In this sense, the policy of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Lieberman is reminiscent of the attempt by David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan in the mid-1950s to topple Gamal Nasser’s regime by war and to create a new order in the Middle East. As we know, Israel was forced to withdraw from Sinai immediately after conquering it. Or perhaps the plan by Netanyahu and Lieberman may be compared to the one formulated in the 1980s by Sharon, who as defense minister sent the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to occupy not only southern Lebanon but also its capital, Beirut. As history has recorded, the peace treaty Israel forced Lebanon to sign at the time was not worth the paper on which it was written. In hindsight, Ben-Gurion, Dayan, and Sharon failed completely in realizing their objectives. Have these historical precedents changed Israelis’ worldview regarding their nation’s invincible might and the feasibility of resolving the country’s national difficulties through force?
Closer to home, members of the IDF’s elite units spend every night searching for “wanted persons” and “terrorists” in the cities and villages of the West Bank, which Israel has occupied by since 1967. More than three hundred public officials, legal experts, academics, artists, and other figures from around the world recently published a letter expressing their opposition to Israel’s plan to forcibly move thousands of Palestinian residents of communities that make their living from agriculture and shepherding in the West Bank. A forcible transfer such as this, they warned, constitutes a war crime.
One focal point of the dispute was a Bedouin village called Khan al-Ahmar, which lies about six miles east of Jerusalem. With the approval of the Israeli Supreme Court, the government sought to evacuate the village inhabitants and to Judaize the place. The implementation of this plan was delayed because of international pressure. However, in November 2018, after Netanyahu was attacked by far-right parties for being “too moderate” and his government seemed likely to fall, he quickly declared that the village would “very soon” be evacuated. It became clear that any Israeli prime minister will find it difficult to resist the demand to show unswerving “national resilience and pride.”
To the south, throughout 2018, Hamas encouraged the residents of the Gaza Strip to demonstrate by the fence dividing Palestine and Israel and to attempt to break through the border. Young Palestinians responded to the call, in part owing to their desperation given the humanitarian crisis in the area, the protracted siege, soaring unemployment rates, food shortages, and the sense that they have been held for years in a vast open-air prison. The demonstrators ignored Israel’s warnings not to approach the border. Tens of thousands of people participated in the protests, some of whom threw stones and Molotov cocktails. Others attempted to sabotage the border fence and cross into Israel. Under the leadership of Hamas, such protests were intended not only to declare opposition to the occupation but also to challenge the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. The protests were held under the slogan “The Great March of Return,” referring of course to the return of Palestinian refugees—or their children and grandchildren—to the towns and villages where they lived until 1948, inside what is now the State of Israel. Did anyone on the Gazan side of the border truly imagine that even if they were able to cross the fence, this would enable them to return to their ancestral homes in what was once Palestine? Were their actions not based less on logic and more on a desire to manifest national sentiments? Indeed, as this book emphasizes, “history matters,” for both sides, and history is certainly relevant to a people’s way of life and death and to its fears and hatreds.
On 14 May 2018—Nakba Day—62 Palestinians were killed and 1,350 injured by Israeli snipers along the fence, while Palestinians launched burning kites across the border, setting fire to fields and woodland inside Israel. These primitive kite bombs must seem strange and absurd to observers who still adhere to the concept of conventional wars fought between mass armies and states, with decisive battles waged by tanks or fighter jets. But this is war in a form that I discuss in the final chapters of this book—a phenomenon that has come to be known as “new war.”
New wars cause great damage and numerous casualties. In May 2018 alone, the total number of Palestinian fatalities in the Gaza Strip was 116, and around 13,000 Palestinians were injured, including over 1,000 children. The killing of Palestinian demonstrators was condemned around the world in statements that included terms such as massacre and bloodbath. Were these killings rational? Did they solve any specific problem? At exactly the same time as the bloodshed in the south, Israel’s leaders celebrated the relocation of the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a ceremony attended by the daughter of President Donald Trump. In Tel Aviv, meanwhile, 100,000 jubilant Israelis gathered in Rabin Square—often the scene of political demonstrations—to celebrate the success of an Israeli singer in the Eurovision Song Contest. It is doubtful whether a Hollywood director would have dared to present such a surreal scene.
As expected, and as has happened so many times in the past, the war escalated in the days that followed. When an IDF intelligence squad entered Gaza on 11 November 2018, Palestinians discovered it and attacked, killing a senior officer. The squad then killed several members of Hamas as it fled the area, and in retaliation the organization fired about four hundred missiles at the southern portion of Israel. Only one person died in this siege, and the Israeli response was so fierce that Hamas called for a cease-fire. The question that remains is: How long will the cease-fire last this time?
As is typical in all wars, the Israelis accept no blame for the violence. Israel even accuses Hamas of sacrificing its own young people. This is an interesting argument, though far from new. As I discuss in this book, the claim that Arabs are responsible for their own deaths has been raised throughout Israel’s history. As for the deaths of the youngsters in Gaza, Israel seized readily on Hamas’s claim that most of those killed were members of the organization, which, from Israel’s perspective, categorizes the victims as terrorists. Israel employs a unique definition of the term terrorism. Its current prime minister has even written books on the subject. From the Israeli standpoint, terrorism is not a means but a goal. This enables the Israelis to focus exclusively on the horror of the action itself while ignoring the fact that such actions, reprehensible though they be, are based on an objective. This objective may be the Palestinians’ desire to live in dignity, to free themselves from occupation, and to realize their national aspirations. For many of them, these aspirations include the partition of the land into two states—a solution many Israelis once accepted, but which, as I will discuss, most are no longer willing to countenance.
When Netanyahu agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas, Lieberman resigned as defense minister, claiming that Israel was too soft on Hamas. Once again the impression was that the political debate in Israel these days is between the so-called right and the extreme right. Indeed, even the claim that Hamas is responsible for the deaths of Palestinian protestors is not confined to the Israeli right wing alone. Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the opposition Labor Party, adopted the same line of argument while supporting the actions of the IDF soldiers along the border. This illustrates another phenomenon that appears as a leitmotif throughout this book: the tendency of both the coalition and the opposition to accept and legitimate the IDF’s use of force and to agree with the belligerent policy of almost any Israeli government. How did this unusual phenomenon of “rallying round the flag” emerge, and what insights can it offer?
It is not surprising that as the violence in the south continued, another opposition leader, Eitan Cabel, from the same “leftist” Labor Party, offered his solution to the problem. “It’s time to sober up,” he declared, effectively inviting his fellow members of the opposition to accept the occupation, at least in part. Cabel urged his friends to abandon illusions about peace agreements signed on the lawns of the White House, since the leadership on the Palestinian side is not interested in peace. Accordingly, he advocated the annexation of the main Israeli settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank and the imposition of Israeli law on these areas. Does Cabel’s position re resent a departure from the traditional approach of the Israeli Labor Party in both declarative and practical terms—or is it merely the current version of the traditional “us versus them” ethno-national approach? This is one of the questions I attempt to answer in this book. The answer forms part of my exploration of a phenomenon defined as “militaristic nationalism” in Israel, in which I expose the conditions that led to its emergence, the way it was granted hegemonic status, and its influence on Israel’s countless wars and conflicts.
