OMG! So, America is racist, misogynist and divided by class? Who would have thought!?…

Lower classes of First World countries are forcing their national elites and establishments to secure financial and other resources and advantages, which are now also sometimes depleting (e.g. pensions), along national lines, so that they are available for them over the even-lower ‘migrants’ and refugees from less-privileged places. My the-morning-after analysis of Trump-ism in the UK, US, Israel and globally

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Posted in Diplomacy & Criticism | 3 Comments

Individuals’ attacks not shown on the media

I’ve been following on British and Israeli news websites in the recent month, and was able to read reports and watch many videos of individual Palestinian attackers stabbing or running-over Israelis with their cars. These are usually young, sometimes children, attacking, in many cases soldiers, but also civilians, including children and elderly. There were also several videos of the attacks and victims.

Yet, I did not manage to find in either UK or Israeli news sites any of the vast amount of shocking reports available, including videos – of deadly attacks on Palestinian protesters by individual soldiers (and settlers and other civilians), despite their much higher presence on the ground.

Here are two examples of videos (from many) that I could not find anywhere, which I chose due to the explicit content, and the fact that they cover very clearly things that were covered widely when the perpetrators were Palestinian individuals.

1) Intentional running over with a military jeep, then attacking rescue forces and journalists, preventing treatment from the injured protester

2) ‘Dead-checking’ (killing) an unarmed Palestinian man who is lying injured on the ground .

There is an illusory feeling among many that, because we live in time and place where we have free media and access to numerous channels and the internet, we eventually know  more or less the picture on the ground, and hiding from us is no longer possible. However, the thorough coverage of a few Palestinian violent acts – juxtaposed to the uncovered daily acts of much more explicit and sustained violence carried against civil Palestinians – should lead us to different conclusions.

If you do look for a source where you can get ongoing information and analysis on what Palestinians face, written from a fair Palestinian national perspective, I recommed visiting Electronic Intifada.

Posted in Diplomacy & Criticism | 2 Comments

“For a Fair offer, the Iranians Will Compromise” says Iranian analyst

A shorter version of this interview was posted on 972mag.com | From Hebrew: Ofer Neiman

 “The Iranian government is so heavily invested in the nuclear project, that if it were to give up this flag, it would mean nothing less than political suicide […] Iranian leaders have publicly chained themselves to this issue, to the extent that now it’s a matter of political survival. One cannot just raise one’s hands in surrender after years of investment and sacrifice… but for a fair package deal, which will acknowledge their rights, they will compromise… If they will be offered a decent way out, which can be brought to the [Iranian] public, they will take it”.

 This assessment was made in late August by Ali (an alias), a 35 year old Iranian analyst, who divides his time between Tehran and Germany. Ali wears many hats. He is a researcher for a respectable magazine, he used to work with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and he also runs some charity projects. Although he is on personal terms with some of the highest-ranking Iranian officials, he himself is not a part of the regime, and is quite critical of its internal and foreign policies, including the political repression. Ali has studied and worked in the US, written about Iranian foreign relations, and he doesn’t lead a religious life.

 Ali, what is the impact of sanctions on the Iranians?

“The sanctions are having two major effects. Firstly, on the psychological level, people are much less confident about the future of the economy, there are less investments, and as a result – an economic recession. People prefer to invest in assets which are not controlled by the government – namely foreign currency, gold and real estate – and not in the local currency or local goods. All this has brought about an unprecedented devaluation of the currency, which has lost around 50-60% of its value in the past year alone. The government still has large reserves of foreign currency, but it keeps them for later stages, assuming we are in for a marathon, not a short crisis.

In any case, as a result of this devaluation, all imported products have become much more expensive, doubling their cost within the past 9-10 months. This has many indirect consequences. For example, livestock feed, based primarily on corn, which Iran now finds it hard to purchase due to the sanctions. This has driven the prices of all livestock-based products upward, such as dairy, poultry and meat. These prices have doubled in the past year. We felt this very distinctly during Eid El-Fitr, when we distributed aid packages to the needy. Soy prices have also risen immensely.

The second effect is also related to rising prices. The sanctions are having a negative political impact. In fact, the main reason for the change in prices is not the sanctions, but the cutting of government subsidies on various products. A few years ago, the government began implementing the most far-reaching economic reforms in the history of Iran. In line with the International Monetary Fund’s recommendations, they stopped subsidizing numerous products, including staple-diet items, energy and services. This was done quite abruptly, perhaps too abruptly. As compensation, the government gives people money. In practice, people find it difficult to purchase many products, and thus inflation is rising. This, in turn, reduces public confidence in the future, and the economy is affected negatively yet again, creating a vicious circle. However, the sanctions enable the government to blame the economic crisis on something imposed from the outside, and blur-out the real reason for inflation, namely its failed economic policy.

Poverty in Iran is widespread to begin with. Naturally, it’s on the rise as a result of inflation. Of course, when the entire population is being impoverished, the middle class feels it more than other sectors. The poor remain poor, and as always, rich people are less affected. It is the middle class – the sector which protested the most for change in Iran following the 2009 elections, and the people who have the potential to change – who have been hit the hardest, because they are becoming poor, and their influence diminishes. It follows that the sanctions decrease the likelihood of political change in Iran. For example, after the second stage of subsidy-cut, which will take effect in March 2013 at the earliest, around half of the lower and lower-middle class household income will come from government aid. Thus, people are increasingly dependent on the government, and the likelihood of an uprising while risking their source of income, will be lower.”

 How is the government coping with the sanctions?   

