**Unfortunately this issue will not contain many links because most of what I know about Israel has been read in print: magazines, newspapers, and books. I will try to put some references in there, but I don’t think there is too much controversy over most of the history I am going to say. The point is that you should be able to use my issues to understand the basics so that you can follow up on these on your own and not be taken for an intellectual mugging by stupid TV talkshows. Also there is no way I can detail everything I’d like to without writing a book.**
Today’s point of departure will be the public demand for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign over the disasterous invasion of Lebanon last year, a call his own foreign minister, Tzipi Livni publicly agreed with. The current government of Israel is extremely unpopular (13% approval rating) and is facing the largest breakdown in public confidence since Israel was founded in 1948. The ceremonial President of Israel faces charges of rape from which he has had to step down as president, and the elected government faces other corruption scandals.
Just a short year ago, I was feeling hopeful for the situation with Israel in Palestinians for the first time in years. Now I feel that nothing will be gained in the short term, and much has already been lost. Why do I feel that way, and what has happened recently may need some explaining.
First some background
Israel was founded in 1948 by Jewish Zionists in the British Mandate of Palestine. The British had taken Palestine from the Ottoman’s after World War I (you know, the whole Lawrence of Arabia thing). The Zionist movement to have Jews move back to the “Holy Land” had been going around since the 1800s, but really didn’t get a boost until Lord Balfour in 1917 issued the Balfour Declaration making British Palestine a national homeland for Jews. Many Jews emigrated from Europe to Palestine and came into conflict with the Arabs and the British with fighting on all sides. A future Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, was in a Jewish terrorist group called Irgun that bombed the King David Hotel during the Mandate. Underground Jewish groups prepared for invasion when independence was to be declared. A quote from Ariel Sharon, the previous prime minister about those days
“Traditionally, commanders and pilots and special units came from farm country. Danger was a part of life there. You know? In the evenings – this was during the British mandate, so weapons were illegal – we used to dig in the stable and take out the gun from under horse manure. I remember that from a very early age. I did it many times.”
At the time of Independence, (I’ve read) that only 20% of the population of the British Mandate was Jewish. However, the United Nations decreed to split the Mandate 50-50 between the Jews and the Arabs living there. In the War of Independence (“The Catastrophe” al Nakba for the Palestinians), Israel fought off Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia and took 2/3 of the land of the British Mandate, leaving the Arabs the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This was the first of FIVE Arab-Israeli wars (the fifth being the invasion of Lebanon in 1982). I don’t know if the second Lebanon invasion last year will be counted as the Sixth Arab-Israeli War, but it just might. The current disagreements and fighting between the Palestinians basically has to do with the Third Arab Israeli war in 1967, also known as the Six-Day War. In it, Israel beat the shit out of all of its neighbors really quickly and then took the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt respectively and East Jerusalem. The United Nations Security Council, which includes the United States as a permanent member, unanimously passed Resolution 242 which says that all territories acquired in the war must be returned to their respective nations and sovereignty respected. This eventually was done with Egypt by returning the Sinai Peninsula, but has never been done for the Golan Heights for Syria or the occupied territories to the Palestinians. And if you don’t know, UN Security Council resolutions are binding, and that would make Israel in violation of international law. And supposedly, George W. Bush believes in enforcement when they apply to Iraq under Saddam but not to Israel.
Quick politics check
Here is a brief political party history of Israel. The original founders of Israel were not really religious but instead secular leftist Zionists like the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Israel was dominated until the 1970s by the Labour Party and its allies until Menachem Begin became the first conservative Prime Minister with his group of conservative and religious parties that became known as the current Likud Party. Likud has mostly dominated Israeli politics until the 2006 elections where it fell into third place behind the new party Kadima and Labour.
What is this Kadima Party? Kadima was the brainchild of General Ariel Sharon , the longtime Likud politician and defence minister during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Sharon aka “the Bulldozer”, it should be noted provoked the current intifada as a member of Parliament by marching to the mosque where the Temple of the Mount used to sit with 100 policemen in 2000. DURING THE PEACE NEGOTIATIONS. Fears that the Jews were finally going to destroy the mosque and build the Third Temple there started the violence.