Call for Reviews
If you would like to review the book for the Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya, please email email@example.com
By Norman Finkelstein
About the Book
The Gaza Strip is among the most densely populated places in the world. More than two-thirds of its inhabitants are refugees, and more than half are under eighteen years of age. Since 2004, Israel has launched eight devastating “operations” against Gaza’s largely defenseless population. Thousands have perished, and tens of thousands have been left homeless. In the meantime, Israel has subjected Gaza to a merciless illegal blockade.
What has befallen Gaza is a man-made humanitarian disaster.
Based on scores of human rights reports, Norman G. Finkelstein’s new book presents a meticulously researched inquest into Gaza’s martyrdom. He shows that although Israel has justified its assaults in the name of self-defense, in fact these actions constituted flagrant violations of international law.
But Finkelstein also documents that the guardians of international law—from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to the UN Human Rights Council—ultimately failed Gaza. One of his most disturbing conclusions is that, after Judge Richard Goldstone’s humiliating retraction of his UN report, human rights organizations succumbed to the Israeli juggernaut.
About the Authors
Norman G. Finkelstein received his doctorate from the Princeton University Department of Politics. His many books have been translated into some fifty foreign editions. He is a frequent lecturer and commentator on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In the Media/Scholarly Praise for Gaza
“In its comprehensive sweep, deep probing and acute critical analysis, Finkelstein’s study stands alone.”—Noam Chomsky
“No one who ventures an opinion on Gaza . . . is entitled to do so without taking into account the evidence in this book. For that, at least, the people of Gaza owe a debt to Norman Finkelstein.”—Charles Glass The Intercept
“Readers with fixed positions, either in agreement or disagreement with Finkelstein, will find much to engage with here.”—Publishers Weekly
“Norman Finkelstein has the moral gravity of an Old Testament prophet, the scrupulous attention to detail of a Talmudic scholar, and the mordant sense of humor of a Yiddish novelist. All these attributes are on display in Gaza: An Inquest Into its Martyrdom. . . . The cumulative impact of Finkelstein’s meticulously-documented 408-page chronicle is devastating, and it will leave the reader stunned that the worldwide reaction is so muted.”—Mondoweiss
“An extraordinary book.”—The Bullet
“Anyone who chooses to read ‘Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom’ bears witness to the harrowing Truth and preserves it in the collective memory.”—The Palestine Chronicle
“The factual record compiled here will be of interest to future historians on all sides.”—Choice
$44.95 (list price)
Cloth ISBN: 9780520295711
Digital ISBN: 9780520968387
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University of California Press
Chapter 1: Self Defense
On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution partitioning British-mandated Palestine into a Jewish state incorporating 56 percent of Palestine, and an Arab state incorporating the remaining 44 percent. In the war that ensued after passage of the resolution, the newly born State of Israel expanded its borders to incorporate nearly 80 percent of Palestine. The only areas of Palestine not conquered comprised the West Bank, which the Kingdom of Jordan subsequently annexed, and the Gaza Strip, which came under Egypt’s administrative control.
The panhandle of the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza is bordered by Israel on the north and east, Egypt on the south, and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. Approximately 250,000 Palestinians driven out of their homes during the 1948 war fled to Gaza and overwhelmed the indigenous population of some 80,000. Today, more than 70 percent of Gaza’s inhabitants consist of expellees from the 1948 war and their descendants, and more than half of this overwhelmingly refugee population is under 18 years of age; Gaza has the “second-highest share of people aged 0 to 14 worldwide.” Its current 1.8 million inhabitants are squeezed into a sliver of land 25 miles long and 5 miles wide; it is among the most densely populated areas in the world, more crowded than even Tokyo. Between 1967, when the Israeli occupation began, and 2005, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon redeployed Israeli troops from inside Gaza to its perimeter, Israel imposed on Gaza a uniquely exploitive regime of “de-development.” In the words of Harvard political economist Sara Roy, it deprived “the native population of its most important economic resources—land, water, and labor—as well as the internal capacity and potential for developing those resources.”
The road to modern Gaza’s desperate plight is strewn with multiple atrocities, most long forgotten or unknown outside Palestine. After the cessation of battlefield hostilities in 1949, Egypt kept a tight rein on the activity of Fedayeen (Palestinian guerrillas) in Gaza. But in early 1955, Israeli leaders plotted to lure Egypt into war in order to topple President Gamal Abdel Nasser. They launched a bloody cross-border raid into Gaza killing 40 Egyptian soldiers. The Gaza raid proved a near-perfect provocation, as armed border clashes escalated. In October 1956, Israel (in collusion with Great Britain and France) invaded the Egyptian Sinai and occupied Gaza, which it had long coveted. The prominent Israeli historian Benny Morris described what happened next:
Many Fedayeen and an estimated 4,000 Egyptian and Palestinian regulars were trapped in the Strip, identified, and rounded up by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], GSS [General Security Service], and police. Dozens of these Fedayeen appear to have been summarily executed, without trial. Some were probably killed during two massacres by the IDF troops soon after the occupation of the Strip. On 3 November, the day Khan Yunis was conquered, IDF troops shot dead hundreds of Palestinian refugees and local inhabitants in the town. One UN report speaks of “some 135 local residents” and “140 refugees” killed as IDF troops moved through the town and its refugee camp “searching for people in possession of arms.”
In Rafah, which fell to the IDF on 1–2 November, Israeli troops killed between forty-eight and one hundred refugees and several local residents, and wounded another sixty-one during a massive screening operation on 12 November, in which they sought to identify former Egyptian and Palestinian soldiers and Fedayeen hiding among the local population. . . .
Another sixty-six Palestinians, probably Fedayeen, were executed in a number of other incidents during screening operations in the Gaza Strip between 2 and 20 November. . . . The United Nations estimated that, all told, Israeli troops killed between 447 and 550 Arab civilians in the first three weeks of the occupation of the Strip.
In March 1957, Israel was forced to withdraw from Gaza after US president Dwight Eisenhower exerted heavy diplomatic pressure and threatened economic sanctions. By the operation’s end, more than a thousand Gazans had been killed. “The human cost of the four-month Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip was alarmingly high,” a historian recently observed. “If the figures for those wounded, imprisoned and tortured are added to the number who lost their lives, it would seem that one inhabitant in 100 had been physically harmed by the violence of the invaders.”
The etiology of Gaza’s current afflictions traces back to the Israeli conquest. In the course of the 1967 war, Israel reoccupied the Gaza Strip (along with the West Bank) and has remained the occupying power ever since. As Morris narrated the story, “the overwhelming majority of West Bank and Gaza Arabs from the first hated the occupation”; “Israel intended to stay . . . and its rule would not be overthrown or ended through civil disobedience and civil resistance, which were easily crushed. The only real option was armed struggle”; “like all occupations, Israel’s was founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation”; the occupation “was always a brutal and mortifying experience for the occupied.”
From the start, Palestinians fought back against the Israeli occupation. Gazans put up particularly stiff unarmed and armed resistance, while Israeli repression proved equally unremitting. In 1969, Ariel Sharon became chief of the IDF Southern Command and not long after embarked on a campaign to crush the resistance in Gaza. A leading American academic specialist on Gaza recalled how Sharon placed refugee camps under twenty-four-hour curfews, during which troops conducted house-to-house searches and mustered all the men in the central square for questioning. Many men were forced to stand waist-deep in the Mediterranean Sea for hours during the searches. In addition, some twelve thousand members of families of suspected guerrillas were deported to detention camps . . . in Sinai. Within a few weeks, the Israeli press began to criticize the soldiers and border police for beating people, shooting into crowds, smashing belongings in houses, and imposing extreme restrictions during curfews. . . .
