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The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival by Hirsh Goodman (Public Affairs, 2011). 256 pages.

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Hirsh Goodman started his career as the Jerusalem Post’s astute defense correspondent; 30 years later, he is now an associate at the influential Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. With such mainstream credentials, his schizophrenia-like assessment of Iran’s threat to the Jewish state and blurry vision of a two-state solution was wholly unexpected.

In the opening pages, Goodman invokes all the trash-talk typically associated with Iran: “maniacally dedicated to Israel’s destruction,” a threat unmatched “since Hitler,” “dream[s]” of hitting Israel with nuclear weapons, and immune to traditional deterrence theory. Yet 15 pages later, he’s suggesting that deterrence does work, explaining that if attacked by Iran, a nuclear armed Israel would inflict a “devastating” retaliatory blow. He cautions against a preemptive Israeli attack, warning that it would not fully destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and only trigger a “vast and enduring” cycle of retaliation between the two countries. An “Iranian attack on Israel or an Israeli attack on Iran,” concludes Goodman, “is strategically nonsensical.”

Shortly after the book’s publication, Goodman had a change of heart. He now advocates attacking Iran, even hinting that tactical nuclear weapons should be used. Why the predicted cycle of violence between the Israel and Iran would be tolerable has not been explained.

Israel’s survival, Goodman argues, is not in question. The Jewish State’s superior armed forces thwart any serious military challenge from any Middle Eastern state. But issues will continue to plague Israel’s future stability and shape its character. One will be ceaseless attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations Goodman judges are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Islamic Republic. Such attacks will be painful and will elicit Israel’s retaliation but are something Israel can live with.

The more serious threat to Israel’s well-being is Palestinian nationalism and Israel’s West Bank settlements. Goodman is sympathetic to the Palestinians’ suffering and views the settlements as a political and moral disaster for Israel. He fears that if left unresolved, the occupation could intensify fractionalization between Israeli Arabs, national religious Zionists, and secular Jews and twist Israel into a “de facto theocracy.” He predicts that only when the “Palestinian issue is off the table” will Israel’s economy and culture flourish and its relations with the Arab world normalize.

But Goodman is willing to accommodate Palestinian nationalism only on Israeli terms. He opposes uprooting the larger settlements because of the violent upheaval it would cause in Israel. “Israel cannot be expected,” Goodman instructs, “to tear itself to pieces for the sake of peace.” The improbable alternative scenario he offers is for Israeli settlers to “live as good neighbors and control their violent and fanatic elements.” It’s not clear how this stance squares with his advise that Israel reconsider the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative offering Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Goodman’s final word is that if necessary, Israel should unilaterally impose a settlement of its own design.

Goodman’s favoritism toward Israel is expected; what is harder to accept is his refusal to recognize any legitimacy in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS). He refuses to consider that after 60 years of occupation the international community may have a moral duty to pressure Israel to withdraw from the territories. He instead insists that BDS is nothing less than an insidious strategy to delegitimize Israel and undermine its right to exist. Goodman uncritically defends Israel’s 2008 war on Gaza, its 2010 attack on the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla”, and equates “unions in Norway” with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Jihad. This political myopia shuts down the meaningful political debate Goodman purportedly seeks and confirms his assessment that “how Israel will look in the future is as unpredictable as a flip of a coin.”

Palestine: Sixty Years Later: Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank 2008-2009 by Thomas Suarez (Americans for Middle East Understanding, 2010) 112 pages plus photos.

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Individuals insisting that the Palestinians reject peace with Israel found affirmation in a report analyzing Palestinian political opinion expressed in social media.  P@lestinian Pulse: What Policymakers Can Learn From Palestinian Social Media, examined an array of West Bank and Gaza-based internet resources to conclude that Hamas exhibited “little desire for a negotiated peace with Israel,” “most Fatah supporters embraced the notion that Israel was an enemy, rather than a peace partner,” and half its members seek “armed conflict and terrorism against Israel.” And if that was not sufficient argument for the Obama Administration to discard the Palestinians, the study warned that Hamas was aligned with “Salafists such as al-Qaeda” and that Iran’s influence in the territories goes unchallenged.

P@lestinian Pulse comports with the views of its sponsoring entity: the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a self-described “policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism” whose policy recommendations echo Likud party viewpoints. The report may be exaggerated hyperbola but there is no dispute that the Palestinians deeply hate their 60 years of Israeli military occupation. An overwhelming majority of Palestinians believe that Israel aspires to annex Palestinian lands, while denying them political rights or expelling them from the West Bank. That P@lestinian Pulse chose not to ask why such hostility toward Israel exists is characteristic of rhetoric that dismisses Palestinians as worthwhile political actors and deeply affects public opinion.

