Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Where’s the security in that?

By Khaled Diab

Shawan Jabarin, the general director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organisation, spoke to me about the human rights situation and prospects for the future.

He began by stressing the importance of people going out to see what’s going on on the ground and speaking to ordinary people “because they often have better and more sensible ideas than their leaders”.

He believes that 'security' is a catch-all used by Israeli politicians to justify their actions in the eyes of the Israeli public and the international community. "In el-Khalil and Ramallah, there is a lot of misery and hardship," he noted. "Events here are not isolated and temporary - they are part of a grander scheme."

He points to the severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, the economic hardship Israel has inflicted on the Territories and the wall it has built through the West Bank as indications of certain long-term policy objectives: to reduce the Palestinian population living in the West Bank by making life there increasingly unbearable and to grab the parts of the West Bank Israel would like to annex.

"Permits are, at first sight, for security purposes. But they are also used as a tool to frustrate, annoy and plant despair in the hearts of Palestinians," he posited. "The restrictions on movement not only hurt the economic well-being of the Palestinian population, but also hurt their family and social ties - for example, weddings are often cancelled because family and friends from other towns and villages cannot attend."

He also talked about the nearly 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, of which 120 are women and 300 are minors. Of these, around 700 are so-called administrative detainees, i.e. they are being held without charge.

"Occupation is not just a question of land possession but also controls every inch of people's lives."

Many Israelis I have spoken to argue that these measure are not part of any systematic policy, but are simply cobbled together responses to the Palestinian 'terror threat'. However, some Israelis do acknowledge that certain cynical political forces might be exploiting the fear and loathing to create certain realities on the ground while everyone's attention is focused on security.
A lot of Israelis find it hard, despite documented violations, to accept the fact that the army is not a benign force. "The IDF is the most moral force in the world," Anat proudly proclaimed several times. "It's just the occupation corrupts." Although it is certainly not the most immoral force in the world, not by a long stretch, I do not share such a high opinion of the Israeli military, although I can understand why Israelis do, since decent Israelis have to serve in the IDF and see any slur on it as a personal attack on them.

Rebranding the occupation
Shawan is sceptical about the wall Israel has constructed and questions how much security it could ever bring to Israel. "The wall is not a 'security fence', but a political boundary. In my opinion, the long-term objective is to keep the occupation in place without actually calling it an occupation. Israel wants the land but does not want the responsibility of the human population."

Quite a few Israelis I have spoken to see this as not contradictory. Security to them does not just mean stopping suicide bombers but also separating themselves from the Palestinians. They argue that the course the wall runs is not fair and it should be rerouted along the Green Line, but they also believe that the biggest settlement blocks in the West Bank should be annexed by Israel because evacuating them would be too difficult.

But given the fact that dismantling even small settlements is seen as 'politically costly' by Israelis, I wonder how successful any attempts to reroute the wall will be in Israel's factionalised political landscape. In addition, any unilateral solution, as the wall is, can only provide temporary respite, since it is carried out without the consent of the other party.

"Israeli leaders do not have the courage to work for peace... Israel is engaged in crisis management not crisis resolution," Shawan argues.

Even when viewed from the perspective of Israel's own self-interest, this policy is incredibly misguided, since Israel is perpetuating the occupation and making the prospects of the emergence of a future Palestinian seem increasingly implausible.

He says that the fragmented nature of a future Palestine and the lack of Palestinian sovereignty over borders and resources, "may lead to the quietening down of the conflict for a while but it will flare up again when its impracticality and unfeasibility become apparent".

And the worsening situation and despair may, he warns, push some Palestinian towards greater extremes than Hamas, such as Al Qaeda-style groups. "Our society used to be pragmatice and well-developed but the continued lack of hope may lead to greater extremism."
Utopic solution
In the more distant future, the ideal solution, according to Shawan's own personal opinion, "would be a single, secular democratic state on all of historic Palestine.. And, in the long term, I'm optimistic this state will emerge."

Such a state would be in everyone's interest, especially the Jews of Israel, he argues. "If Israel refuses to deal with equality and justice and stop the occupation, then if it ever weakens, a future war could destroy it. The best protection for the Jews is not might but justice."

But he does not realistically believe that this could happen directly. "First step could be a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders. Later, the two states could voluntarily build a closer union."

When questioned about the name of this future state, he responded: "They can call it Apeland for all I care. Its name is not important; its nature is."

He dismissed fears that Jews would become second-class citizens in such a state, which they fear would quickly become Islamicised. "Most Palestinians support the idea of a unified, secular state. The PLO, for example, in its charter called for the creation of a single state where Muslims, Christians and Jews live side by side in peace."

He admits that Hamas and other Islamist parties may not share this vision, but he believes that, in times of peace, they will be sidelined.

In order to allay Jewish fears, which given their history of persecution is understandable, he suggested the creation of a triangle of authority in this future binational state: an autonomous Jewish parliament, an autonomous Palestinian parliament and a joint federal parliament where the two meet.

"Of course, Palestinians do not share the identity fears of Israelis because they live in a region of other Arabs," Shawan acknowledged, which makes it easier for them to support the single-state solution.
©Khaled Diab. Text and images.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid most Israeli Jews believe that the Palestinian commitment to a secular single state is based not on social justice but a belief that within a couple of generations they will be the majority. There is simply no way that Jews will voluntarily agree to this because the guarantees aren't sufficiently watertight. They've been there before. The track record of such states - Cyprus, Yugoslavia - is not good.

yish said...

I think many far-sighted people on both sides understand that:

a. In the long run, the only sustainable solution is a single, secular, multi-cultural state.

b. In order to get there we need to go through a two-state phase.

The rationale for (a) is that the two peoples are practically inseparable and the land is too small to function as two autarkic units.

The rationale for (b) is that a single state can only be reached by a consensus between two equal parties.

Interestingly, or one could say tragically, the idea is as old as the occupation. See:




So the problem was never lack of perceptive visionaries. The problem was (and is) pathetic political leaders who don't have the balls to do what they know is right.

Lisa said...

clever clever. great post.

TrueLeft said...

So very true!

Khaled Diab said...

Anonymous, well the track record of partitioned states is hardly inspirational - think India and Pakistan, which were also created around the same time to uphold some mythical sense of 'national/religious' identity.

Yish, I totally agree. The deficiency has been in the absence of visionary leadership, not visionaries par se.

The Unpronounced said...

Well, Khaled, the name of a certain Middle Eastern secular republic comes to mind. That is, Egypt. It too was officially secular and multi-cultural. It certainly failed its Jews and is steadily driving out its Copts. Why would a secular Palestine fare any better?

Anonymous said...

I notice you reporting a lot of skepticism about the security barrier. But a 96% drop in suicide bombing is proof that it has a purpose and it's working.

Anonymous said...

As far as a binational state is concerned. I really think that at this point it is a joke. Even if the Israelis wanted to give up the jewish nature of the state, the palestinian populaion is far too radicalized to merge with current day Israel. It would be as if Belgium decided to merge with the Taleban.