“The sanctions have hurt Iran’s main income source – oil – and its banking capabilities, such as purchasing foreign currency. They need to come up with solutions, and one of them has been barter. For example, just as when Iran was exporting oil and receiving American weapons during the time of the Shah, it barters with China. Iran exports oil to China, India and South Korea, and receives Chinese goods, valued in Yuans. The Chinese economy benefits from this, since the investments remain in the domestic market, and Chinese exports increase.

Goods are now imported to Iran in two ways: either through third-party mediation, or increasingly from the East rather than the West. The Iranians have moved from being consumers of the European market to consumers of the Chinese market. This means that sanctions have reduced Western influence on the Iranian economy. You can say that the West is sanctioning itself out of influence, and others gain influence as a result.

The recent sanctions are felt clearly in national projects as well. Iran has frozen very ambitious projects, such as developing liquid natural gas (LNG), and the pipeline from Iran to Pakistan (IPI), which may extend to India later. This is stuck now, due to US opposition. Iran has already built its segment of the pipeline, and now the Americans are pressuring Pakistan to opt for an alternative pipeline coming from Turkmenistan, even though the latter would be much longer, and would pass through areas that are dangerous to Americans, such as Afghanistan. They are willing to do this just to keep Iran out. As Pakistan froze the project, the Iranians are losing their investment. The Americans are offering Pakistan compensation and various guarantees, and they want to see how much they can get, but Iran still hopes to go ahead with the project, according to the agreement with Pakistan. Meanwhile, Qatar is the main beneficiary from this, because the two countries are sipping with two straws off the same gas-field, which is the largest in the world”.

 Do people in Iran fear an Israeli or an American attack? Is this being discussed?

“My personal view is that people don’t believe they will be attacked. The mere talk of this decreases the investors’ confidence in the market, so economic deterioration is a real concern, but if you ask me whether people on the street are afraid that their homes will be bombed, then no. I too find it hard to believe that the Americans will attack. First of all, it’s practically much harder than what people think. Iran learned from Syria’s and Iraq’s experiences, and they expected that someone would want to attack the facilities. They made sure the nuclear project is spread across several distant sites, fortified deep inside formidable mountains. Even bunker-busters cannot reach them. At the very most, the US can bomb the entrances to the facilities, and this damage can be undone in a relatively short while. And if the Americans don’t have the capability, Israel has even less of it. The likelihood of an Israeli attack is low, in my opinion”.

 Have you read the document published by Richard Silverstein about Israel’s attack plans? An attack on computer and communication networks will be a key element, followed by cruise missiles, bombings and surface to surface missiles.

“I think it’s B.S.. The Americans have similarly damaged the Iraqi control system in the 1990s, and one can recover from such attacks. Israel knows it has no way of irreparably damaging the Iranian nuclear project, and doubtful whether the Americans have a way of doing that. If Israel attacks, I assume the Iranians will retaliate against American targets. This means that the consequence of an Israeli attack would be the US being dragged, willingly or unwillingly, into war with Iran. In other words, that would be the real purpose of an Israeli attack on Iran. The Israelis will not attack for the illusion of wiping out the nuclear programme. If anything, this will bring about the exact opposite, and all negotiations will be terminated. If Israel attacks, it will only be in order to drag the Iranians and the Americans into a military confrontation.”

One must admit that the US bears, at the very least, a shared responsibility for an Israeli attack in Iran. After all, it is the Americans who developed and supplied Israel with the unique means (e.g. F-15I and F-16I) which enable it to carry out an independent attack on Iran. If such an attack is indeed carried out against America’s will and interests, such breach of trust may have consequences for future armament policies.

“There are people in Iran who would profit from an attack, even though no one would admit it. First of all, in such a scenario, Iran will have the most legitimacy to develop nuclear weapons. It has consequences, but the experience of other countries shows that ‘going nuclear’ is followed by 10-15 years of isolation, and in the end everyone gets used to it, and life goes on. Secondly, as we all know, it also strengthens the government and distracts public opinion from the political situation. War is always a unifying factor, and it helps to make people forget about economic hardship, as is the case with Israel. Of course this is a cynical extremist approach, and I believe only a few Iranians subscribe to it. The majority do not want to be attacked. Still, an attack from the outside will provide the cynics with the perfect way out”.

 Do you believe Iran has a military nuclear programme?

“If you’re asking me whether it will produce a nuclear bomb, I think not. On the one hand, it has reasons to do that, because it resides in a “tough neighbourhood” overall. Its neighbours are our neighbouring nuclear Pakistan, nuclear Russia, Turkey which is under the NATO umbrella, and in the wider circle, Israel too is a nuclear power. So one can understand why Iran could have nuclear ambitions.” – This rhetoric reminds me of the logic which Israeli hardliners follow.

“However, this contradicts Iran’s rational national interest, as I understand it, and as I understand the Iranian perception of it. Iran has always strived for hegemony in the Gulf region first, and only after that, possibly, for influence in the Middle East. That hasn’t changed. Once you have a nuclear arms race in the Gulf region, Iran will lose its strategic advantage over the rest of the states in the region, namely its superiority in terms of population size, territory, resources, industry, economic and scientific potential, etc.. The reason is that such advantages are rendered useless in a nuclear arms race, if one will ensue. I also know that others think so, including some of the highest ranking officials. Take Pakistan, for example. They have nuclear weapons, but this doesn’t help them prevent American attacks inside their territory and constant violations of their sovereignty, in which thousands of Pakistanis have been killed. Have their nuclear weapons helped? No.”

