Robin Yassin-Kassab


with 13 comments

Response to Creative Syria’s discussion of Syrian regional alliances (see previous post) was dominated by arguments about democracy between an Israeli poster and others. The Israeli accused anybody who supported any aspect of Syrian government policy of being an apologist for dictatorship, and there, unfortunately, the debate stuck. If you agree with an undemocratic regime, he implied, you are not worth listening to. Here I will write a little against the propagandist uses and religious idealisation of the word ‘democracy,’ a word considered as little and used as injudiciously as the word ‘terrorism.’

First there is the irony of a Zionist lecturing us about democracy. We often hear the preposterous claim that Israel should be defended because it is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East,’ when in fact it is an ethno-democracy or an apartheid democracy. Israeli state apparatus rules over a population equally split between Jews and Arabs. The ‘Arab Israelis’ are at best second class citizens, disadvantaged and under threat of transfer. (There are 20 laws which discriminate against the Arab Israeli minority. For more information visit Adalah . The oppressed Arabs of the occupied West Bank and Gaza only have voting rights in a non-existent state. And this vaunted state of human freedom is possible because most of the indigenous inhabitants of Israel-Palestine have been driven into exile. Establishing a state for the Jews in an Arab country and then calling it a democracy has been one of the blackest jokes of modern history.

Beyond that there are the pervasive Western assumptions that the current system of government in the United States is the model and endpoint of human freedom, that it must be universally applied, and that it is the only form of human organisation of any value. Democracy is good and civilised; anything else is evil and barbaric. These are some of the assumptions responsible for the tragedy in Iraq, and they underly a great deal of nonsense in the global (still West-dominated) media.

The notion that only democracies can offer people the freedom to excel is simply absurd. Elizabethan England, Islamic Spain, the Roman Empire, and the Sumerian city states were not democracies. The Old Testament prophets, the Buddha, Shakespeare and Tolstoy were not produced by democracies.

The original democracy of Athens was not particularly democratic because slaves and women played no role in decision-making. However, given that ‘people’ was defined as ‘free men’, there was ‘rule by the people’ in that decisions were made collectively following a debate contributed to by everybody. Athens and similar Greek cities were small enough that every free male, or at least every head of household, could meet in the theatre to argue and make suggestions.

Tribal shura (consultation) in premodern Beduin societies approached this pure democracy, as did some workers’ councils, for a month or two, in revolutionary Russia, Italy and elsewhere. But such direct popular contribution to decision-making is obviously an impossibility in complex modern states made up of millions of diverse individuals. ‘Democracy’ is reduced to ‘representation’, and this in practice means putting a mark on a piece of paper every four, five or seven years. It is a testament to the power of ruling ideology that some people leave the voting booth feeling that their pencil mark has altered their nation’s destiny.

Now let us briefly examine what is called democracy by the nation that wants to export it as the final, finished product of human history. In the United States the most important positions except for the presidency are held by unelected officials. National security advisers, military strategists, financial planners and supreme court judges are all appointees. Condoleeza Rice, Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger never had to stand for election.

Those who do stand are selected more for their physical characteristics and acting skills than for their ideas and experience. Fundraising is more important than winning debates. Hysterical rallies, with rock music soundtracks and plenty of balloons, and the ability of a campaign team to associate their candidate with a fairytale grand narrative like ‘manifest destiny’ or ‘defeating evil’ count for more than detailed discussion of the real world. Elections are a spectacle to dazzle the people, those gullible enough to take them seriously. Such democracy, like anything else in this form of late capitalism, is a product to be consumed. Thomas Jefferson said, “No people can be both ignorant and free,” and the mass of the American population is kept ignorant by the combined efforts of the media and the public education system. Famously, a majority of Americans believed that Saddam Hussain was responsible for the September 11th attacks. The fact that American heads are crammed with celebrity gossip, TV plots and brand names ensures a system in which the scum rises to the top.

The corporations own the two political parties, the presidential candidates, and the big TV stations and newspapers that cover them. This is not surprising. It would be naïve to expect the corporations to leave the world’s largest economy and military complex in the hands of the people. As in other ‘first world’ countries the range of debate is severely limited. A propagandistic consensus has been manufactured (to paraphrase Chomsky) on the economy (a ‘free market’ which is actually corporate controlled) and ‘security.’ Anyone who points beyond the limits of acceptable discourse is mocked or, more effectively, ignored. The result, as my grandfather used to say, is that whoever you vote for, the government always wins.

As soon as there is the possibility of any real change, or any real threat, ‘democracy’ shows its teeth. When the Black Panthers started to take their constitutional right to bear arms seriously, and to make links between the position of Blacks in America and that of other oppressed groups throughout the world, the state resorted to violent repression. I don’t accept the Syrian regime’s excuse for emergency rule – that the country is under attack – but the excuse does stand up better in Syria, with the Golan occupied and America and Israel threatening further war, with war on the eastern and south-western borders and chronic instability to the west, than it does in the United States. There it took one day of explosions for detention without trial and torture to be normalised, and for the Patriot Act to be ‘democratically’ passed by Congress. This awards the American government the freedom to read its citizens’ emails and keep files on which library books they consult.

