The Politics of Peace Prize: Israel and Hannan Ashrawi

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In the Sydney Morning Herald, dated October 23, 2003, Mr. Peter Wertheim, a past president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, was quite upset about Premier Bob Carr’s decision to present this year’s ‘Sydney Peace Prize’ to the Palestinian activist and founder of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH) – Professor Hannan Ashrawi. (http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/10/22/1066631499913.html?from=storyrhs). He applauds Sydney’s lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull’s decision to withdraw the city’s support for the prize.

Such a disgruntled voice from Mr. Wertheim was not unexpected given the fact that people like him have not been able to rise above their ‘boxes’ and see the world as it is from a neutral point. As far as the Palestinian-Israeli crisis is concerned, his views are arrogantly partisan and myopic. Under ordinary circumstances, such partisan views don’t deserve much deference and would probably have been trashed by most editors. However, since his organization is a powerful one, especially in a country that has been very supportive of Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Sharon’s government, we can guess why his views were published. (And I am sure letters like mine to the SMH editor that differ from his views will simply be discarded.) [1]

For years, the leaders and diehard supporters of the rogue state of Israel have tried everything –” from planting the myth – ‘land without a people to a people without a land’ to mass murder – to obliterate the Palestinian identity. To their dismay, however, nothing seemed to have worked. The Palestinians are a bunch of ‘difficult’ and ‘uncompromising’ people: neither would they go away nor would they give up on their rights to statehood on the 20% of historical Palestine! Nearly 80% of their territory was snatched away from them, hundreds of thousands uprooted from their ancestral homes, basic human rights denied, schools, colleges, commercial centers, homes and hospitals demolished, Palestinians killed like ‘vermin’ and ‘cockroaches;’ still they like to hang on to that tiny piece of land –” the pre-’67 West Bank and Gaza – truncated by settlements and settler-roads, road-blocks and Apartheid walls that have reduced the territory to ‘Bantustans.’

Image is an important weapon in the battle for winning neutral hearts. Only an adept craftsman who is able to draw a hideous image of the villain wins that battle. The Nazis and Fascists were brilliant in their demonic portrayal of European Jewry before Hitler and Mussolini collaborated for a ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.’ And it worked, millions of Jews were killed and others were forced to immigrate to Palestine. The propaganda against these Holocaust victims was so successful that during the climax of ‘Final Solution’ (1939-45), (if I am not mistaken) even a paper like the NY Times had no more than half a dozen coverage on this sad saga. [2] For years, none of the Axis Powers (including the USA) came to rescue these victims. (Britain at one time even thought of allying with Hitler’s Germany.) The Zionists have learned this tactic only too well from their one-time persecutors to practice it upon their uprooted hosts.[3] They have even perfected this tactic by exploiting the politics of ‘anti-Semitism.’ Anyone (even a believing Jew) who questions the Zionist savagery, the God-given right to discriminate non-Jews in God’s real estate, ought to be an anti-Semite! So when Gideon Levy of the Ha’aretz reports that pregnant Palestinians are stopped in Israeli checkpoints and are sometimes forced to give birth in open fields without proper medical help, and that new born babies sometimes die, the journalist is labeled as an anti-Semite.[4]

Character assassination (outside physical assassination – a tactic employed by Mossad, IDF and the armed settlers) has, therefore, become a powerful arsenal to muffle the Palestinian resistance movement. None is immune from such caricaturization –” from its farmers to intellectuals to leaders. When it comes to depicting Palestinians, it is always an angry mob bent on revenge and when it comes to Israelis, it is an Israeli hospital with wounded settlers or a Jewish graveyard with a sobbing Israeli family. The western media won’t show daily Palestinian humiliation, the cold-blooded murders of children like Muhammad al-Durra and a peace-activist like Rachel Corey among them. They won’t publicize the UN report, which blames Israel for causing starvation in the Occupied Territories. [5] Palestinians are depicted as ‘terrorists’ and the Israelis as the ones whose ‘security’ was at stake. Forgotten are the facts that it is the state of Israel who is terrorizing the people of the Occupied Territories and violating the charters of the Geneva Convention, committing war crimes. It is the Israeli Zionists who are and have always been against the notion of coexistence, who are against peace, who want the full piece of the pie. No one questions: why are the settlers there to begin with in the Occupied Territories? Does not Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention clearly state: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies?” The root causes of the Palestinian unrest are ignored and symptoms are treated. Thanks to Goebbles and his spiritual children!

Wertheim accuses Ashrawi of not supporting the Oslo Accord and Palestinian Roadmap. Having read Ashrawi’s speeches in various nets and newspapers over many years, I believe Wertheim’s claims are unjustified and belong to similar campaigns, orchestrated by pro-Sharon/Israeli groups that try to smear the images of leaders and intellectuals of the Palestinian community.