In July 1971, Sharon added the tactic of “thinning out” the refugee camps. The military uprooted more than thirteen thousand residents by the end of August. The army bulldozed wide roads through the camps and through some citrus groves, thus making it easier for mechanized units to operate and for the infantry to control the camps. . . . The army crackdown broke the back of the resistance.
In December 1987, a traffic accident on the Gaza-Israel border that left four Palestinians dead triggered a mass rebellion, or intifada, against Israeli rule throughout the occupied territories. “It was not an armed rebellion,” Morris recalled, “but a massive, persistent campaign of civil resistance, with strikes and commercial shutdowns, accompanied by violent (though unarmed) demonstrations against the occupying forces. The stone and, occasionally, the Molotov cocktail and knife were its symbols and weapons, not guns and bombs.” It cannot be said, however, that Israel reacted in kind. Morris continued: “Almost everything was tried: shooting to kill, shooting to injure, beatings, mass arrests, torture, trials, administrative detention, and economic sanctions”; “A large proportion of the Palestinian dead were not shot in life- threatening situations, and a great many of these were children”; “Only a small minority of [IDF] malefactors were brought to book by the army’s legal machinery—and were almost always let off with ludicrously light sentences.”
By the early 1990s, Israel had successfully repressed the first intifada. It subsequently entered into an agreement secretly negotiated in Oslo, Norway, with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and ratified in September 1993 on the White House lawn. Israel intended via the Oslo Accord to streamline the occupation by removing its troops from direct contact with Palestinians and supplanting them with Palestinian subcontractors. “One of the meanings of Oslo,” former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami observed, “was that the PLO was . . . Israel’s collaborator in the task of stifling the intifada and cutting short . . . an authentically democratic struggle for Palestinian independence.” In particular, Israel contrived to reassign to Palestinian surrogates the sordid tasks of occupation. “The idea of Oslo,” former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky acknowledged, “was to find a strong dictator to . . . keep the Palestinians under control.” “The Palestinians will be better at establishing internal security than we were,” Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin told skeptics in his ranks, “because they will not allow appeals to the Supreme Court and will prevent the Association for Civil Rights in Israel from criticizing the conditions there. . . . They will rule by their own methods, freeing, and this is most important, the Israeli soldiers from having to do what they will do.”
In July 2000, PLO head Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak joined US president Bill Clinton at Camp David to negotiate a final settlement of the conflict. The summit collapsed in mutual recrimination. But which side bore primary culpability for the aborted talks? “If I were a Palestinian,” Ben-Ami, one of Israel’s chief negotiators at Camp David, later commented, “I would have rejected Camp David as well,” while Israeli stra- tegic analyst Zeev Maoz concluded that the “substantial concessions” Israel demanded of Palestinians at Camp David “were not acceptable and could not be acceptable.” Subsequent negotiations also failed to achieve a break-through. In December 2000, President Clinton unfurled his “parameters” for resolving the conflict; both sides accepted them with reservations. In January 2001, parleys resumed in Taba, Egypt. Although both parties affirmed that “significant progress had been made” and they had “never been closer to agreement,” Prime Minister Barak unilaterally “called a halt” to these negotiations, and as a result “the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had ground to an indefinite halt.”
In September 2000, amid the diplomatic stalemate and after Israeli provocation, Palestinians in the occupied territories once again entered into open revolt. Like its 1987 precursor, this second intifada was at its inception overwhelmingly nonviolent. However, in Ben-Ami’s words, “Israel’s disproportionate response to what had started as a popular uprising, with young, unarmed men confronting Israeli soldiers armed with lethal weapons, fueled the [second] intifada beyond control and turned it into an all-out war.” It is largely forgotten that the first Hamas suicide bombing of the second intifada did not occur until five months into Israel’s relentless bloodletting. Israeli forces had fired one million rounds of ammunition in just the first few days of the uprising, while the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed during the first weeks was 20:1. In the course of the spiraling violence triggered by its “disproportionate response,” Israel struck Gaza with special vengeance. In a cruel reworking of Ecclesiastes, each turn of season presaged yet another Israeli attack on Gaza that left scores dead and fragile infrastructure destroyed: “Operation Rainbow” (2004), “Operation Days of Penitence” (2004), “Operation Summer Rains” (2006), “Operation Autumn Clouds” (2006), “Operation Hot Winter” (2008). In the warped memory of Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres, however, this period was “another mistake—we restrained ourselves for eight years and allowed [Gazans] to shoot thousands of rockets at us . . . restraint was a mistake.”
Despite continual Israeli assaults, Gaza continued to roil. Already at the time of the Oslo Accord its intractability caused Israel to sour on the Strip. “If only it would just sink into the sea,” Rabin despaired. In April 2004, Prime Minister Sharon announced that Israel would “disengage” from Gaza, and by September 2005 both Israeli troops and Jewish settlers had been pulled out. Dov Weisglass, a key advisor to Sharon, laid out the rationale behind the disengagement: it would relieve international (in particular American) pressure on Israel, in turn “freezing . . . the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.” Israel subsequently purported that it was no longer the occupying power in Gaza. However, human rights organizations and international institutions rejected this contention; the fact was, in myriad ways Israel still preserved near-total dominance of the Strip. “Whether the Israeli army is inside Gaza or redeployed around its periphery,” Human Rights Watch concluded, “it remains in control.” Israel’s own leading authority on international law, Yoram Dinstein, aligned himself with the “prevalent opinion” that the Israeli occupation of Gaza was not over.
The received wisdom is that the process initiated at Oslo must be reckoned a failure because it did not yield a lasting peace. But such a verdict misconstrues its actual objective. If Israel’s goal was, as Ben-Ami pointed out, to groom a class of Palestinian collaborators, then Oslo was a stunning success for Israelis. Indeed, not just for them. A look at the Oslo II Accord, signed in September 1995 and spelling out in detail the mutual rights and duties of the contracting parties to the 1993 agreement, suggests what loomed largest in the minds of Palestinian negotiators: whereas four full pages are devoted to “Passage of [Palestinian] VIPs” (the section is subdivided into “Category 1 VIPs,” “Category 2 VIPs,” “Category 3 VIPs,” and “Secondary VIPs”), less than one page—the very last—is devoted to “Release of Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees,” who numbered in the many thousands.
In a telling anomaly, the Oslo Accord stipulated a five-year interim period for so-called confidence building between the former foes. Contrariwise, when and where Israel genuinely sought peace, the reconciliation process unfolded at a rapid clip. Thus, for decades Egypt was Israel’s chief nemesis in the Arab world, and it was Egypt that launched a surprise attack in 1973, in the course of which thousands of Israeli soldiers perished. Nevertheless, only a half year separated the 1978 Camp David summit convened by US president Jimmy Carter, which produced the Israeli-Egyptian “Framework for Peace,” and the 1979 “Treaty of Peace,” which formally terminated hostilities; and only three more years elapsed before Israel evacuated (in 1982) the whole of the Egyptian Sinai. A half decade of confidence building did not insert itself in the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations.