More than 7 million Americans are in prison, on probation or on parole, a greater proportion of people than in any other country, and a disproportionate number of incarcerated people are poor and black. Blacks made up 45% of the prison population in 2002. More young black men experience prison than experience college. The American democracy seems to function as well for Black Americans as the Israeli democracy functions for Arab Israelis. If China or Saudi Arabia imprisoned similar numbers of an ethnic minority the Western media would rightly call it persecution.

Surely we need to step back from the word ‘democracy’ and examine the more meaningful concepts of law and rights. If a nation votes to invade another country, or to eradicate the Gypsies, must we regard its democratic choice as lawful?

We need to subscribe to the idea that people, and families, and communities, and nations, have the right not to be interfered with. The mirage of democracy obscures this bedrock of lawfulness.

We need also to establish as a principle of international relations that systems of government are not universally applicable, and that nations must be free to develop their own governments according to their own circumstances. In countries where loyalty to the official bureaucratic state identity is weak (which may not be a bad thing) people will feel loyalty primarily to their tribe, sect or ethnicity. In such countries, democracy in the Western sense may not be a wise idea. Sri Lanka, for instance, has always been populated by Tamil and Sinhala communities. When the modern state inherited ‘majority rule’ from the British, the more numerous Sinhalese defined the country as a Sinhalese homeland. Alienated Tamils became secessionist, and years of bloody war ensued. It would have been better to allow both communities to build institutions, to have a large degree of autonomy, and to coexist in a borderless island.

What we call ‘democracy’ exists most comfortably in nation states which have popular legitimacy and internal consistency, in which issues of tribe and sect have been settled. In most cases this has been achieved at the end of a long process of civil war and ethnic cleansing. America passed through the genocide of its indigenous inhabitants, revolutionary war, slavery, civil war, and the civil rights movement to reach its present imperfect state.

Democracy functioned – with severe hiccups – in Syria until the United Arab Republic, but this unwise and unequal union with Nasser’s dictatorship was at first wildly popular in Syria, precisely because ‘Syria’ in its reduced and mangled post-colonial form lacked legitimacy in the eyes of its own people.

This is not to say that democracy is not an admirable aim. I wish America really supported Middle Eastern democracy as it claims. If it did, it would have to talk to Hamas, Hizbullah, and the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, shut down its military bases in the region, switch its favour from the Saud monarchs to the Iranian parliament, and so on. Greater informed control of the people over the political process, the economy and the environment is desirable in every country of the world, and most crucially in what is still for a while the world’s most powerful country, America.

On Blacks incarcerated in the US:

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 26, 2007 at 8:14 am

Posted in USA

13 Responses

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  1. Thanks for your comments on the facile nature of practiced ‘democracy’ in the world today: the yoke of poor government may be the single quality that links all humanity most strongly. As with ‘communism’, another admirable idea that never played out as more than a bad joke, ‘deomcracy’ is a good idea still waiting to be manifested. Practised deomocracy was a joke when Jefferson espoused its virtues while owning slaves, and it remains a joke today when the West exports its need for slave labour to the ‘developing’ world while professing universal brotherhood at home.

    That being said, it ought to remembered that voting is only a part of the democractic process/structure: the bulk of the weight of justice is carried, or ought to be carried, by a nation’s constitution. To the extent that ‘scum’ are allowed to rise to the top and corporate interests are allowed to distort the voting and decision-making processes, it is only because the constitution and/or judiciary are too weak to prevent such miscarriages.

    Constitutional reform and strengthening ought to be the primary goal of anyone interested in the ideal of democracy. The right constitutional ammendment, for example, would take care of corporate influence-peddling with the stroke of a pen.

    Constitutions are humanity’s only alternative to giving ultimate authority to corruptible individuals (monarchies, theocracies) and are, I believe, a universal human need, as yet unfulfilled, whether one be Tamil, Syrian, or American.

    Perhaps we can find the seeds of true brotherhood by learning to recognize our common, unsatisfied, need for justice.


    November 29, 2007 at 5:32 pm

  2. Pucman – I find your emphasis on constitution-strengthening to be very useful. I think you’ve come close to the central issue. However, I think we need more than a stroke of a pen. The US has a fine constitution, but it is regularly ignored by the government, and the mass of the people are ignorant of this. How can we strengthen constitutions? In other words, how can we make people more aware of the importance of constitutionality, and how can we restrain corporate and other interests from taking control?