Palestine: Sixty Years Later provides a forceful explanation for Palestinian anger against Israel. It’s a full bore assault against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, rejecting assumptions of symmetry between Israel and Palestine or presumptions that Israel acts in self-defense.  Thomas Suarez thesis is straight-forward: the Zionist movement since its earliest days has sought to cleanse the land of non-Jews. Zionist acceptance of 1948 U.N. partition plan was only a tactical concession and the subsequent 20 years of conflict was geared toward conquering all of Palestine. Israel’s military provokes Arab attacks in order elicit a whole slough of attacks in the name of self-defense. By cloaking every offensive action as a defensive one, Israel successfully reversed the identity of the victim and aggressor. That is why, Suarez explains, statistics demonstrating vastly greater Palestinian casualties and suffering have no meaning in the West. The “peace process,” says Suarez, has always been a distraction from the reality of on-going Israeli aggression, whether it be attacks on Gaza or the settlement construction in the West Bank.

That last claim resonates today as Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu chose settlement construction over continued talks with Palestine Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Likewise, notwithstanding Netanyahu’s endorsement of an emasculated Palestinian state, the official platform of the ruling Likud Party of which he is chairman, “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river” and affirms that Jewish settlement of “Judea and Samaria” “is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.” That the mainstream media considers Likud’s policy statements insufficiently newsworthy to report underscores Suarez’s complaint about a compliant and uncritical media.

Readers may dispute Suarez’s historic critique of Israel but his photographs of contemporary Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank are incontestable. They offer an unnerving portrait of a people and a land under an inconsolable occupation. Israel’s fixed presence in Gaza was replaced by what Suarez makes clear is a suffocating land, air, and sea blockade. Photos illuminate everyday life, depicting children dressed in traditional as well as contemporary dress, at school, playing on the streets, or at home with family. Images of vendors at the seashore and merchants hauling produce on mule-drawn carts adds to the sense of normality. But as the photos shift to scenes of collapsed buildings destroyed during “Caste Lead,” Israel’s 2008 attack on Gaza, a child standing on the rubble of his home, or a family standing next to a UNICEF supplied tent they now call home, it become evident that Gaza is anything but normal. Most unnerving was a photo of a bomb crater so deep that it dwarfed the people standing atop its lip. It suggested the depth of terror the people of Gaza suffered under Caste Lead.  Photos of the tunnels that Gazians rely on for goods and products smuggled from Egypt underscored their everyday hardships.

Separate chapters on East Jerusalem and the West Bank provide similar images telling a similar story: Palestinians at work, at home, and at play but always enveloped in Israel’s intruding occupation. The value of this photo essay lay in its capability to remind its readers that Palestinians are people like themselves, wishing the best for their families, but living under extremely harsh conditions. The photos counter publications such as P@lestinian Pulse that propagates accounts of senseless Palestinian violence. Suarez’s narrative accompanying the photos provides a powerful indictment against Israel’s practices and ultimate goal of erasing the Palestinian presence. Critics rightfully will complain that he is partisan. But images of the military checkpoints, soldiers enforcing Jewish-only neighborhoods in Hebron, and the wall cutting through West Bank communities make clear why Palestinians resist Israel’s occupation.

The Kairos Document: A Cry for Action by the Palestinian Christian Community

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Members of Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and Baptist traditions in the Palestinian Christian community issued a statement in Bethlehem December 11th urging that all parties take immediate, concrete steps to end Israel’s occupation.  The statement embodied Palestinian frustration with the Obama Administration’s failure to change the reality on the ground.  The Christian group concluded that the “clear Israeli response [of] refusing any solution, leaves no room for positive expectation.”

Concluding that current attempts to end the occupation have “reached a dead end,” the “Palestine Kairos Document” condemns decision-makers who “are content with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it.” The Palestinian crisis was identified to be not merely a political one but “a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.”

Prompting the document’s publication was the “reality” of Israel’s occupation, including the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land and water, turning “our towns and villages into prisons,” the “daily humiliation” of military checkpoints, “making family life impossible for thousands of Palestinians,” and severe restrictions on religious liberty. Jerusalem was declared to be “the heart of our reality” but which “continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims.” It “has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.”

Israel’s “disregard of international law and international resolutions is decried as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt.” Rejecting Israeli justifications that its actions are taken in self-defense, the statement argued that “if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.” The authors acknowledged deep political divisions within the Palestinian community but faulted the international community for exacerbating such dissension by refusing to respect the outcome of the “democratic and legal elections” that brought Hamas to power.

The document condemns Christian Zionist theology in support for Israel’s occupation, saying that “their interpretation, have become a menace to our very existence” and a ‘harbinger of death.” Asserting that the “occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity,” the statement affirms  that “our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other people to the land it lives in.” Because the occupation is “an evil” that must be “removed,” the statement argues that Christians have a “right” and a “duty to resist” the occupation.

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