The barely disguised purpose of Oslo’s protracted interim period was not confidence building to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace but collaboration building to facilitate a burden-free Israeli occupation. The operative premise was that after growing accustomed to the emoluments of power and privilege, the stratum of Palestinian beneficiaries would be averse to parting with them; however reluctantly, they would do the bidding of the power that meted out the largesse and “afforded them significant perquisites.” The transition period also enabled Israel to gauge the dependability of these Palestinian subcontractors, as crises periodically erupted that tested their loyalty. By the end of the Oslo “peace process,” Israel could count among its many blessings that the number of Israeli troops serving in the occupied Palestinian territories was at the lowest level since the start of the first intifada. The only holdout in the Palestinian leadership was its chairman. Notwithstanding his legendary opportunism, Arafat carried in him a residue of his nationalist past and would not settle for presiding over a South Africa–like Bantustan. Once he passed from the scene in 2004, however, all the pieces were in place for the “Palestinian Authority” implanted in the occupied territories to reach a modus vivendi with Israel. Except that it was too late.
In 2006, disgusted by years of official corruption and fruitless negotiations, Palestinians voted into office the Islamic movement Hamas, in an election that was widely heralded as “completely honest and fair” (Jimmy Carter). Privately, Senator Hillary Clinton rued that the United States didn’t rig the outcome: “we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.” Since its establishment in 1988, Hamas had formally rejected the internationally endorsed terms for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, its participation in the electoral contest signaled the possibility that the Islamic movement “was evolving and could evolve still more.” But Israel immediately tightened its siege, and “economic activity in Gaza came to a standstill, moving into survival mode.” The United States and European Union followed suit, as they inflicted “devastating” financial sanctions. If the noose was tightened around Hamas alongside the people of Gaza, it was because they did as told: they participated in democratic elections. The unstated subtext, ignorance of which cost Gaza dearly, was that Hamas was obliged to lose. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories noted other anomalies of this punitive response:
In effect, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions— the first time an occupied people have been so treated. This is difficult to understand. Israel is in violation of major Security Council and General Assembly resolutions dealing with unlawful territorial change and the viola- tion of human rights and has failed to implement the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, yet it escapes the imposition of sanc- tions. Instead the Palestinian people . . . have been subjected to possibly the most rigorous form of international sanctions imposed in modern times.
The impetus behind this ruthless economic warfare targeting “a freely elected government of a people under occupation” was to ensure Hamas’s failure so as to discredit it as a governing body. The Islamic movement was called upon simultaneously by Washington and Brussels to renounce violence, and recognize Israel as well as prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements. These preconditions for international engagement were unilateral: Israel wasn’t compelled to renounce violence; Israel wasn’t compelled to recognize the reciprocal Palestinian right to statehood along the 1967 border; and whereas Hamas was compelled to recognize prior agreements, such as the Oslo Accord, which legitimated the occupation and enabled Israel to vastly increase its illegal settlements, Israel was free to eviscerate prior agreements, such as the Bush administration’s 2003 Road Map. In effect, Western powers were “setting unattainable preconditions for dialogue” with the Islamic movement. “Hamas’s success in the Palestinian elections of January 2006,” a 2014 study concludes, could have augured a peaceful political evolution, “but only if the active interference of the United States and the passivity of the European Union had not sabotaged this experiment in government.”
In 2007, Hamas consolidated its control of Gaza after foiling a coup attempt orchestrated by Washington in league with Israel and elements of the Palestinian old guard. “When Hamas preempts [a putsch],” a senior Israeli intelligence figure later scoffed, “everyone cries foul, claiming it’s a military putsch by Hamas—but who did the putsch?” Although reviling Hamas as “cruel, disgusting and hate-filled,” an editor of Israel’s largest circulation newspaper echoed this heterodox take on what had transpired: “Hamas did not ‘seize control’ of Gaza. It took the action needed to enforce its authority, disarming and destroying a militia that refused to bow to its authority.” The United States and Israel reacted promptly to Hamas’s rejection of this “democracy promotion” bid (i.e., the coup attempt) by further tightening the screws on Gaza. In June 2008, Hamas and Israel entered into a cease-fire brokered by Egypt, but in November of that year Israel violated the cease-fire. It carried out a lethal border raid on Gaza reminiscent of its 1955 cross-border attack. Then and now, the objective was to provoke retaliation and thus provide the pretext for a massive assault.
Indeed, the border raid proved to be the preamble to a bloody invasion. On 27 December 2008, Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead.” It began with an aerial blitz that was followed by a combined aerial and ground assault. Piloting the most advanced combat aircraft in the world, the Israeli air force flew nearly three thousand sorties over Gaza and dropped one thousand tons of explosives, while the Israeli army deployed several brigades equipped with sophisticated intelligence-gathering systems, and weaponry such as robotic and TV-aided remote-controlled guns. On the other side, Hamas launched several hundred rudimentary rockets and mortar shells into Israel. On 18 January 2009, Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire, “apparently at the behest of Barack Obama, whose presidential investiture was to take place two days later.” However, the siege of Gaza persisted. The Bush administration and the US Congress lent Israel unqualified support during the attack. A resolution laying full culpability on Hamas for the ensuing death and destruction passed unanimously in the Senate and 390 to 5 in the House. But overwhelmingly, international public opinion (including wide swaths of Jewish public opinion) recoiled at Israel’s assault on a defenseless civilian population. In 2009, a United Nations Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission, chaired by the respected South African jurist Richard Goldstone, released a voluminous report documenting Israel’s commission of massive war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The report accused Hamas of committing cognate crimes but on a scale that paled by comparison. It was clear that, in the words of Israeli columnist Gideon Levy, “this time we went too far.”
Israel officially justified Operation Cast Lead on the grounds of self- defense against Hamas rocket attacks. Such a rationale did not, however, withstand even superficial scrutiny. If Israel wanted to avert Hamas rocket attacks, it would not have triggered them by breaching the 2008 cease-fire. It could also have opted for renewing—and for a change, honoring—the cease-fire. In fact, as a former Israeli intelligence officer told the Crisis Group, “The cease-fire options on the table after the war were in place there before it.” If the goal of Cast Lead was to destroy the “infrastructure of terrorism,” then Israel’s alibi of self-defense appeared even less credible after the invasion. Overwhelmingly, Israel targeted not Hamas strongholds but “decidedly ‘non-terrorist,’ non-Hamas” sites.