    December 1, 2007 at 6:07 pm

  3. qunfuz: You claim that Israel is “ethno-democracy or an apartheid democracy”, because of its treatment of israeli arabs. On what grounds do you base these severe accusations?
    Please note that I’m not denying that there exists some level of discrimination against them, but this happens in every country that has a minority and these countries are not considered to be “apartheid democracies”.
    Israeli arabs have the right to vote and there are many arab-representing parties in the knesset. 10% of the members of the knesset are arabic. They enjoy exactly the same rights and duties as every other israli citizen, the only thing that seperates them from jews is that they don’t have to do service in the army, which can be seen as a privilege (since they’re allowed to serve voluntarily).
    I would argue that arabs in Israel are by far better off than arabs in Israels neighbouring countries, where they are denied essential human rights and have to live under cruel dictators.
    Again, I’m not denying that there is discrimination, but this topic is openly discussed and debated inside Israel, by both jews and arabs. Israeli courts have often ruled against the government to protect against discrimination.
    In my opinion, if you really care about the wealth and freedom of the arabics and muslims, you should be more eager to criticize the states that discriminates them the most by denying them basic human rights and not (primarily) Israel.
    You also said that israeli arabs live under “the threat of transfer”. Again, where’s the evidence for this? Yes, after the Israeli independence war, there was a kind of martial law applied to them, but remember, many of the arabs attacked Israeli forces during the war. Since 1966 however, there’s not a single one of these restrictions in place.


    December 3, 2007 at 6:37 pm

  4. Henning – forgive me once again if I dont respond to your comment in the detail it deserves. I’ve spent a long time today responding to comments on the ‘You Muslims!’ thread, and I have children and a job! In brief, however:
    1. I do complain about the abuse of Arabs and minority groups in Arab countries as well as in Israel.
    2. I was referring not just to the Arab Israelis, but (even more) to the occupied Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, who suffer direct or indirect israeli rule but who cannot vote in Israeli elections.
    3. True Arab Israelis have almost 10% of seats in the knesset, but they are more than 20% of the population. Their most basic problem is that they live in a state which is not defined as a state of its citizens, but as a state for all the Jews of the world. They are non-Jews in a Jewish state. I think states should serve the people who l;ive in them, and shouldnt be Jewish staes, Islamic states, or whatever. I also oppose Saudi Arabia for being (supposedly) an Islamic state – but at least the population who live there come from there. Israeli Jews are recent immigrants who drove out most of the population of Palestine and who treat those remaining as second class citizens. The Arab Israelis are nort recent immigrants. They live on the land they have lived on continuously for millenia, but often not in the same villages. In most cases they have lost their original homes and land to Israeli colonists, and live on poorer land and in poor areas which receive a proportionately much lower state investment in terms of services and returns for taxes. The Israeli Arabs are frequently described as a demographic problem, nost recently by the Israeli foreign Minister. Government ministers like Lieberman openly talk of transfer. For more on this subject I strongly recommend the book “Blood and Religion” by Jonathan Cook, as well as articles in al-Ahram weekly and elsewhere by the Arab Israeli intellectual, and member of the knesset before he was forced into exile, Azmi Bishara.


    December 3, 2007 at 8:24 pm

  5. qunfuz: Thank you for your answer, I appreciate that you take the time to discuss these topics.
    If you base your claims of apartheid on the fact that Israel doesn’t treat palestinians living in the occupied territories as equal as israelian citizens, I think you’re missing an important point: These palestinians don’t want to live in Israel, they want their own state. They are even willing to elect terroristic organizations that deny Israel’s right to exist at all (Hamas). Israel would only be able to treat them as citizens if they would annex the west bank and gaza, which neither they (at least the majority of them) nor the palestinians want.
    It is unfortunatly that the palestinians are not yet able to live in their own state and elect their own parliament, but this is an issue that can by no means be blamed on Israel alone, as nearly all of Israels neighbouring regimes profitize politically from the suffering of the palestinian people and their political leaders are often unwilling to compromise.
    I agree with you that Israel is a bit biased towards jews as it considers itself a refugee for jews worldwide. I think it should be discussed if that special state-definition is still as needed as it was when Israel was an asylum for jews who were slaughtered all over europe. But I also can see why this is a sensible issue for many israelis, because of the feeling they have, that no one in the world will help them if they would be slaughtered again.
    Concerning the 20% population vs. 10% representation issue: I would ask back, how do you explain this? Clearly, arabs are not denied their right to vote. Couldn’t it be that some of them see their interests represented enough by non-arabs?
    Concerning the demographic problem: This is nothing special to Israel. Many politicans in many countries have the fear that a growing minority could someday become a majority, thus threatening the culture of the current majority. In the US, it is for example feared, that the hispanic minority becomes a majority someday. These fears are of course often a symptom of xenophobia, which is equally distributed among the inhabitants of this planet. Such statements must clearly be rejected and I’m sure many israelis don’t agree with them.
    You also made me aware of the arabic israeli Azmi Bishara. I’ve read some of his stuff and he’s making some valid points, namely about economical differences between arabs and jews and the idea of “a state for jews”. But your claim that he was “forced into exile” is clearly exaggerated: He’s facing allegations of providing hezbollah with insider informations during the lebanon war, for which they seem to have good evidences.
    He decided to flee the country instead of facing these allegations, that is not exactly “forcing”.
    Concerning Liebermann: He’s certainly an idiot beyond scale, but to suggest that he wants to transfer arabs forcibly to palestine is at best exaggerated. As far as I’ve read about his plan, it’s an idea for exchanging territories between (the to be created) Palestine and Israel, whereby Israel gets territories populated many by jews and vis-versa. Correct me, if that turns out to be wrong.