 The Right to Hold Nuclear Weapons

Ali refers to Iran’s rights and duties under the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), to which it, unlike Israel, is a voluntary signatory:

“The NPT allows signatories to develop non-military nuclear capabilities, under international inspection. They are allowed to build nuclear reactors, and Iran is no exception. The point is that the West does not accept Iran having this equal right, and in Iran this is perceived as discrimination and persecution. The public is united behind such sentiment. Why is there so much focus on Iran’s nuclear energy programme while the West keeps quiet about Pakistan’s development of its nuclear capabilities, including nuclear arms? And how come nobody talks about Dimona [Israel’s nuclear site] not being part of the NPT at all?

True, theoretically Iran can use this knowledge to develop nuclear weapons as well, but any other country can take this leap, and nobody prevents such countries from obtaining the required knowledge. That’s why Iranians feel discriminated against. It’s provoking and humiliating, and the Iranians regard this as bullying. This sentiment unites the public, and it harks back to anti-colonial sentiments and the decades-old feeling that Iran is being persecuted. The regime has taken advantage of that, by coining the slogan “Nuclear energy is our inalienable right.”

By now, the Iranian government has invested so heavily in the nuclear project, that if it were to give up this flag, it would mean nothing less than political suicide. This is just like the situation in Israel, in which the settlements cannot be given up overnight, following decades of investment in legislation, budgets, all walks of government, and rhetoric, of course. This would amount to defeatism, which would not be accepted politically, and would bring about a political, legal and social crisis. The Iranian leadership, as well as many MPs have publicly chained themselves to this issue, so it’s a matter of political survival. One cannot just raise one’s hands in surrender after years of investment and sacrifice”.

 If there is no Iranian will to develop nuclear weapons, what’s behind all the concealment, the stalling in negotiations, the failure to submit reports and evidence? Don’t you agree that this raises suspicion? The previous IAEA report (p. 7), and the new one (p. 9), note vagueness and discuss the possibility of military activity taking place there.

“As far as I can see, there is no fraud taking place, just political manipulation. Most of the claims in the IAEA report regard undeclared action which had been taken until 2002. Right now, there are two issues with Iran’s nuclear programme. First, it regards Natanz, where, according to the report, a facility was exposed, which had not been reported to the IAEA. But according to the NPT, the IAEA has to be informed six months before fissile material is brought to the facility. When this was discovered by the IAEA, Iran was still not planning to take that step, and that’s why the IAEA had not been alerted.

By the way, in the context of Natanz, much of the fraud and manipulation is being conducted by Israel. Israel is pushing for an attack on Iran or for its isolation, even though Iran has done nothing wrong here. Israel is behind much of the seemingly sensational information, which it releases through other channels, like feeding Western intelligence agencies, or Iranian opposition groups ([Ali is referring to the ‘exposing’ of Natanz nuclear reactor-EC]). By doing that, Israel pre-empts allegations of bias, even though the info does not point to any illicit action, as stated previously. It’s not for nothing that the Americans disagree with Israel’s intelligence assessment.

The second claim regards the military site in Parchin, where there is suspicion of nuclear activity. This is based on a photograph of a roof, and some photographs of water being streamed, allegedly in order to conceal evidence. This is surely ridiculous, not only because had they wanted to conceal anything they would have acted at night, when it’s harder to spy and photograph, but also because anyone who understands anything about radioactivity will tell you that you cannot wash radioactive radiation with water. It sticks around for decades, and the IAEA would be able to recognize it easily with their equipment”

 If so, perhaps they were trying to conceal some other military experiment, which was not nuclear. So why not clarify this? Why stall?

“That’s the new Iranian strategy, in order to improve their standing at the negotiations. [Former president] Khatami thought of striking a deal with the Europeans at the time, but he was in for a disappointment. He froze the uranium enrichment programme for two years unconditionally, a complete freeze as a confidence-building measure. And then, after that loss of time and money, the Europeans told him they wanted a permanent freeze, meaning they would not accept anything, regardless of what Iran does. He stopped the programme for two years, and all he got in return was European unwillingness to cede an inch – no enrichment whatsoever. Khatami was humiliated, and was perceived as naïve in Iran. Following this big disappointment, they shifted to a different strategy of establishing facts on the ground.

On that issue, they have learned from Israeli governments and their settlement policy, which is aimed at strengthening their opening positions at the negotiation table. Just like Israel: It may be willing to give up the settlements in the long run but keeps building them as an investment, a future bargaining-chip. In the same vein, the Iranians keep changing the opening conditions, although in my view they will strike a deal eventually. But this is done only by establishing concrete facts on the ground, not by mere argumentation.

Indeed, the nuclear programme began with less than 200 centrifuges at one site, and today there are two facilities with more than 10,000 of them. We already have 5-6 tons of the lowest level enriched uranium, and around 150kg of the higher level material. Therefore, they are no longer discussing 3.5% enrichment with the West, but 20%, which proves that their strategy was right, and facts on the ground do change your opening position when you negotiate. Now the discussion cannot go back to 0% enrichment. There’s a new era. Even an attack will not eliminate the nuclear programme, because in spite of the delays, we can always rebuild it.

I think that in Iran, they now see this approach bearing fruit and they will keep trying to improve their situation on the ground. They will either try to have more centrifuges, which is the simplest thing to do, or they will try to raise their level of enrichment, within the confines of the NPT. There are two ideas at the moment for increased legitimate enrichment which are very expensive, but there are people pondering them, including at the parliament. The first is the construction of a submarine with nuclear propulsion, and the other is nuclear powered merchant ships. Both are allowed by the NPT, but the option of obtaining more centrifuges is cheaper and more feasible, and this seems to be the chosen course, reading the new IAEA report”.