The human rights context further undermined Israel’s claim of self- defense. The 2008 annual report of B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) documented that between 1 January and 26 December 2008, Israeli security forces killed 455 Palestinians, of whom at least 175 were civilians, while Palestinians killed 31 Israelis, of whom 21 were civilians. Hence, on the eve of Israel’s so-called war of self- defense, the ratio of total Palestinians to Israelis killed stood at almost 15:1, while the ratio of Palestinian civilians to Israeli civilians killed was at least 8:1. In Gaza alone, Israel killed at least 158 noncombatants in 2008, while Hamas rocket attacks killed 7 Israeli civilians, a ratio of more than 22:1. Israel deplored the detention by Hamas of one Israeli combatant captured in 2006, yet Israel detained some 8,000 Palestinian “political prisoners,” including 60 women and 390 children, of whom 548 were held in administrative detention without charge or trial (42 of them for more than two years). Its ever-tightening noose around Gaza compounded Israel’s disproportionate breach of Palestinian human rights. The blockade amounted to “collective punishment, a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” In September 2008, the World Bank described Gaza as “starkly transform[ed] from a potential trade route to a walled hub of humanitarian donations.”53 In mid- December, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that Israel’s “18-month-long blockade has created a profound human dignity crisis, leading to a widespread erosion of livelihoods and a significant deterioration in infrastructure and essential services.” If Gazans lacked electricity for as many as 16 hours each day; if Gazans received water only once a week for a few hours, and 80 percent of the water was unfit for human consumption; if one of every two Gazans was unemployed and “food insecure”; if 20 percent of “essential drugs” in Gaza were “at zero level” and more than 20 percent of patients suffering from cancer, heart disease, and other severe conditions were unable to get permits for medical care abroad—if Gazans clung to life by the thinnest of threads, it traced back, ultimately, to the Israeli siege. The people of Gaza, OCHA concluded, felt “a growing sense of being trapped, physically, intellectually and emotionally.” To judge by the human rights balance sheet at the end of 2008, and setting aside that the cease-fire was broken by Israel, didn’t Palestinians have a much stronger case than Israel for resorting to armed self-defense?
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By Gershon Shafir
About the Book
The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the world’s most polarizing confrontations. Its current phase, Israel’s “temporary” occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, turned a half century old in June 2017. In these timely and provocative essays, Gershon Shafir asks three questions—What is the occupation, why has it lasted so long, and how has it transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? His cogent answers illuminate how we got here, what here is, and where we are likely to go. Shafir expertly demonstrates that at its fiftieth year, the occupation is riven with paradoxes, legal inconsistencies, and conflicting interests that weaken the occupiers’ hold and leave the occupation itself vulnerable to challenge.
About the Author
Gershon Shafir is Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and the founding director of its Human Rights Program. He has served as President of the Association for Israel Studies and is the author or editor of ten books, among them Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914. He is also the coauthor, with Yoav Peled, of Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship, which won the Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Award in 2002, and the coeditor, with Mark Levine, of Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel.
In the Media/Scholarly Praise for A Half Century of Occupation
“A Half Century of Occupation should be a part of any academics bookshelf. It is well grounded in international law, humanitarian law, and history. It is very well written, and while it is essentially an academic book, it should be accessible to those with some knowledge of the themes under discussion.”—The Palestine Chronicle
“An honest and informative critique of the 1967 occupation.”—The Middle East Journal
“Shafir deserves credit for exploring how Palestinians and Israelis can find a path to achieve peace, equality, and justice. His analysis and suggestions deserve to be assessed and debated widely.”—H-Net
“An indispensable guide for anyone who wants to understand the occupation that has blighted Israeli and Palestinian lives for fifty years.”—Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism
“Fifty years after the Six-Day War, Israeli direct control over the West Bank and indirect control over Gaza continue with no end in sight. While younger generations of Palestinians have grown up knowing nothing but occupation, all global citizens need to learn or be reminded of how it came about, its nature, and the reasons for its longevity. Gershon Shafir tells this story masterfully, with clarity and passion. A much-needed guidebook for understanding one of the great moral questions of our time.”—James Gelvin, author of The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War
$26.95 (list price)
Cloth ISBN: 9780520293502
Digital ISBN: 9780520966734
Where to Purchase
University of California Press
From the introduction:
In 1851, the British historian Sir Edward Creasy coined the term decisive battle, a battle that “may give an impulse which will sway the fortunes of successive generations of mankind.” The 1967 War was such a battle, and though Israelis commonly call it the Six-Day War while Arabs call it al Naksa (the setback), it is in fact one of thirteen wars fought (up to the writing of this book) by Israel and the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors—one battle in a long war.
After the 1948 War—the War of Independence for Israelis and al Nakba (the disaster) for Palestinians—the defeated Arab states identified the need to modernize their societies and militaries in advance of the next round of battles with Israel. Following the 1956 War, they highlighted the active military and imperialist intervention of the United Kingdom and France on behalf of Israel as the cause of their setbacks. The Arab side kept alive the expectation of a next and decisive round in which they could destroy Israel by pressing the claim that in a fair and square war they would prevail. The auspicious circumstances for the showdown seemed to have come together in the spring of 1967 as both revolutionary and moderate Arab regimes cooperated and amassed their troops, Egypt closed down the access to the Red Sea for Israeli shipping, and Israel was fighting alone. The Arab publics had the impression that the hour of decision was at hand and that Israel would finally be defeated. As summarized by the political scientist Ian Lustick, “The June War was fought amidst high-hopes bordering on exaltation in the Arab world and real trepidation among ordinary Israelis. These emotions, the lopsided outcome of the war, and the absence of any direct outside involvement on Israel’s side combined to make the Six-Day War a turning point in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
At 6:30 pm (16:30 GMT) on June 10, 1967, the last gun fell silent. The war—lasting only six brief days—was over, but it had radically altered the dynamic of the Middle East. That evening Israel was in control of Egypt’s massive Sinai Peninsula and the buffer zone of Syria’s Golan Heights. Most significantly, with the seizure of the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the 1967 War had now brought all of what was Mandatory Palestine under Israeli rule, while joining the nineteen-year-old state of Israel with the homeland of Jewish antiquity. It also brought together the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Palestinians in the OPT, who were placed under Israeli military government. Linguistically, the transition was seamless, as Hebrew does not dedicate separate words to conquest and occupation, using the word kibush for both. In every other way, the changeover was and remains troubled.
The “War of the Seventh Day,” as Israeli peace activist Uri Avneri was to call it in 1968, the war over setting the proper relationship between the pre- and post-1967 territories (and thereby between Israelis and Palestinians), had begun. The seventh day, however, has lasted a half century and has no end in sight. And during those fifty years, Avneri’s war has been repeatedly transformed from a metaphor into a stone-throwing, stabbing, and shooting war. The war over the occupation, as part of a larger struggle to shape Israeli and Palestinian futures, is still being played out, incurring ever-deeper bitterness and greater losses that make a peaceful resolution more and more difficult to achieve. They have not foreclosed, however, the option of compromise, territorial partition, and a diplomatic resolution.
As the recognition set in that the destruction of Israel was an impossible goal, pan-Arab unity was shattered. Egypt and Syria launched the 1973 War not to dismantle Israel but to recover their own territories lost in the 1967 War, and there emerged clear signs of a turn to diplomatic solutions among Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian elites. When Egypt signed the first Arab peace treaty with Israel in March 1979 in return for full Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai, it found itself shunned in the Arab world. In September 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) signed a mutual recognition agreement in Oslo and launched a negotiated peace process. Israel soon afterward signed a peace accord with Jordan. Though the agreements with the two Arab neighboring states led only to a “cold peace” between the countries, they are still in effect today. In contrast, the over twenty-year-long negotiations between Israel and the PLO have yielded only limited results and collapsed in April 2014. Why is the path toward peaceful Israeli-Palestinian relations still blocked?