    December 7, 2007 at 12:23 am

  6. Henning –

    This is from the Wikipedia entry on Bishara: “Bishara addressed a rally of supporters in Nazareth via telephone in April 2007. He told the thousands of supporters that, “My guilt is that I love my homeland… our intellect and our words are our weapons. Never in my life did I draw a gun or kill anyone.” Said Nafa, Bishara’s replacement in the Knesset, commented on the charges leading up to Bishara’s resignation, saying “There were many instances in which the Shin Bet tried to set people up … They’re just trying to behead a prominent Arab leader. They will fail.””

    Bishara did not have access to secret military information. He was previously accused of being a traitor to the state of Israel because he openly supported Hizbullah politically and morally – as do I and very many lovers of freedom, liberal and secular and Christian as well as Muslim. There were also attempts to ban his political party because it threatened the Jewish nature of Israel, in other words because it challenged the Zionist nature of the state.

    I (and a very small minority of Israelis) believe that Israel has no future as a zionist state. This is not the same as saying that the Jews should be driven into the sea. Although they arrived as colonists and ethnic cleansers, the Jews have lived in Palestine for long enough to belong to the place. I look forward to the day when they live as equals with their Muslim and Christian neighbours, the original inhabitants of the land, in a democratic state. I think it would be reasonable to include in the constitution of this state guarantees to protect individual and communal Jewish rights, given a justified fear that an Arab majority in the future may seek to snuff out these rights.

    If Israel were a democratic secular state for its citizens, then the Palestinians would want to be part of it. They don’t want to be part of the apartheid state that currently exists. Please spare me the ‘terrorist’ nonsense. Hamas has killed civilians, and Israel has killed civilians. Israel has killed far more than Hamas has. Hamas has on several occasions recognised that Israel, of course, exists, and has made very clear its willingness to make the conflict ‘cultural’ once there is an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 line. It does not accept Israel’s right to exist, and neither do I, because Israel is a Jewish state on stolen Arab land. If in the future Israel becomes a state for its citizens it will have the right to expect Hamas to recognise it.

    If you look for my post called Palestines, you will see more of my opinions on Hamas.

    Your statement that neighbouring regimes are unwilling to compromise is not based on reality but on the propaganda you read. Decades ago the Palestinian leadership made the huge and historic compromise of recognising that 78% of their land would be a Jewish state. (I don’t accept the two state solution, but the Arab states all do, and I think it could be a useful intermediate stage to build confidence and soothe wounds until a democratic single state could be negotiated). Most Arab states are already cravenly at peace with Israel, sadly. Syria is interested in full peace. The Saudi initiative, supported by every Arab state, states clearly that there will be full peace in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 67 line.

    This is from the Wikipedia entry on Lieberman: “In May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel’s one million Arabs would “have to find a new Arab entity” in which to live beyond Israel’s borders. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost,” he said.”

    Your analogy with ‘growing minorities’ in other countries is not a good analogy. Arab Israelis are not immigrants. They are the fragment of Palestinian society that were not ethnically cleansed in 47/48. They are the original inhabitants of the land.


    December 7, 2007 at 6:06 am

  7. qunfuz: I’m sorry that I have to say this, but I think your views on Hamas are seriously distorted.
    1. By saying that Hamas recognizes that Israel exists, you’re almost twisting the meaning of words. Of course Hamas knows that Israel exists. But the only way that Hamas will allow Israel to exist is when it is ruled by muslims and all jews are killed or pay protection tax. Look it up in their charter, part III, article 11: “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. […]”.
    Hamas is not willing to allow a secular state with a jewish majority, that’s a fact that can’t be talked away.
    2. Hamas is a terroristic organization, even you don’t argue with this. By stating that Israel has killed a lot of civilians, you’re basically saying that Israel’s actions are equal to blowing yourself up in crowds of civilians (which Hamas openly supports). No action the IDF has ever commited comes close to the level of cruelty that Hamas has exercised and continues to exercise.
    The only reason why Hamas hasn’t killed even more civilians is because Israel isn’t very keen on allowing this to happen. If Hamas had it their way, they would kill every jew that opposes their vision of islamic theocracy.