But still, if there is a military programme, it must be top secret. The number of people who were privy to Israel’s nuclear programme was, and still is, very small. You cannot rule out the possibility that Iran has a secret military nuclear programme, and that we have no way of knowing about it.

“There is no guarantee, of course, but I think this runs contrary to Iranian interests. I cannot tell you that the leadership will not be tempted by the idea, once it is within reach. The situation in itself can corrupt, and people are greedy and power-hungry by nature. The means are often too tempting.

I once had a talk with friends on how Iran could make the programme military. We inferred that there are two ways of doing that. Withdrawing from the NPT, which means isolation, and a possible attack, or a secret experiment, like the one conducted by North Korea. Whatever happens, I think that if they choose this course, they will follow a policy of nuclear ambiguity, like Israel. They will neither confirm nor deny”.

 Suppose you were the US, and you really didn’t want Iran to produce nuclear weapons. What would you do?

“That’s a difficult question. First of all, I would lift the sanctions hurting the middle class. They are counterproductive and unjust, and they only empower the regime. I would maintain the arms embargo and the sanctions against perpetrators of human rights violations, which are more relevant. Instead, I would promote more flexible sanctions on the one hand, but also offer carrots, on the other hand. Right now, the US has painted itself into a corner. The president negotiates with Iran, but in reality he cannot keep his word, because according to the new legislation, the harshest sanctions can only be lifted by Congress.

I am convinced that the Iranians are interested in a deal. Hassan Rowhani, the head of the negotiating team on behalf of Mr Khamenei and Khatami, has recently published a lengthy book which caused a sensation in Iran. According to Rowhani, the Bush administration proposed high-level talks in 2004, but Iran refused the offer. This is particularly interesting considering how in 2003, Iran had sent the Bush administration a proposal to resolve all pending bilateral issues. That proposal deal, initiated at the time by Sadeq Kharrazi, included US recognition of the revolutionary regime, in exchange for Iran withdrawing its support of Hamas and Hezbollah. They delivered the proposal through the Swiss, and it was met by Dick Cheney’s response that: “we don’t speak with evil”. The Iranians were deeply offended by this, and they drew a lesson. After their bitter experience, they lost faith in the West, deciding that it would be better to establish facts on the ground in order to force the other side to compromise.

Back to your question, if I were the US, I would propose a deal which includes: recognition of the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, normalizing economic relations, security arrangements, the right to enrich uranium, all this in exchange for the withdrawal of Iran’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas, recognition of the Palestinian Authority; and perhaps talks on Syria’s future, along with other influential states, such as Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, leaving China and Russia out.

I think that the Iranians are invested in the nuclear project up to their neck, but for a fair package deal, which will acknowledge their rights, they will compromise. Today they are hardly offered to purchase spare parts for passenger planes, as if someone is doing them a favour by allowing civilians to fly safely. This is not serious. If there is a decent way out which can be marketed to the domestic public, they will go for it”.

 Does Iran want to destroy Israel?

“Physical annihilation? No. There’s this famous Ahmadinejad statement which was distorted in translation, allegedly about wiping Israel off the map. In fact, it was about Israel disappearing from the pages of history, like the Soviet Union did. This conveys the aspiration for the unjust rule of Palestine to be replaced, not for physical annihilation or the expulsion of people”.

 And is that a practical aspiration or just a heart wish?

“That is a wish, of course. But this is not an issue that the Iranians care for all that much. Iran is more interested in hegemony in the Gulf region than in the Middle East. Iran’s revolutionary leader Imam Khomeini used to say that Palestine is first of all a Palestinian problem, then an Arab problem, and only then – a Muslim problem. Let me be frank, many states in the region use Palestine for popularity reasons. Palestine is a currency with which one buys sympathy in the Middle East. The Turks too use it to consolidate their status through the flotilla. They care less about the Palestinian issue, and much more about the opportunity to become an involved and influential regional player. For years, the Turks have been trying to market themselves to the Europeans as a gateway to the Middle East, but they were not all that influential in the region. Now they are trying to change that, with emphasis on the revolutions in Egypt and Syria. This gives them a pivotal position, and they hope that the Europeans will come to regard them as a key player, and want them on board in Europe. You can say the Turks are looking east to go west.

The truth of the matter is that the majority of the Iranian public doesn’t care at all about the situation in Palestine. If anything, the leadership’s statements are lip service to the Arabs, not to the Iranian public. Furthermore, All Iranian leaders have stated that ‘we will support whatever the Palestinians choose to do, and it’s not our role to determine their future. If they decide to sign an agreement with the Israelis, Iran will support them’.

Beyond that, no one in Iran is looking to annihilate the Jews. Jews in Iran live as equal partners, and unlike Arab states, the overwhelming majority did not leave Iran when Israel was established. I’m saying this as someone who has been all around the Middle East, and in almost every country, and I certainly believe there is real anti-Semitism in Egypt and Syria, no doubt about that. But in Iran everyone knows that there is a difference between Jews and Zionism. We don’t have synagogues surrounded by security forces armed with machine-guns, because there’s no need for it. Iranian Jews regard themselves as proud Iranians, and they live as equal citizens. Jews occupy senior positions in the media and other areas. The only position which is not open to minorities is the head of state and some sensitive posts. No one intends to annihilate the Jews or the Israelis, and they simply wish for Zionism to be supplanted by something different. It’s obvious to everyone that their presence in the region is a historical fact”.