In this book, I offer three extended reflections on crucial aspects of the War of the Seventh Day that, taken together, help us unpack its dynamics and highlight its major turning points while also pondering its possible outcomes. I chose to structure the book not chronologically—which would have required of me to cover the terrain evenly but thinly—but rather as a set of three essays, each of which seeks to answer a distinct question. This organization allows me to highlight and explore in greater depth those aspects of the tangled web of the occupation that I consider unique and pivotal and to provide a carefully crafted response to each question by combining several perspectives. My three guiding questions are as follows.
What Is the Occupation?
My task in the first essay—to describe the occupation—is complicated by both the occupation’s growing complexity and efforts to deny its very existence. The occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza (since 2005, from its outer perimeter) by Israeli armed forces remains a legal category and an everyday experience for the Palestinian populations of these territories, making them an occupied population. Palestinian resistance, an understandable desire to overthrow foreign occupation and gain self-determination, is as much a part of the occupation as the two components just listed. The fourth facet of the occupation—on top of the legal framework, the everyday experience of the occupied Palestinians, and their resistance—is the ongoing colonization of the OPT, the occupation’s driving force and possibly its most distinct hallmark. Since each of these four facets provides a distinct perspective on the occupation, I will explore all of them in order, as well as their interaction, to understand how the occupation has become what it is.
The construction of settlements in the West Bank entails the separation, by law and by force, of the land itself from the people living on it. Beyond the Palestinians’ defiance of the occupation, it is the Israeli settlement project— indeed, the desire to accommodate the latter in the face of the former—that accounts for the current motley and heterogeneous character of the occupation. Today, Israel’s occupation is—above all—a geographical mosaic of distinct forms of domination. The complexity and repeated adjustments of the tools of occupation have helped the occupation authorities overcome crises and have played a key role in its persistence. But, as I will emphasize, these same tools and their repeated reengineering have also produced a patchwork of legal inconsistencies and competing interests that weaken the occupation’s hold and leave it vulnerable to challenge.
Why Has This Occupation Lasted So Long?
My goal in the second essay is to provide a historical overview of the occupation from the perspective of the social sciences. Its focus is the confluence of factors that facilitate Israel’s continued control of and tightening grip over the OPT, despite the noxious character of the occupation, Palestinian resistance, Israeli domestic dissent, and international opprobrium.
I will review the colonization in the OPT following the 1967 War and compare it to settler colonialism as Israel’s state-building strategy prior to 1948. Continuities abound, including the use of old and still available institutions to support the occupation, as well as the prestige and resources settlers enjoy. The West Bank, however, though the site of the sacred geography of Jewish antiquity, is also the most densely inhabited area of Palestine. Consequently, the old practices and patterns of settlement have by and large proved ineffective there.
The reinvention of settlement required the rearticulation of customary nationalist aspirations in more radical—religious—terms, bringing about more radical forms of Palestinian legitimation and resistance in response. In this essay I highlight the vanguard role played by the religious nationalist communities of the respective societies—Gush Emunim (the Bloc of the Faithful) in Israel and Hamas among Palestinians—in providing, for Israelis, religious legitimation of settlement and of the opposition to territorial com- promise and, for Palestinians, religious legitimation of attacks aimed at Jewish civilians within Israel. I also examine how each group has obstructed the diplomatic process that began in Oslo.
Yet neither Gush Emunim nor Hamas has been able to transform its respective society in its image, and both face considerable opposition from moderate parties ready to compromise with their counterparts. Each movement is also divided internally. Furthermore, Gush Emunim represents only a small segment of Israeli society, while Hamas is a true mass movement that has shown signs of pragmatism over the years, to the extent of considering a long-term truce with Israel. It remains unclear how effective Gush Emunim and Hamas would be in blocking a potential partition of Palestine into two states.
The Israeli occupation of the OPT is not just a two-sided or domestic issue. A great deal depends, as it always has in the Middle East, on international forces. I will conclude the essay with an analysis of the reasons for the absence of effective external countervailing forces. In fact, the two most important external factors, US foreign policy and international human- itarian law, instead of inhibiting the occupation, have enabled its conti- nuation. As long as Israel is able to defy the United States and the inter- national legal community, it will be able to move more settlers into the OPT and will have no incentive to negotiate the end of the occupation. However, US policy toward Israel—currently viewed as a “special relation- ship”—has undergone change over the years and remains open to new directions.
How Has the Occupation Transformed the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?
In the third essay I will ask, What now? To start with, I will examine the tail end of the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic effort—the 2008 Annapolis negotiations between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas—since its terms will tell us how far the parties have managed to narrow their differences. Then I will tackle the “big question”: Is Israeli colonization irreversible? Has the implantation of Israeli settlers closed off the possibility of the territorial partition of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, so that, as many now believe, the creation of one state for both Israelis and Palestinians has become the only non- violent alternative to continued conflict?
Mine is not a philosophical discussion of the merits and demerits of these political outcomes, but rather a much more modestly conceived feasibility study from the perspective of the social sciences. I will offer analyses that evaluate the likelihood of the two- and one-state solutions.
As part of the first feasibility study, I will examine the percentage of land taken up by Israeli settlements and their layout, the demographic ratio of Israeli Jews to Palestinians in the OPT, the composition of the settler population and the rate of its growth, the settlements’ contribution to Israeli security, and the settlers’ economic ties to their places of residence. I will then calculate the number of settler families that would need to be moved and the extent of territorial exchange that would be required and feasible in return for the annexation of several settlement blocs to Israel, as well as the estimated cost of this option, as part of a mutually agreed-upon territorial partition.
The second feasibility study will assess both versions of the one-state solution: a binational state and the multinational civic polity of “one person, one vote.” Binationalism was originally a Jewish idea of the Mandatory period that the Palestinians rejected, and I will ask what we can learn from its failure and will consider the likelihood of its success now that Palestinians have adopted it. I will then follow in the footsteps of scholars who have studied the conditions—from institutional architecture, to relative group sizes, to shared values and notions of justice—that potentially enable transitions from conflict to a stable multinational state. I will also inquire what we can learn for the Israel-Palestine case from contemporary sectarian and nationalist tensions and violent outbreaks in both the Middle East and Europe.
The conclusion of these feasibility studies is that a two-state resolution through territorial partition, though elusive, is not out of the question. At the same time, I suggest that while those who favor having Israelis and Palestinians share a single civil state have offered a lofty idea, they have not yet created, and very possibly cannot create, a credible outline of stages leading toward such a novel political entity. Palestinians and Israelis cannot be pacified though the invention of new institutions alone, nor can such institutions procure the mutual trust that would be needed for their construction in the first place.
I will conclude the essay with an overview of the just over ten-year-old Palestinian civil society movement Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS), which alarms and dismays Israeli governments. Since BDS was inspired by the antiapartheid movement of South Africa and the postapartheid society created to replace it, I will compare it to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress and Israel itself to South Africa to assess the usefulness of this model for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This brief overview of the questions I raise and my answers in each of the three essays highlights just how tragic the conflict has been and continues to be but also offers clues that the occupation, along with the colonization project that drives it, is riven with paradoxes, legal inconsistencies, and conflicting interests that weaken its structure. The religious vanguards of the two populations are not in control of their societies or unmovable in their commitment to continue the conflict until their demands are met in full. Finally, the territorial partition of Palestine still appears feasible at a price that would not be destructive of Israeli society or lead to an unviable Palestinian state. A fine-grained analysis reveals a measure of light among the dark clouds. The state of affairs at present and in the foreseeable future is tragic but not hopeless.