    I must say I find it really sad to hear such a statement from someone who really should know better.

    To further explain my point about Israels neighbours profitizing from the suffering of palestinians: All these states have done little to nothing to get them out of refugee-camps and provide them with a real future. They keep them suffering for political motives, namely pressing Israel to allow them to come back. The only notable exception from this is jordan, the only country that allowed palestinians to become citizens. Jordan is also the only neighbour (along with egypt) being really at peace with Israel. I find it disturbing that you seem to prefer a formal state war, just because you don’t like the political system in Israel. Should countries also formally declare war on Iran or Saudi Arabia, because they consider themselves “islamic republic/monarchy”?


    December 7, 2007 at 5:43 pm

  8. Henning, it’s clear you’re a full-on Zionist. You believe that it is justified for outsiders to come into a country (perhaps not your country, but Palestine, I don’t know), to drive out most of the original inhabitants, and to establish a state for all people belonging to those outsiders’ ethnicity. That it is then justified for this state to occupy the remaining fragments of the land they have destroyed. I disagree. I believe that the original inhabitants of Palestine have the right to resist their dispossession. The Palestinians have tried passive resistance, and they have been mown down. They have tried appealing to the principles of international law, and they have been ignored. They have tried guerrilla warfare, and even suicide bombings. At the moment suicide bombings are not happening, partly because of the Israeli wall, mass arrests and so on, partly because the resistance leaderships have made a political decision to hold off. At the moment the resistance uses missiles and unarmed demonstrations. The means change, the struggle continues, and will continue, whether you like it or not.

    I find your statement that the Israelis have not done anything as cruel as suicide bombing to be quite ridiculous. Forget for a moment the ethnic cleansing of 47 and 48, the village massacres and so on. Forget the tens of thousands murdered in Lebanon. Forget Sabra and Shatila. Forget the ‘punitive raids’ in Jordan and the murder of Egyptian Prisoners of War. Let’s just focus on the occupation of the lands captured in 67. 3 and a half million Palestinian civilians suffer grievously every day from this criminal illegal occupation, and have done for 40 YEARS. I wont condemn Palestinian suicide bombing, but even if I did, I would say a 40 year occupation is guaranteed to create it. Pregnant women give birth at checkpoints. Heart attack victims die in ambulances held up by Israeli occupation troops. Farmers are cut off from their land. Olive orchards are destroyed. Sonic booms smash the glass in windows so that more than 90% of children are traumatised. Thousands of civilians are murdered, including children playing football and women standing on their balconies. A majority of the dead are killed by sniper fire to the head and upper body. In other words, the killing is clearly deliberate. Homes are bulldozed with disabled people still inside them. Massive bombs are dropped on residential buildings in the middle of the night.

    Are you joking, or are you just sick?

    I can’t agree that the violence perpetrated by people in uniforms pressing buttons, people using the most grotesque of arsenals that modern science can produce, people who are occupiers and ethnic cleansers, is somehow more noble and clean than the violence perpetrated by the occupied using their own bodies as weapon delivery systems.

    As for Hamas’s charter: they understandably believe that Palestine belongs to Islam because the majority of Palestinians are Muslims. I’m not an Islamist and I dont wholly subscribe to this point of view. I think that in the event of an equitable settlement the vast majority of Palestinians will not support this point of view either. However, the important thing here is just how Hamas intends to get it way. Hamas has clearly said that it will fight until there is a withdrawal to the 67 line. After that, the conflict will become cultural. In other words, they will try to convert the Jews to Islam, peacefully. If the Jews dont convert – and I dont expect they will – Hamas will not attack them. This is very similar to the position of Sinn Fein/the IRA in Northern Ireland. The IRA still believes that Ireland should be a united socialist stae, and they will believe this until the end of time. But they have agreed to stop fighting and to express their desires and beliefs by peaceful political means. The situation in Ireland and Britain is immeasurably better given that all sides have agreed to deal with the IRA on this basis.

    My brother-in-law is a Palestinian who grew up in Syria, as are many of my friends. Palestinians are not Syrian citizens, true, and the vast majority do not want to be. But they can live where they want, own businesses, are respected and valuable members of society. You repeat the point about Arab regimes using Palestinians to keep the war going and thereby ignore what I pointed out earlier – that all Arab states have signed up to the Saudi peace plan. All Arab states have stated repeatedly that they want full peace with Israel.

    Your analogies with Iran and Saudi Arabia do not work. Both countries have faults. Personally, I particularly despise the regime in Saudi Arabia (see my post The Horns of Satan). But neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran hold as many political prisoners as Israel. Neither occupies territory belonging to its neighbours. Neither violates tens of United Nations resolutions. Neither has started wars (though Saudi Arabia has collaborated in many of America’s wars in the region). And, crucially, neither exists as a result of a comprehensive ethnic cleansing which drove out the indigenous population.