Political Freedom

Does the Iranian media report events in Syria?

“Yes, of course, but the coverage is biased. The Iranians are portraying it as a West-sponsored attack on the legitimate Syrian government. In general, what the Arabs call “The Arab Spring” has been presented as an Islamic awakening pioneered by Iran. They argue that the 1979 revolution paved the way for other revolutions, which are only now taking place. In all this, Assad is an exception. As if the Syrian regime is okay, and it’s simply being challenged from the outside.”

Why are you being interviewed here under an alias? What are you afraid of?

“The Iranian regime monitors the Hebrew media, and if I am exposed speaking to Israelis, that may constitute a serious problem. They can set you up very easily, often just because you’re working with a high-profile person at whom political enemies want to get back (and cannot do so directly because of his profile). In such cases they will harm people close to him, and such an interview can provide them with ammunition to libel me.

Political repression in Iran is very sophisticated. Control over computers and communication is highly advanced, and all major social media sites, like Youtube and Facebook are completely blocked. On the other hand, everyone buys access and encryption software, P2P and VPN, so there is still access. The regime knows people are buying this software, and it breaks the encryptions and intercepts the communications. The websites which sell such software are open to all, and you can also purchase the software with an Iranian credit card online. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these websites are set up by the regime itself. So at the end of the day, they have access to everything, and that’s why they haven’t eliminated the use of encryption altogether, even though the phenomenon is illegal.

Political foiling is carried out quite surgically. Key activists are punished by expulsion from universities, denial of employment and travel bans. They choose their targets very well. They learned this too from the Israelis, who had trained them in the past. That’s one of the reasons why they are upset about Assad’s repression. They see him as trying to kill a fly with a hammer, causing a huge mess, which is out of control by now.”

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The Yesha Council Disengagement Plan

Next year in Gaza?

Trnaslated from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman. || Co-posted with Jnews.

A. Is the annexation of the West Bank imminent?

The Jewish Majority patents, presented by settler Golan Azulai.

“Yesha Council”[1] and “My Israel”[2] have recently circulated a propaganda video clip as part of a campaign addressing the old Israeli-left argument, that “if a two-state solution is not established soon, Israel will lose its Jewish demographic superiority“.  In the clip they demonstrate how by deducting the estimated Gaza Strip population from their demographic calculations, the Jewish majority can remain safe and sound between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, even if Israel were to annex the West Bank. Continue reading

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Israel introduced the biggest dispossession plan of Palestinians since 1948

Originally posted on Jnews.

Last week the Israeli government approved a new plan to displace 30,000 native Bedouin Arabs of the Negev/Naqab from their homes.[1] “The Program for Regulating Bedouin Settlement in the Negev” is the biggest dispossession plan of Palestinians issued by Israel since 1948. It would forcibly relocate about half of the Bedouin population from their existing villages, which are older than the state of Israel itself, into existing small towns or townships, designated specifically for the Bedouins by the state.

Historically, there have been only two other Israeli plans of forced-migration of Palestinians on a mass scale since 1948: the banishment of refugees fleeing during the 1967 war, and the ongoing revocation of residency status and civic rights from native Palestinians of “East Jerusalem”.[2]

In the first case, about 300,000 Palestinians fled to Jordan during the 1967 war, after Israeli forces either drove them away, or less often, directly “transferred” them to the east bank of the Jordan river. Many of them thus became refugees for the second time: they had already lost their homes and lands in 1948, and were obliged to live in refugee camps in the West Bank until the 1967 war displaced them a second time. Like in 1948, the new refugees were not allowed to return to their property, most of their houses and villages were quickly demolished by the Israeli army,[3] and their lands were confiscated in violation of international law and treaties.

However, unlike in 1948 (and early 1950s), this time it was hard for Israeli security forces to claim the exodus had occurred voluntarily, “in the fog of war”, or “to allow the Israeli State to exist.” Prominent Israeli leaders also explicitly expressed, prior to the war, that another war would be an opportunity to “complete the unfinished work we started in ‘48”. Following UN resolutions and an agreement with Jordan, Israel agreed to facilitate their return, but due to the arbitrary conditions it later set, in practice only 40,000 were readmitted to the West Bank. Israel recently anchored their expulsion (together with that of 1948 refugees) in “The Law for Securing the Denial of [Palestinian] Right of Return 2001”.

The second mass-displacement is an ongoing effort to reduce the number of Palestinians with the status of “Permanent Residency” in Jerusalem. The status was given by Israel to the Palestinian residents of what is often called “East Jerusalem”, a large territory annexed to Israel from the West Bank after the 1967 war.[4] However, Permanent Residency can be considered anything but a permanent status, as it is continuously revoked from Palestinians who cannot demonstrate that their “Centre of Life” is in municipal Jerusalem – even if they still reside in Israel or the West Bank, or left for a few years to study or work and wish to return home. According to official Israeli numbers, more than 11,000 Palestinians have already lost their legal status since the confiscation policy started in 1995, a number which continues to grow. They in fact lose the right to stay in the country, their property is often confiscated, and their families often also consequently leave.