A fiftieth anniversary carries special significance in Judaism. It is a jubilee, a holy year following seven cycles of seven years. It is ushered in with a blow of the trumpet on Yom Kippur, and it imposes special obligations on the faithful. As laid down in Leviticus 25:10: “You shall make the fiftieth year holy, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants [lekol yoshveya]. It shall be a jubilee to you; and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you.” The jubilee is the year in which social harmony is restored through the reinstatement of the status quo ante: in addition to the freeing of slaves and the return of indebted hereditary land to its owners or heirs, later rabbinical authorities required the cancellation of all monetary debts. The land was to lie fallow, but by God’s special grace prior harvests would be plentiful, and the people would dwell in the land safely. Like all biblical texts, the Leviticus passage was given different interpretations and later refinements. It has been suggested, for example, that only Hebrew slaves were to be emancipated. But on this point the text is clear enough: all of the inhabitants of the land of Israel should be the beneficiaries of the jubilee year. The book of Leviticus does not exempt Jews from their jubilee year obligations toward non-Jewish inhabitants of the land.
Our times and experiences are remote from both the Hebrew Bible and the many generations of its interpreters and reinterpreters, but the restorative spirit of the jubilee remains as inspirational as ever. Tragically, most of those religious Zionists who seek to live by scriptural commandments as a living text are the first to ignore admonitions and commandments that inconveniently interfere with their devotion to colonizing the Palestinian lands occupied fifty years ago, and they continue ignoring the claims of Palestinian inhabitants to a measure of restorative justice. Secular Israeli Jews who carry out their own colonization plans—and enable and underwrite all forms of settlement, or ignore and deny its consequences—would benefit equally from deliberating their own role in light of this moral legacy. On the jubilee of the 1967 War and of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Leviticus provides an impetus to reconsider the path taken so that all the people of Israel/Palestine may dwell in the land safely.
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By Gary Fields
About the Book
Enclosure marshals bold new arguments about the nature of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. Gary Fields examines the dispossession of Palestinians from their land—and Israel’s rationale for seizing control of Palestinian land—in the contexts of a broad historical analysis of power and space and of an enduring discourse about land improvement. Focusing on the English enclosures (which eradicated access to common land across the English countryside), Amerindian dispossession in colonial America, and Palestinian land loss, Fields shows how exclusionary landscapes have emerged across time and geography. Evidence that the same moral, legal, and cartographic arguments were used by enclosers of land in very different historical environments challenges Israel’s current claim that it is uniquely beleaguered. This comparative framework also helps readers in the United States and the United Kingdom understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the context of their own histories.
About the Author
Gary Fields is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.
In the Media/Scholarly Praise for Enclosure
“Reading Enclosure brings home the tragedy of such immense and irrevocable destruction.”—New York Review of Books
“The author utilizes a historical-comparative methodology to produce a trajectory of today’s Palestinian loss since the time of legal land reforms in England. In this book, the story of the Palestinian landscape becomes a mirror onto which other histories are projected.”—Journal of Palestine Studies
“A unique exploration of the development of the Israeli culture of land grabs and the historical legal framework and precedents that have allowed Zionist policies to continue unimpeded.”—Middle East Monitor
“An immensely rigorous and original book. Although the process of peasant displacement has been examined separately before, the importance of this book lies in showing how the English enclosures can be seen as a prototype and precedent for the Amerindian and Palestinian cases through the instruments of enclosure, cartography, and law.”—Salim Tamari, author of The Great War and the Remaking of Palestine
“To successfully bring together Palestinian dispossession, U.S. settler colonialism, and early modern English enclosure in one text requires both intellectual ambition and wide-ranging scholarship. While recognizing the specificity of each site, Gary Fields’s impressive and accessible work offers original insights into the world-changing work of enclosure and dispossession, tracing the powerful political geographies of discourses of ‘improvement,’ and the particular technical work of law, maps, and architecture. This is a valuable and important book.”—Nicholas Blomley, author of Law, Space, and the Geographies of Power
$29.95 (list price)
Cloth ISBN: 9780520291041
Paper ISBN: 9780520291058
Digital ISBN: 9780520964921
Where to Purchase
University of California Press
Chapter 1: The Contours of Enclosure
God gave the world to men in common; but it cannot be sup- posed he meant it should always remain common. . . . As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, enclose it from the common.
John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government (1690)
As for the Natives . . . they enclose no land. . . . Only the fields tended by the Native women are their property, the rest of the country lay open to any that could and would improve it. So if we leave them sufficient [land], we may lawfully take the rest.
John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts (1629)
When we built Ariel, we never took one square inch of land from anybody. This land was empty. Show me the document that said it belonged to them [Palestinians]. . . . They [Palestinians] don’t plant! They don’t do anything with the land! Look at what we’ve built here.
Ron Nahman, mayor of Ariel, author interview, August 5, 2005
It was December 2003 when the impulses for this book initially took shape on a fragmented portion of the Israeli/Palestinian landscape. That year, I found my way to this embattled region with a group of educators sponsored by the organization Faculty for Israeli/Palestinian Peace (FFIPP), which had arranged an ambitious program of venues for us to visit, including places at that time still very much under siege. With a long-standing interest in the geopolitics of the area, I imagined myself primed for a rare opportunity to observe firsthand one of the world’s most intractable, conflict-riven environments. Early in the trip, organizers took the group to a hilltop vista in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ar-Ram, at the Jerusalem city limit, where we were able to look north into the Palestinian town of Qalandia, situated just over the Green Line demarcating the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. The vantage point on that hilltop provided an almost perfect metaphor of the conflict, communicated through a view out onto a truly arresting geographical landscape.
Stationed along the southern perimeter of Qalandia was an elongated concrete wall, its grayish façade of vertically ribbed concrete panels sweeping aggressively across the landscape, partially concealing the building faces on the town’s southern edge. I was familiar with the barrier because it had become something of a news story, though few images of it—even to this day—appeared in the mainstream media. While I had been to the Berlin Wall when it was still standing, I had never encountered such unmitigated power conveyed so forcefully in the built environment. During the rest of the trip, as the group witnessed similarly partitioned landscapes in Tulkarem and Abu Dis, I was continually taken aback by the intensity of these deliberately fractured environments. These landscapes are the foundation for the central theme in this book: enclosure.
From the very beginning, my impulse for this exploration of enclosure has been comparative. The landscapes I observed in the Palestinian West Bank had a compelling echo in the similarly imposing, walled borderland environment of San Diego/Tijuana, close to where I live and work. With this comparison as a starting point, my early fieldwork combined several visits to my immediate border area with a six-week immersion in Israel/Palestine, where my focus was the West Bank Wall and its impacts. On this second trip to Israel/Palestine, however, one of my interviewees would change how I understood what was occurring in the West Bank landscape. This interview was with the mayor of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, Maa’rouf Zahran.
By 2004, Qalqilya had assumed a somewhat heroic status in the conflict after Israeli authorities encircled it with a concrete wall, giving the town a celebrated if unenviable pedigree as a modern-day ghetto. After an interview of almost two hours, the mayor asked if I could return the following day so he could drive me to certain areas of Qalqilya and point out firsthand some of the impacts the Wall had had on the life of the city. I was happy to oblige.