    The sad thing here is that the Arabs really do want peace. Even Hamas wants peace, just with a minimum of justice. I dont really blame Zionist Jews for behaving so badly. The Jews have the excuse of a brutal history to make them both fierce and paranoid. But the American and European goy Zionists have no excuse. Zionism doesnt have a future in the Middle East. The Jews could, however. If you’re really a friend of the Jews you should encourage the post-Zionist Jewish future.


    December 7, 2007 at 7:49 pm

  9. qunfuz: If you think I’m a zionist, please do so, I’m not really offended by that, because it seems that you think everyone who thinks that the current Israel has a right to exist is a zionist.

    As a german citizen, I would be more than glad if the british decided to grant the jewish people a piece of land in germany, because we (meaning germany) were solely responsible for the holocaust. Unfortunatly, this didn’t happen, which is the problem we’re faced with today.

    You’re saying that Hamas would stop attacking if Israel would withdraw to the ’67 borders. If that really would be the case, why didn’t they stopped or lowered the amount of aggression once Israel pulled out of gaza? Instead they fired missiles on israeli civilians.

    Describing the war of ’48 as “ethnic cleansing” is at best exaggerated. The war was forced on Israel by its neighbours. The causes for the fleeings are heavily disputed and don’t generally paint a picture of ethnic cleansing. Yes, there were expulsions by the israeli army, but keep in mind that
    a) there were bloody fights with cruelties on both sides
    b) palestinians often used guerrilla tactics to fight against the israelis
    c) There also were about 800000 jewish refugees that fleed arab countries.

    As tragic as the palestinian situation is, there isn’t a simple solution to it. Yes, Israel could simply go back to its ’67 borders and let the west-bank fend for itself. But as long as there is no palestinan government, this would leave anarchy and civil war and possibly more attacks carried out against Israel. The withdrawl from lebanon and gaza proved this, as the answer was in both cases kassam missiles. The only solution is a agreed peace between all parties. You cite the saudi arabic peace initiative. I have no doubt that Israels neighbours want peace, as they’ve all seen that they can’t defeat it by force. It would be stupid to think that Israel has any interest in keeping the west-bank occupied, because of the heavy price they pay for this each day. One of the most critical issue in an agreement is the “right to return”. It would be very lengthy to discuss this topic in full, but let me just say that this is perhaps the main thing that keeps peace away and it is thus also in the hands of the arabic nations to solve this problem by integrating palestinians into their states instead of positioning them against Israel.

    I find it horrible that you think it’s okay to attack civilians. Even if Israel would target civilians (please give references for your claims), the killing of civilians in response can never be justified by a reasonable being. Civilians are innocent. As long as you wont condem the killings of civilians by palestinian suicide attacks, I see no point in discussing with you, as we then clearly seem to have no equal moral basis. Please do not twist my words by saying that I do not condem israeli attacks on civilians. I do. I’m deeply sorry, horrified and shaken in my believe in israel by every civilian casualty of israeli actions.
    I do however dispute that the IDF targets civilians.


    December 7, 2007 at 9:45 pm

  10. What you said is that Israel has not committed any crime as cruel as a suicide bombing, and I strongly disagree with you, for the reasons I gave. If you dont call dropping massive bombs on residential buildings deliberately targetting civilians, I dont know what you call it.

    The so-called withdrawal from Lebanon: Israel remained in the Shebaa Farms, continued to hold Lebanese prisoners (hostages), and continued to violate the border – thousands of time according to the UN.

    Why do Palestinians fire missiles out of liberated Gaza? 2 reasons. First, because Gaza is only one part of Palestine. If Saddam Hussain had left, say, a third of Kuwait, America would have continued firing missiles at Iraq until he left the whole country. Second, because although settlers have left Gaza (which is of course a good thing) the Strip is still surrounded by land and sea by Israeli military. By air too. There are constant overflights. Direct occupation has been replaced by a siege. In any case, an impoverished strip with almost no resources and hundreds of thousands of refugees is not viable if closed and cut off from a hinterland. This is an extreme image of the whole problem with the 2 state solution.

    Arabs fought against the Jewish state in 1948 quite rightly, because a UN which didnt yet represent the colonised countries, under American pressure, had awarded the best land of Palestine to a minority of recent immigrants. No people in the world would accept this. The Palestinian Arabs had in most cases welcomed Jewish immigrants and refugees. The problem was that the establishment of a Jewish stae. There were even several early Zionists, like Ahad Ha-Aam, who saw this would only lead to injustice and war. The causes for the Arabs fleeing are no longer heavily disputed as you say. It has been established for instance that Arab radio stations did NOT ON ANY OCCASION encourage Palestinians to leave. You really must read The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe (there’s a link on my blog to his website). The ethnic cleansing was most definitely, most deliberately, ethnic cleansing. Even right wing Zionists like Benny Morris recognise this. It is no longer controversial. I urge you to read more widely.

