Tag Archives: israel

Who Occupies Whom in Israel-Palestine? Don’t Ask an American

A new poll published by the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, shows that a plurality of Americans misunderstand a fundamental fact about the Middle East. Specifically, a statistically representative sample of Americans and three other nationalities were asked a simple question about Israel and Palestine. The wording of the question and the results are shown below:

(Note that respondents were allowed to give their own custom response as well; those that did are included within the Other category.)

As you can see, the American responses differ significantly from the other countries’. America is unfortunately unique in having a plurality of Americans, 49.2%, who answered the question wrong, believing that Palestinians occupy Israeli land.

In reality, the Israelis occupy Palestinian territories in the West Bank and have an ongoing blockade of the other Palestinian patch of land known as the Gaza Strip.The occupation has been continuous since the Israelis won the Six-Day War of 1967 against its Arab neighbors. In the nearly 5 decades since, Israelis have gradually “settled” on some of the occupied territory, formally displacing the original owners and claiming parcels of land as their own. In other words, it’s kind of like what the US did in the Nineteenth Century as to Native Americans as part of what was euphemistically termed Manifest Destiny. The difference is that most Americans understand that our conquering and displacement of Native Americans ranks up with slavery as stains on our country’s record. Meanwhile, the idea of Greater Israel, is openly accepted and promoted right now in the year 2016.

And the fact that many Americans do not understand this very basic aspect about the Middle East, probably explains why Americans also have much more favorable views of Israel than most of the world. In a recent global opinion survey, Israel was viewed as one of the top three most negatively viewed countries, with Iran and North Korea. In that same poll, Americans had the second most positive view of Israel (second to Nigeria). Americans misunderstanding on the present state  of affairs in Israel-Palestine also probably explains why virtually all leading American politicians can get away with supporting Israel’s actions unconditionally.

For me, this poll on Israel reminded me of a survey that was conducted regarding the 2014 coup in Ukraine. In that case, people were first presented a global unlabeled map (showing political boundaries) and then asked to click on the country they believed to be Ukraine. After they completed that step, they were then asked questions about what kind of actions they would like the US to take in response. In the end, the people who were the furthest away from correctly identifying Ukraine on the map, were also the most likely to support military intervention. Thankfully, this was still a minority, but it was revealing and predictable at the same time. Apparently, the less one knows, the more likely they are to support a) the US intervening, and b) taking the unjust side when it does. (We’ll leave a thorough discussion of the Ukraine episode for another day.)

I realize that may seem like a bold claim at first glance, but it actually makes a lot of sense. First, we should note that effectively every recent war has been sold with some kind of lie or half-truth. For instance:

  • Vietnam – Gulf of Tonkin incident
  • Kosovo – Supposedly, a genocide killing 100,000 or more people was happening at the time, but when investigators tried to find evidence of this claim after the war, they found very little that could support it. Indeed, it has been suggested that the NATO intervention might have literally killed more people than the calamity it was preventing.
  • Afghanistan – In fact, the Taliban were willing to negotiate with the US and give up Osama bin Laden. The US didn’t like its terms, however, and decided to do a regime change instead.
  • Iraq – The fake weapons of mass destruction
  • Libya – The US claimed that Qaddafi was about to commit a genocide and needed to back the rebels. Unfortunately, the rebels were dominated by jihadists sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
  • (Almost) Syria – The US nearly staged a significant military intervention on the pretense that Assad had used chemical weapons in a massacre that was captured on video. Subsequent reporting, however, revealed that it was a false flag attack by the rebels, done to try to induce US intervention.
And although in some of these cases, the proof of the lie could not be verified until after the fact, it’s still true that journalists and antiwar activists, at least from Kosovo onward, were debunking the lies in real time. Thus, people who read and know more about global affairs will also tend to oppose war and other harmful interventions.
That reality is why the recent poll on Americans’ understanding of Israel is both important and depressing. Facts shape our opinions. When those facts are wrong, the opinions tend to reflect that.

New Study Finds Racism Common Among Israelis

As Americans, we are endlessly reminded by our leading politicians about the importance of the special relationship with Israel–the only Liberal Democracy in the Middle East (TM). Judging from the rhetoric alone, it’s almost like we think of Israel as the 51st state. Criticizing the Israeli government is almost unheard of, and even expressing a desire to be neutral draws immediate condemnation, as Donald Trump learned in last night’s Republican debate.

Many harsh realities get obscured by this consistently positive narrative on Israel. I suspect most Americans would be shocked to learn that settlement building is effectively Israel’s 21st century version of Manifest Destiny. Others would probably be surprised to discover that Palestine isn’t actually its own independent state right now.

But what might be most shocking of all to an American audience, is how perfectly common and acceptable it is in Israel to be racist against Arabs. This election cycle, Donald Trump’s crude rhetoric on Mexicans and Muslims has been denounced by many as a betrayal of American values. But if Trump were an Israeli politician, he wouldn’t even really be on the fringe of mainstream opinion. A bold claim perhaps, but a new opinion survey on the Israeli public bears it out.