Admitting ethnic dispossession

Unlike previous plans, the current plan for the displacement of the Bedouin will not deny its victims the right to stay in the country, but it will still confiscate their lands and demolish dozens of existing villages, in order to confine their residents to a smaller territory.[5]

Officially, Israel denies this is its purpose, insisting that the program aims to enforce law and order, and improve construction, planning and housing in the Negev desert in southern Israel.[6] But the mayor of the Regional Council of Ramat Ha-Negev recently disclosed the true essence of the ongoing efforts to evict residents from existing Bedouin villages. In the Israeli documentary “Blue ID Card” he admitted on camera [7] that the regional planning efforts have nothing to do with law, planning, justice or security, but rather with the ambition for ethnic domination on the ground:

“I want the Negev to be Jewish […] The Jewish settlement must grow, must continue. At the same time we must develop the Bedouin settlement, because if we don’t make it permanent now, we will find ourselves in 20 years, not with 45 [Bedouin] settlements, but with 90 settlements. […] What do you mean by “they also deserve”!? You know what – after all this, it is no longer possible to conceal the core problem, which is the struggle over land. Who does this land belong to – us, or them? Time will tell.”

“Us or Them”

Time indeed is key for Zionism, but it doesn’t necessarily work to its advantage. Despite Israeli governmental hopes and efforts to settle the desert with Jews, Israeli-Jews were never keen on living in the desert, to put it mildly. The first Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion even went to live there, trying to set an example for others; but, with the exception of (mainly Mizrahi) immigrant communities, forcibly sent to the dessert and often leaving it later, and a few self-styled ‘cowboys‘, Jews rarely choose to live in the Negev.

The more Israel failed to bring Jews to the desert, the more their efforts to “minimise” the presence of its other residents grew. Jews voted with their feet, and their leaders with bulldozers, channelling their growing frustration of Israeli-Jews towards indigenous residents.

In recent years, the voices calling for Bedouin rights grew stronger, finding partners among egalitarian Israelis, and gradually became more present in Hebrew public discussion. This process ran parallel to a general trend that enabled Palestinian history and narratives to be heard more clearly in Israel. As a result, the will of governments to subordinate the Bedouins became more urgent and determined, as expressed in the toughening force, frequency and cruelty of expulsion efforts.[8]

Despite the fact that there was and is no problem of population density in the Negev, this year alone the unrecognised Bedouin village of Al-Araqib was violently demolished 26 times(!), leaving women, children and men without a roof, in the middle of the desert, usually at night and in extreme weather conditions, and often using illegal methods (including false and violent arrests, shooting, damage to personal belongings and to water sources, despite court orders to the contrary).

Bedouin ownership in the Negev

There is no dispute over the historical presence and ownership of the Bedouins in the Negev. They have lived there for generations, long before Zionism. The map at the head of this post, sketched by the Ottomans in the late 19th century, shows arrangements of ownership among tribes over the Negev, when the majority of Bedouins had already settled in permanent settlements. The Ottomans, and later the British Mandate generally respected these arrangements, and the Zionist movement recognized them de-facto by occasionally purchasing land from them for settlements. Following the 1948 war and its exodus, most Negev Bedouins became refugees. According to Israeli sources, only 13,000 of 76,500 Bedouins remained in the Negev following the war.[9] An ethos often nurtured among Zionists, is of the Negev as an ownerless wasteland, epitomising slogans like “a land without a people awaiting a people without a land”, and “make the [empty] desert bloom”. But the land was not empty, but emptied, and Zionists, on the whole, did not come.[10]

Following the war, Israel restricted the remaining Bedouin citizens to a relatively small territory called “the boundary region” (‘Siyag‘), in order to better impose military rule on them,[11] and confiscated most their lands. A second map (right) shows the area into which they were corralled (Please take a moment to appreciate the difference from the first map).

Interestingly enough, unlike most Palestinians, Bedouins overall waived their claim for the land thus grabbed, and no longer struggle for it. For over sixty years Bedouins in Israel desperately tried to prove that they have cast their lots with the Jewish state, but apparently phobias and the fantasies on making the Negev “Jewish” are stronger than reality. Bedouins gained nothing from their pact with Israel. Israel has persistently refused to “recognise” or provide any service to dozens of Bedouins villages, and the current plan will evict the remaining Bedouins from the small area they are already confined to.

NOTES
1. Israeli Bedouins are Palestinians according to the most common definition of Palestinians: “Permanent Arab Residents of Mandatory Palestine, and their decedents”. Many of them adopt this identity (in growing numbers probably), but many of them reject it, seeing themselves as Israelis, and considering Palestinians and Israelis to be binary identity categories that void each other, and that cannot coexist in one.
2. The plans for eviction of Jews were only from settlements, mostly in the Gaza Strip, which is outside the official borders of Israel. Another mass displacement of Palestinians was carried out by Jordan, partially due to Israeli threats
3. Demolitions included villages in the Golan Height, the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the Jewish Quarter was evicted, and the houses in front of the Wailing Wall were demolished (one of them on an old Palestinian woman), while using illegal orders.
4. East Jerusalem – This term refers to the areas annexed to Israel (and Jerusalem) following the 1967 war, of which only 8.5% was indeed part of Jerusalem (i.e. 1 km2 of the old city, and 5 km2 of adjacent Jordanian municipality areas); whereas the majority of the annexed land (65 km2) is of 28 proximate villages.
5. Israel hopes to make their lives unbearable enough, for them to leave “voluntarily”.
6. It should be mentioned that since the establishment of Israel, hundreds of new towns and cities were established for the benefit of Jews, where as for Arab citizens, whom are 20-25% of Israeli citizens, only 7 failing and backwards small forced-migration Bedouin towns were ever built. These towns suffer from severe lack of resource for decades, and are now designated to receive the evicted Bedouin population.
7. To watch him (in Hebrew), choose “Program 2”, and go to 03:14-04:40. Before the quote the film shows a demolition of the village, and a movie produced by the Israeli Lands Administration, animating Bedouin settlements growing like cancer, taking over the Negev.
8. This tendency is most similar to the demographic efforts in Jerusalem, since the 1970’s, where policies and practices have been growing stronger as Israeli-Jews emigrate from the city, despite governmental hopes and efforts.
9. Consequently, they had neither the ability nor the need to cultivate all of their agricultural lands. The State of Israel which is now not recognising their ownership, did recognise it unofficially when it was used during the food shortage of the 1950’s.
10. Prior to the Israelis, Ottomans also failed their efforts to encourage residency in Be’er Sheba.
11. The Military Rule (1948-1966), was a military regime applied to the Palestinians who became Israeli Citizens. It is similar to the Chinese regime in Singapore, the Indian rule in Pakistan, or the Israeli occupation today, only it was imposed on Arab citizens of Israel. Living under military rule, these citizens needed a permit for every daily action, from work, to publications, to study textbooks, to travelling to the next village. Military rule was lifted after about 18 years.
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Middle Class Rage