    The Arab states should have been more careful to keep their Jewish communities. rResentment of Zionist crimes did make Muslim and Christian Arabs dislike their Jewish neighbours, which made the Jewish Arabs feel uncomfortable. There is also plenty of evidence that Zionists actively tried to make life uncomfortable for Jews in Arab countries. Read The Lure of Zion by Abbas Chiblak for discussion of Mossad planting bombs in the Jewish quarter of Baghdad, for instance. There were no massacres of Jews in Arab countries. Nevertheless, I believe a fair settlement for Palestinian refugees should at the same time address compensation and right-of-return for Arab Jews.

    The Saudi peace initiative calls for a fair negotiated settlement to the refugee issue. It deliberately keeps this vague. It does not demand that all refugees return to what is now Israel.

    I thought you were german. I’m glad that you are willing for there to be a Jewish state in Germany, although I wonder if you would still support the idea if it became reality, and millions of Germans were ethnically cleansed from their homes in order to allow for the Jewish state. Obviously, it is a much fairer idea to have the Jewish stae in Germany than in Palestine. The crimes of Germany continue in Palestine.


    December 8, 2007 at 6:45 am

  11. Although I think Hamas has far more legitimacy than Abbas, I think Hamas has made mistakes in its rule of Gaza. The reason I’m posting the article below is that a Hamas spokesman explains the movement’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist in its current form.

    An official of the movement describes its goals for all of Palestine.
    By Mousa Abu Marzook
    Mousa Abu Marzook is the deputy of the political bureau of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.
    July 10, 2007 Damascus, Syria –

    Hamas’ rescue of a BBC journalist from his captors in Gaza last week was surely cause for rejoicing. But I want to be clear about one thing: We did not deliver up Alan Johnston as some obsequious boon to Western powers. It was done as part of our effort to secure Gaza from the lawlessness of militias and violence, no matter what the source. Gaza will be calm landunder the rule of law – a place where all journalists, foreigners andguests of the Palestinian people will be treated with dignity. Hamas has never supported attacks on Westerners, as even our harshest critics will concede; our struggle has always been focused on the occupier and ourlegal resistance to it – a right of occupied people that is explicitly supported by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet our movement is continually linked by President Bush and IsraeliPrime Minister Ehud Olmert to ideologies that they know full well we donot follow, such as the agenda of Al Qaeda and its adherents. But we arenot part of a broader war. Our resistance struggle is no one’s proxy,although we welcome the support of people everywhere for justice in Palestine. The American efforts to negate the will of the Palestinian electorate bydestroying our fledgling government have not succeeded – rather, the U.S.-assisted Fatah coup has only multiplied the problems of Washington’s “two-state solution.” Mr. Bush has for the moment found a pliant friend in Abu Mazen, a “moderate” in the American view but one who cannot seriously expect to command confidence in the streets of Gaza or the West Bank after having taken American arms and Israeli support to depose the elected governmentby force. We deplore the current prognosticating over “Fatah-land” versus “Hamastan.” In the end, there can be only one Palestinian state. But what of the characterization by the West of our movement as beyond the pale of civilized discourse?