Conducted by Pew Research, this new poll on Israeli and Palestinian attitudes has many interesting findings. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • A plurality (48%) of Israeli Jews agree with Arabs being expelled from Israel
  • 97% of Israeli Jews would be uncomfortable with their child marrying a Muslim. (Other religious groups in Israel had similarly widespread discomfort about having a child marry someone of another background.)
  • A plurality (42%) of Israeli Jews also agree that the settlement building policy helps Israel’s security
  • 79% of Israeli Jews believe they should receive preferential treatment in Israel, relative to other groups
  • 64% of Israeli Arabs say that Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy
Of course, to grasp how extreme this really is, it’s useful for American readers to replace Jews and Arabs with whites and blacks.
For instance, imagine if Donald Trump suggested that the US needed to expel all black people in the country to ensure the security of the white people. Then imagine around half of all white people in America agreed with that idea. To find that level of widespread hatred in the US, you would probably have to go back to at least the 1950s or 1960s, and probably a lot further. But in Israel, an analogous view is prevalent today.
And while we can’t possibly excuse or justify this result, it’s easy to see how Israel got to this point. Israel has effectively been militarily occupying a neighboring people for nearly 50 years. This breeds resentment among the occupied Palestinians. And then when uprisings inevitably occur, it affects the domestic Israeli population directly. The whole situation is effectively a breeding ground for escalating hostilities and hatred on both sides.
In many ways, it’s much like the US War on Terror, which has coincided with a rise in Islamophobia over the past 15 years. US prejudices against Islam have emerged in spite of the fact that there have only been three major terrorist attacks on US soil in that timeframe by people calling themselves Muslims. In this light, it may not be that surprising that Israeli public opinion is what it is. But it does make an even more compelling case for pursuing a peaceful solution as soon as possible, before things get any worse.
And on that note, we’ll refer you to the full write-up on this research from Mondoweiss.

NYT Declares That the Two-State Solution for Israel Is Dead

It has been well-understood among alternative media outlets for some time that the alleged two-state solution for Israel-Palestine was little more than a charade. Now, it appears The New York Times has caught up, with one of its lead columnists recently writing that the era of the one-state solution is upon us.

This really is a remarkable development. Not because the article is particularly good or insightful, but because of where the article is appearing. For all its flaws, the NYT remains a deeply influential news outlet. Perhaps not for most everyday Americans, but it certainly is important for many powerful people in business, academia, and politics. Indeed, it is entirely common for politicians to cite stories in the NYT to buttress their arguments. So the fact that they are willing to take a position like this, one that would be previously viewed as radical, is significant in itself.

It also happens to be the correct position. As it stands, the West Bank region that would theoretically comprise a future Palestinian state has been hopelessly carved up by Israeli settlements. There are essentially islands of Palestinian-dominated lands that are divided from each by settlements with extensive walls in between them. Thus, as a practical matter, a two-state solution would require uprooting thousands of (generally radical) Israeli settlers from their homes and sending them back to Israel proper. And this is a near impossibility.

To understand why, it’s useful to consider an analogy that could make sense in an American context. As most people know, much of the land that comprises the US today was originally taken from Native Americans many years ago, some of it through peaceful sales but most through force. If there was an ongoing occupation or open conflict with the Native Americans today, there might be an argument that the Native Americans need to have their original holdings (the ones taken through force) restored. In a way, it’s easy to see how that would be just. In another way, the generation growing up on the once stolen land of today had nothing to do with perpetrating the original crime, which could complicate the calculation somewhat. Either way, as a practical matter, no one would have any illusions that it could practically be achieved in any case. You’d have to uproot entire communities, and no conceivable political scenario would allow that to occur. Of course, this is a somewhat extreme example since Americans are multiple generations removed from the initial confiscation. But really, you only need one generation to pass before something becomes effectively the norm. It thus follows that many settlers in the West Bank view it as their proper home and would be unwilling to give it up without a fight.

And actually, we don’t really have to speculate that this is the case. Israel knows its settlers are unwilling to leave their land from experience. Back in 2005, Israel removed settlers on a smaller scale from the Gaza Strip. Even though the policy only affected a small part of the overall population (some 9,000 according to Ha’aretz), the decision was furiously protested and left a very negative legacy. Applying a similar policy to any meaningful portion of the West Bank settler population (estimated at 500,000 Israelis) would clearly be an impossibility.

As a result, the two-state solution has been dead for some time. It is based on a false premise; that the Israeli settlers could be removed. The reality is that no Israeli politician would dream of implementing such a thing. But discussions of a two-state solution have been a helpful distraction. It makes the US happy and the EU happy, and it helps shield Israel’s occupation policies from scrutiny–since after all, they are temporary (ahem, and have been for nearly 50 years). As long as the discussions continued, the status quo did as well.

But the Palestinians and the Middle East deserve more than the status quo. Israel has already de facto annexed much of the West Bank. What is needed is for the annexation to become official and for them to grant all Palestinians in their borders the full citizenship and due process rights that are accorded to regular Israelis. That’s what the one-state solution ultimately entails, and at this point, it’s all that’s left.

For more on this, I’ll refer you to the original NYT piece from Thomas Friedman. Be forewarned that the commentary in this piece, particularly about Iran, should be taken with several grains of salt. The NYT is not known for its even-handed coverage of Middle Eastern affairs after all. Here’s that piece.

You can also check out this opinion at Common Dreams, which dovetails well the sentiments expressed above.

And finally, you can check out this related piece on the Israel-Palestine conflict that we did a few months back for some more general background.