Originally posted on Jnews.

Rage, distress and protest

About a month ago an Israeli, outraged at the cost of cottage-cheese, started a Facebook group calling for consumer boycott. Within days, thirty-four thousand members had joined, and the group made it onto the evening news. Netanyahu quickly promised to ease the import of dairy-products to increase competition and decrease costs, but he failed to see that cottage-cheese was merely a symptom. Cottage-cheese is perceived as an elementary must-have Israeli product, and the boycott symbolised to many something much bigger than just cheese: the growing inability of the middle-class to sustain itself financially. Indeed, while shop prices in Israel are usually similar to (or even higher than) those in the UK, the average Israeli salary is 60% lower. This small and successful consumer boycott was a sign of what was to come. About a week later, a group of young Tel-Aviv residents decided to start living in tents pitched on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, in protest at the exaggerated and disproportionally high cost of housing and rent. Within days hundreds, then thousands, had joined, as dozens of tent camps quickly appeared in many Israeli towns across the country.

At the same time, other protests have been taking place: doctors and specialist registrars escalated their months-old strike (protesting at their incredibly low pay); thousands of parents joined several pram-marches in protest at overall costs of raising childcren; privatised teachers declared their support; more consumer-boycott groups formed on Facebook; student unions joined in, and later the main settlers organisations; and the entire country flared up in protests. What had started as a protest about housing, quickly moved to the cost of living, the lost benefits of the good old welfare state, and the government’s general unwillingness to protect the public. Last Saturday saw 150,000 Israelis marching in towns all over the country, appropriating Tahrir Square’s famous slogan and shouting: “The People Want Social Justice!”

Economic and political background

There are several reasons for the current crisis of costs and of housing. The first is the radical liberalization of the market. Many outside Israel imagine it as relatively socially equitable, remembering the socialist ethos of Labour Zionism. The reality is that since the Likud took power in 1977 all Israeli governments have adopted neoliberalism to varying degrees. The most radical amongst them have been Kadima and Likud (which have governed Israel for almost 15 of the past 16 years). They and Liberman’s party, Beiteinu Yisrael, explicitly support and impose a very extreme version of capitalism. Among other things, they have simultaneously reduced taxation on the most wealthy and the benefits of the very poor, and have shrunk from any regulation to protect the public. As a result Israel’s GDP and the strength of the shekel have grown massively – as has the gap between rich and poor, is now among the widest of OECD countries . The only OECD country with higher poverty rates is Mexico.

Most importantly, salaries have grown significantly slower than prices. People now work harder for much less. The younger generation of the Israeli-Jewish middle class, who usually live in the Greater Tel Aviv metropolitan and coastal area, are generally well educated. But despite having several jobs , they are sinking into debt, and see no real hope for improvement. They no longer enjoy the generous support and responsible supervision of the state as their parents had done, and they are left to survive under the brutal forces of “nature”, exploitation and greed, while financial tycoons may do with them as they please.

The sharp increase in the cost of housing is one of the most important results. In two decades (from 1990 to 2011) housing costs have risen six-fold as the result of government policies: selling the government construction-company, which had helped to regulate prices of land and housing; selling of land strictly to the highest bidders; waiving taxation on owners of several houses; and leaving “the market” to regulate itself, even in times of massive purchase of real estate as a safer investment. While Montreal, Sidney, Amsterdam, Berlin, and in Paris, regulation is of all rent, in New York of about 50%, and in London about 25% through public housing; the comparable figure for Tel Aviv is about 2%. (1)

Internal migration

Nevertheless, Israeli governments have sometimes invested in development, where they have perceived a threat to Jewish demographic dominance and presence in the periphery. Given the ongoing internal immigration towards the coastal region, (mostly to cities and Greater Tel Aviv), Israeli geographers predict gloomily that the presence of Jews in most other parts of the country will reach an all-time low within decades, and bring about a de-facto two-nation geographical divide, with Jews voluntarily confining themselves to the coastal area.

The reason for this slow internal immigration is, in general terms, that Israel’s peripheral areas suffer from neglect, lack of resources, and poor infrastructure and transportation. As a result, for decades, Israelis have slowly moved towards both the center, accelerating the price-rise there even more. Several Israeli governments have tried to challenge this trend, but unsuccessfully, as they have not been willing to invest enough in the unpopular northern and southern regions of the country.