The next day, Mayor Zahran showed me where Israeli army bulldozers had come under cover of night to begin the massive construction of the barrier. “We were placed under curfew and could not come out of our houses, but we could hear construction work for the next three days,” he said. “When they lifted the curfew and we came out to see what they had built, we were shocked.” As we got out of his car and began walking alongside the Wall, the mayor became more impassioned. “Our farmers cannot get to their land,” he insisted. “They have enclosed us.” The word enclosed, evoking the economic history of England with its early modern enclosures of land, resonated in my imagination. I knew that the English enclosures had dispossessed small farmers and eradicated access to common land across the English countryside.
Reflecting on the mayor’s metaphor over the next several months, I decided to abandon the work I had already done on the border environment near me, convinced that I had a more meaningful point of entry into what was occurring in Palestine than the walled borderland of San Diego/Tijuana. What I had come to perceive in the partitioned morphology of the Palestinian landscape was a different analytical referent, one with echoes of the dispossessed from a more distant historical past.
Comparing Past and Present
The meaning of events in the present often remains elusive to both the actors participating in them and those writing about them. Although this assessment might seem counterintuitive, perception of events in the moment suffers from two types of distortion that can compromise judgments about the present day. On the one hand, analysis of current events often succumbs to what economic historian Paul David (1991, 317) has vividly described as “presbyopia,” the failure to see events clearly owing to an exaggerated sense of the present as historically unique. When framed in this way, current events become separated from a meaningful relationship to the past. The second tendency exhibits the opposite problem by insisting—naively—that history repeats itself. This approach suggests that human affairs are an ongoing narrative of repetitive occurrences, with events in the present being explainable by reference to past precedent. While the first view overstates the uniqueness of the moment, the second flattens the human story into an ongoing cyclical pattern, one that fails to heed the insight of historians from Hegel and Marx to Marc Bloch and E. H. Carr that history does not in fact repeat. Instead, history is more akin to verse. It rhymes, rather than repeats, thus revealing parallels in events and outcomes from different periods in the past that provide a way of seeing the world at hand.
In the spirit of this metaphor, Enclosure acts as a lens, focusing on past events to uncover the meaning of a phenomenon observable in the world today. While taking inspiration from the pioneers of comparative historical methodology (Ibn Khaldun 1381), it also draws insight from modern practitioners of comparative history (Skocpol 1984, 2003; Tilly 1984). Substantively, however, this study places landscape at the center of comparative analysis in order to tell a story about power and conflict over rights to land.
Enclosure reveals how a historically recurrent pattern of power manifested in different geographical places has shaped the fragmented and partitioned landscape visible in Palestine today. To support this claim, this study revisits the territorial landscapes of two earlier historical periods: the early modern enclosures of England and the Anglo-American colonial frontier. The fundamental question posed in the comparison of these three cases is:
How does landscape become the site of confrontation between groups with territorial ambitions and indigenous groups seeking to protect their rights to land, and how do these encounters reshape the landscape to reflect the outcomes of power, resistance, and dispossession that emerge as a consequence?
Using historical comparison to address this question, Enclosure argues that the Palestinian landscape is part of an enduring narrative of reallocations in property rights in which groups with territorial ambitions gain control of land owned or used by others (Banner 2002, S360). This narrative reveals how across time and territory, groups coveting land partake of the landscape in a similar way. They use force to dispossess groups already there, justifying their ascendancy as the landscape’s new sovereigns by referencing their capacity to modernize life on the land (Day 2008; LeVine 2005, 15–27).
Influenced by a discourse from early modern England about the virtues of “land improvement,” such groups seeking a route to modernity come to imagine a modern order in terms of a changeover in the system of land tenure. This discourse suggested to would-be modernizers that land improvement leading to progress in the human condition was contingent on assigning individual rights of ownership to plots of ground, a departure from prevailing notions of the ground as a repository of use rights. While improving land conferred rights of ownership upon the improver, it was the ownership of land that provided incentive to those with ambition to initiate improvements in the first place. In this way, rights to land and improving land became inextricably linked on the path to modern progress.
By the early sixteenth century in England, the notion of owning land as a catalyst for improving it and a reward for the improver gathered momentum and inspired conversions of unimproved “waste” land into property. In such conversions, the improver became vested with the most basic right of property, the right of exclusion. Such a right, in turn, entitled the landowner to exclude nonowners from the land as trespassers.
What emerged from this discourse was a rationale for improving unimproved waste land along with a justification for creating exclusionary spaces on the English landscape. Moreover, once established in England, this discourse found its way to England’s overseas colonies where it legitimized the colonial impulse to take possession of supposedly unimproved Amerindian land. Eventually this discourse migrated to more distant areas such as Palestine, where Zionists echoed the same themes about modernization and land improvement in justifying their own takeover of Palestinian land and the creation of Jewish spaces on the Palestinian landscape. Thus, the establishment of exclusionary Jewish spaces on the Palestinian landscape is part of the same lineage that converted common land in England to private property and Amerindian land to white property. All three cases reflect the same basic attribute of exclusivity established from a changeover in the system of land tenure, in which the land’s new owners rationalized their takeover of territorial landscapes by insisting on their unique capabilities to modernize and improve the land.
Starting from this imagined vision, modernizers enlist three critical instruments—maps, property law, and landscape architecture—to gain control of land from existing landholders and remake life on the landscape consistent with their modernizing aims. Such transfers of land and changes in systems of landed property rights became inscribed into the land surface through the remaking of boundaries on landscapes. This practice of bounding the land defines “spaces of belonging” where people can live, work, and circulate. In reordering boundaries on the land, groups with modernizing aspirations and territorial ambitions set aside ever larger areas for themselves while diminishing and even eradicating spaces of belonging for the dispossessed. This process of overturning rights to land in which land passes from one group of landholders to another, and of remaking boundaries on the landscape to match this change in land ownership and use, is referred to in this study as the phenomenon of enclosure.
Enclosure is a practice resulting in the transfer of land from one group of people to another and the establishment of exclusionary spaces on territorial landscapes. At the same time, enclosure brings profound material changes to the land surface after the practitioners of enclosure replace the disinherited as sovereigns and stewards on the land and begin to construct an entirely different culture on the landscape. Equally far-reaching are enclosure’s impacts in redistributing people to different locations. Those redrawing boundaries on the land designate the enclosed areas as spaces of belonging for the promoters of enclosure, while those displaced by enclosure are driven into ever-diminishing territorial spaces, their presence on the landscape now considered trespass subject to removal. One trenchant description of this process reveals how it resulted in the “clearing” of the landscape and the “sweeping” of people from the land (Marx 1867, 681).
Enclosure argues that the Palestinian landscape is part of this lineage of dispossession and that this lineage of establishing exclusionary territorial spaces on the land surface is traceable to the practice of overturning systems of rights to land stemming from the enclosures in early modern England. By the early seventeenth century, this pattern of dispossession and the creation of exclusionary landscapes had migrated from England to its North American colonies. And today, it is found on the landscapes of dispossession in Palestine/Israel. By drawing on historical comparison to reveal this recurrent pattern of enclosure on land, this book aims to uncover meanings in the Palestinian landscape not otherwise knowable from direct observation in the present alone.