    Our “militant” stance cannot by itsel fbe the disqualifying factor, as many armed struggles have historically resulted in a place at the table of nations. Nor can any deny the reasonableness of our fight against the occupation and the right of Palestinians to have dignity, justice and self-rule. Yet in my many years of keeping an open mind to all sides of the Palestine question – including those I spent in an American prison, awaiting Israeli “justice” – I am forever asked to concede the recognition of Israel’s putative “right to exist” as a necessary precondition to discussing grievances, and to renounce positions foundin the Islamic Resistance Movement’s charter of 1988, an essentially revolutionary document born of the intolerable conditions under occupation more than 20 years ago. The sticking point of “recognition” has been used as a litmus test tojudge Palestinians. Yet as I have said before, a state may have a right to exist, but not absolutely at the expense of other states, or more important, at the expense of millions of human individuals and their rights to justice. Why should anyone concede Israel’s “right” to exist,when it has never even acknowledged the foundational crimes of murder and ethnic cleansing by means of which Israel took our towns and villages, our farms and orchards, and made us a nation of refugees? Why should any Palestinian “recognize” the monstrous crime carried out by Israel’s founders and continued by its deformed modern apartheid state, while he or she lives 10 to a room in a cinderblock, tin-roof United Nations hut? These are not abstract questions, and it is not rejectionist simply because we have refused to abandon the victims of 1948 and their descendants. As for the 1988 charter, if every state or movement were to be judged solely by its foundational, revolutionary documents or the ideas of itsprogenitors, there would be a good deal to answer for on all sides. The American Declaration of Independence, with its self-evident truth ofequality, simply did not countenance (at least, not in the minds of mostof its illustrious signatories) any such status for the 700,000 African slaves at that time; nor did the Constitution avoid codifying slavery as an institution, counting “other persons” as three-fifths of a man. Israel, which has never formally adopted a constitution of its own but rather operates through the slow accretion of Basic Laws, declares itself explicitly to be a state for the Jews, conferring privileged status based on faith in a land where millions of occupants are Arabs, Muslims and Christians. The writings of Israel’s “founders” – from Herzl to Jabotinsky to BenGurion – make repeated calls for the destruction of Palestine’s non-Jewish inhabitants: “We must expel the Arabs and take their places.” A number of political parties today control blocs in the Israeli Knesset, while advocating for the expulsion of Arab citizens from Israel and the rest of Palestine, envisioning a single Jewish state from the Jordan to the sea. Yet I hear no clamor in the international community for Israel to repudiate these words as a necessary precondition for any discourse whatsoever. The double standard, as always, is in effect for Palestinians. I, for one, do not trouble myself over “recognizing” Israel’s right to exist – this is not, after all, an epistemological problem; Israel does exist, as any Rafah boy in a hospital bed, with IDF shrapnel in his torso, can tell you. This dance of mutual rejection is a mere distraction when so many are dying or have lived as prisoners for two generations in refugee camps. As I write these words, Israeli forays into Gaza have killed another 15 people, including a child. Who but a Jacobin dares to discuss the “rights” of nations in the face of such relentless state violence against an occupied population? I look forward to the day when Israel can say to me, and millions of other Palestinians: “Here, here is your family’s house by the sea, here are your lemon trees, the olive grove your father tended: Come home and be whole again.” Then we can speak of a future together.


    December 8, 2007 at 6:59 am

  12. qunfuz: In my eyes, you’re morally bankrupt:
    I’ve given you a chance to distance yourself from palestinans who blow up themselves and/or israeli civilians. If you can’t even bring yourself to condemn these kinds of actions, you’re just plain evil. If you believe that ANY action a state could do can somehow justify this, you’re a really really depraved human being.
    And please don’t say that I wouldn’t condem civilian deaths caused by the IDF. I’ve stated that I do condemn this, period.
    I find it really shocking that you think that you can bring someone to blow up civilians by simply oppressing him, however cruel this oppression might be. Around the world we see and have seen much more cruel oppressions (take tibet)
    and never have we seen people blowing themselves up in crowded areas. This is islamic theology at work, not poverty or oppression. So called “moderates” like you are supporting these actions by denying this link between this and instead blaming it on opression or poverty.
    But, on the other hand, you’re just following your religious beliefs, aren’t you? Deceiving people to believe that your religion is really a religion of peace and that Israel would simply have to pull out of the west bank to end this conflict, denying that Hamas is a religious group that would convert or kill all jews if they could, it’s all the same pattern: Deceive the non-believers until you have the strength to attack and conquer them, just like your prophet told you to and did in the hadiths.
    Please tell me, what else on earth could bring you to a point where you support blowing up civilians??
    Please note that this is my last post on your blog if you won’t condemn these suicide bombings.
    May you find the moral courage to change yourself.


    December 9, 2007 at 2:01 am

  13. No Henning, I won’t condemn suicide bombing. That doesnt necessarily mean I support it or encourage it, but I won’t condemn it. To reiterate, the Palestinians have tried all sorts of resistance, and they have always been met by overwhelming violence.

    People who make the distinction between ‘evil’ suicide bombing and ‘legitimate’ military violence don’t seem to understand just how violent their preferred kind of violence is. War is war is war. ALL modern wars aim to terrify the enemy and to destroy economic activity by murdering civilians. The Palestinians have done far less than this than the Israelis.

    And NO, suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam. You seem to consider yourself an expert on Islam (based on your comment on the You Muslims thread) and you clearly get your information from very propagandisitic, Islamophobic sources. Please read my post call Osama bin Laden, and see my comments on jihad. Islamic law states that civilians, women and children, officials of any religion should not be killed, that the environment and property should not be destroyed. Hamas make a mistake by using religious language to describe their political violence. The first anti-Israeli suicide bombers were Lebanese, and more than a few of them were Christians and Marxists.

    I recognise your condemnation of Israeli attacks on civilians, but was responding to your claims that these attacks are somehow accidental and in any case more moral than the attacks of the occupied and expelled on the occupier. Anyway, Israel could not exist without its attacks on civilians.

    So I dont suppose we’ll be communicating again. It was nice talking to you. Enjoy revelling in your moral outrage. It won’t help you to understand the world better.


    December 9, 2007 at 4:31 am

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