Over the green line

There is another area which is a popular destination for internal migration, but more importantly – where governments have consistently invested much more, and succeeded to encourage migration to it. As Prof. Shlomo Svirsky puts it: “the free market ends when you cross the Green Line”. When it comes to efforts to populate the West Bank with Israeli-Jews, the government does invest – big time. Between 1994-2009 close to 50% of the construction in the settlements was government-initiated and funded, while in the entire country (including the settlements) it was less than 21%, and in the Tel Aviv District 3%. (Between 2006-2009 – not a single government housing-unit was built in the that district.)

Clearly, government investment in the settlements comes at the expense of poor Israelis. Efrat settlement, for example, where the average income is almost NIS 8,800 a month, was defined as a Priority Zone and was given precious benefits, while places like Ramle, with an average income of NIS 4,400, were not. The “settlers first” policy affects not only the lower class, but also the middle class. The government spends about 40 thousand shekels a year on the average Israeli, but 93 thousand a year on a settler. After all, it was not for no reason that Rabin’s successful election campaign in 1992 (after other popular protests) chose the slogan “Money for Education, Not Settlements.”

The middle class awakens

The current wave of protest is an authentic popular movement. It is not led by organisations and political parties, but by street parliaments (and attempts by main opposition parties to join the protests have failed). The protests vary from place to place, and are often arranged through Facebook groups. Tzvika Bsor, a 34 year old middle class Israeli, started a group where he announced that he intends to strike on 1st August. “I’ve had it!” he started his text, describing how he and his wife work hard, but still can’t afford to plan a second child. Within four days tens of thousands had joined his promise to strike, and the workers’ union was soon to follow with threats.

The unbearable financial distress of the growing lower Israeli classes is not new (especially among the ultra-orthodox, residents of the ‘periphery’, and Arab citizens). What is new is the fact that the middle class has also reached rock bottom. In fact, for more than a decade we have seen a growing apathy among secular middle-class Israelis, who chose to avoid politics (and in particular the existence of the occupation). Once, their protest vote was big enough to grant an unknown pensioners’ party 6% of the parliament’s seat; now many no longer bother to vote.  As long as their condition allowed it, they focused on their immediate, individual wellbeing. Now, all of a sudden an eruption occurrs.

On one hand, this seems just like Marx’s recipe for a revolution: when the middle class joins the lower classes’ struggle, he believed, a potential revolutionary moment is created. On the other hand, given the erosion of the status, influence and resources of the previously dominant class of secular and pluralist Israelis, protests are also an expression of their frustration, of their attempt to restore some of the lost old order, rather than fighting for a new one.

It is still too early to predict the results of this protest. On the one hand it is larger, more comprehensive, unified and long-lasting than any previous popular socio-economic protest in recent decades. The media is also very supportive of it, and the distress is real. However, the platform of all the big political parties (Kadima, Likud, Israel-Beytenu and Shas) is in direct contradiction to the protestors’ demands. Moreover, there are no signs of escalating the protest into causing any serious disobedience, so it is possible that it will fizzle out with a few small reforms, as protestors tire and have to return to work (similar to the way the anti-cuts movement in the UK eventually lost its momentum). Others suggest it will dissolve with the next wave of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Skeleton in the closet

The last word must be reserved for the unspoken skeleton in the Israeli closet: the cost of the occupation. For decades Israel used to profit from the occupation, but this is no longer the case. Since 2001, due to the combination of the sharp increase in the security cost of controlling the West Bank , and radical neoliberal policies, the balance had  changed drastically. Massive privatisation has led most of the profits to go to private companies and individuals, while the Israeli public has been left to foot the bill. Now the cost is already estimated in about $9b p.a., three times the size of the US aid. In 2007, the Israeli government spent almost ten percent of its budget on settlements in the West Bank. Expenditures include the price of settlement security, construction of expensive infrastructure (such as tunnels, bridges and walls), and incentives and benefits for settlers – let alone lawsuits, divestments, Hasbarah and diplomacy).

This cost keeps growing, because settlers and their benefits keep growing. Considering that the Israeli budget grows at 2.3% p.a., and the settlement population at 8% p.a., (compared to a 2.2% p.a growth rate in the general population including settlements), it is clear that the settlements, which are already more than Israelis can afford, are an increasing threat to the Israeli economy. The growing gap in the figures above suggest a silent killer-disease at work beneath the surface of Israel’s fiscal economy.  Are we now witnessing the middle class cracking under the financial burden of the growing problem its members strive so hard to ignore? If so, then the Israeli economy, which presents itself as stable and prosperous, is nothing but a bubble about to burst.

Note:
(Another reason, some say, is empty flats in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, bought by European and North American Jews, whom use them for holidays, but keep them empty most of the year. As a result, demand grows, supply decreases, and costs rise. Moreover most Israelis cannot compete with the financial ability of Jews from abroad, who end up offering higher prices for the houses, and thus also affect the market’s prices. However, I have no figures on this phenomenon, but my guess is that it is true at least to specific luxurious neighborhoods).
Sources:
Dror Etkes, “If only Rothschild were a settlement”, Ha’aretz (2011, Hebrew)
Prof. Amnon Frenkel, “It’s not the real-estate, stupid”, ynet (2011, Hebrew)
Tamar Godzansky, Socio-Academic College, ynet (2011, Hebrew)
Shir Hever, The political economy of Israel’s Occupation (2010) & an interview to Ha’aretz (2011, Hebrew).
Prof. Shlomo Svirski, (CEO of Adva Centre). The Cost of Arrogance (2008, Hebrew) & “Double Faced Country”, ynet (2011, Hebrew).
Tani Goldstein, “It’s not the prices, it’s the salaries”, ynet (2011, Hebrew)
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