Sharon went on to win the elections as a law-and-order prime minister who would teach the Arabs their place. Super-hawk Sharon was famous for his antipathy to settlement and peace: he voted against every peace deal with the Arabs, even the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. He also engineered the disasterous invasion of Lebanon and sat on his hands while Lebanese Christians massacred Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. In short, not the kind of guy who would give back what is rightly owed to the Palestinians. I always viewed him as the biggest obstacle to peace in those days.
In 2003, he won big against Labour’s peace candidate, General Amram Mitzna who wanted to completely withdraw from Gaza and start a settlement for the West Bank. Ironically, Sharon ended up following Mitzna’s plan for unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza despite the fact that his own party Likud opposed it. Sharon’s speech saying that the occupation needed to end was history the moment it was spoken. But it mostly remained just that, spoken not done.
However, this led Sharon to make a historic split by leaving his party and forming the centrist Kadima Party with former Labour giant, Shimon Peres, who also left his party after losing the leadership role to union leader Amir Peretz. Amir Peretz won on a peace platform and a pledge to work on reducing social inequality which has skyrocketed to become the second-worst in the First World (numero uno being the USA). Benjamin Netanyahu (and outrageously right-wing ultrahawk in my opinion) now led Likud since his main opponent Sharon was gone. Netanyahu does speak pretty good English though.
Kadima was just the Sharon party, it was all about him. Too bad he had a stroke before the elections and went into a coma which he is still in. His replacement was Ehud Olmert, a widely unpopular mayor who had no military experience. Despite this, Kadima won the 2006 elections and allied with Labour to form a center-left government for the first time since 2000. Olmert was made prime minster, and Peretz was made defense minister. Two relatively young non-military people who, on paper, said they wanted to work for withdrawal from the occupied territories.
I was feeling hopeful.
I was stupid.
After Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by terrorist group Hezbollah in south Lebanon, Olmert decided to bomb and invade Lebanon to wipe out Hezbollah. The United States kept the United Nations from passing a cease-fire resolution for weeks to wait for Israel to “win.” Too bad Israel never did. The Lebanese people certainly lost, and Hezbollah is stronger than ever. Lebanon is tottering at the edge of another civil war right now, and Israel has nothing to show for its idiotic, immoral war against Hezbollah except more international scorn and the shattering of its invincible army mystique. Ariel Sharon knew better after burning his hand in ’82.
Peretz, who was supposed to bring peace, instead invaded an innocent country and killed innocents over a group Lebanon had no control over (one Lebanese Christian told me that the Lebanese Army fighting Hezbollah would be like a frog fighting an elephant). The Olmert/Peretz duo is widely despised and now totally shredded its ideas of settlement by taking in the far-right Avigdor Lieberman to keep their majority in the Knesset. Grasping onto power seems to be their only belief now.
Olmert is apparently corrupt and incompetent and now refuses to resign now that part of the Winograd Report about the Lebanon invasion has been released showing their foolishness. If you are going to start bad-idea wars, you should at least pull them off properly ( et tu Mr. President and Iraq). And now the rot has set in, and no one is happy. Least of all the Palestinians who still suffer the daily humiliations of the Israeli state.
Wow. I still didn’t get to talk much about the Palestinians and what has been happening to them, or about human rights abuses or the other Arab-Israeli wars. Palestinians using ambulances for bombings or the Palestinian elections where Hamas, a Muslim fundamentalist group won. The continuing theft of land in the West Bank and E. Jerusalem wasn’t covered either. I didn’t get to cover the Lebanon war either. You kids have a lot of reading to do.
Try these human rights reports on Israel/Palestine:
- Amnesty International (British)
- Human Rights Watch (American)
- B’Tselem (Israeli)
- Committee Against House Demolitions (Israeli)
Try not to hurt yourself after reading them. Your tax dollars at work you know.
I like this quote
“I like to deal with rightists,” Mao said of Nixon. “They say what they really think — not like the leftists, who say one thing and mean another.”
And I hope you didn’t miss this
Bush vetoed the military budget for Iraq because it had a deadline to start withdrawing troops. Irony? The veto was 4 years to the day that the President stood on an aircraft carrier with a sign saying, “Mission Accomplished.” What a sick fucking joke that is.