Prof. Ashrawi, like late Prof. Edward Said, has been a very articulate spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. In an article ‘Anatomy of Racism,’ Dr Ashrawi wrote, “Blaming the victim has been the common resort of the guilty in rationalizing and distorting the horror of the crime itself. … The essential prerequisite, of course, is the total dehumanization of the victims and the elimination of their most basic rights and attributes as well as claims to protection. Inevitably, the resultant compound victimization is further enhanced by increased vulnerability, distortion, and exclusion from the protection of human consideration and moral imperatives. Hence, the latest eruption of confrontations between the Israeli occupation army and civilian Palestinian protestors became the playing field for the full force of the Israeli spin machine in a most deliberate, concentrated, and racist exercise of deception and dehumanization directed against a whole people.” (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/51a/094.html)

The Oslo Accord was supposed to bring into reality a sovereign Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. As a representative of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Dr Ashrawi played an important role in the peace process. Most racist, militant and fanatic Israelis, especially the Likudniks, on the other hand, did not like that their dreams for an Eretz Israel be dashed. [The recently concluded Jerusalem Summit, dated Oct. 14-16, 2003, gives enough credence to the fact that Zionists and their supporters within the Bush Administration are working hand in hand to ensure that the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River of Jordan remain under Israel with Jerusalem as its eternal capital.] Netanyahu and Sharon’s Likud party dubbed Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, one of the main architects of the Accord, as a traitor, and soon thereafter a militant Jew murdered Rabin. This event facilitated the coming into power of anti-Oslo, anti-peace, Likud Party. Through a Draconian process, Netanyahu’s government tried everything to undo the Oslo Accord, thus sabotaging peace and frustrating the hopes of the Palestinian people. Speaking after the conclusion of the Cairo summit, Dr Ashrawi said that the peace process "exists only as a fiction in the minds of a few, merely in the minds of Arab leaders, who still think that they can salvage peace from the jaws of destruction and war that is being waged against us."

Then came Yehud Barak, who was elected on the premise that he would honor the implementation of the Oslo Accord. Instead, under him, the armed Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories increased. Home demolitions, the denial of water rights, and the institutionalized torture of Palestinians continued. Instead of the projected withdrawal of the Israeli military from the occupied territories, the world witnessed a nakedly brutal state of siege. Each "confidence building" stage was obstructed by Israel, and Palestinians who had watched this rightfully felt less trustful and more angry. Ashrawi echoes this despair of never-ending waiting: “Palestinian people seem to have lost faith in the peace process, having waited for seven years after the signing of the Oslo accords and realized that Israel has no intention to honor its commitments.” (Frontline magazine, India, Oct. 28, 2000, http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl1722/17220120.htm)

During the Clinton-brokered peace initiative, Barak proposed something that was less honorable, less than the moth-eaten 20% of the historical Palestine. There would be corridors connecting the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories to Israel proper. Jerusalem would remain the undivided city under Jewish tutelage. The grand Israeli strategy was to reduce Palestine to the status of a "Bantustan.” Ashrawi said that Barak had "managed to rob the peace process of any credibility, any legitimacy, any substance and any relationship to reality". Worse still, he let the genocidal maniac Sharon visit the Haram al-Sharif, an event that triggered the birth of the Second Intifada and his own ‘political Waterloo.’. Soon thereafter, Barak mobilized his IDF on “an all-out war against the Palestinian people." [7] Rather than a construction of ‘Peace’ he dug the ‘Grave of Peace.’

However, as usual, the victims of Barak’s onslaught by IDF were blamed for causing the unrest. The ‘blame-game’ was so ludicrous that even the Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami was reported to have said, “accusations made by a well-established society about how a people it is oppressing is breaking rules to attain its rights do not have much credence." These words were not spoken by Edward Said or Hannan Ashrawi or any other eloquent Palestinian intellectual; they were uttered by the Israeli Foreign Minister. (Time Online Edition, Feb. 13, 2001, http://www.time.com/time/columnist/karon/article/0,9565,99250,00.html)

And what to say about the mediator –” the USA? As expected, she was not neutral; she was so biased to the Israeli position that before the Israeli team put up their demands, the American delegates had already relayed the same earlier to the Palestinian delegates. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, truly, the US has allowed claims of Israeli "security" to trump every Palestinian motion towards statehood and independence. The failure of the Oslo Accords brought Washington’s complicity and biasness in the Israeli occupation into unusually sharp focus before the world. So when Dr. Ashrawi, an inside observer, living inside the Apartheid state, stated the obvious – that "the Peace Process has lost its credibility" – she hit on a truth that was difficult for many hypocrites to swallow. Such statements by Ashrawi don’t make her an anti-peace activist, something that Wertheimer tried to sound. That is calling ‘a spade a spade.’

In her speech at the U Penn, Philadelphia, on October 25, 2000, Dr. Ashrawi envisioned that a future Palestinian state, in contrast to the Jewish State of Israel, would be a non-racial and democratic republic; a state that won’t deny or limit the rights of citizen’s on religious or racial grounds. [8] This pluralist vision for an independent Palestine is something that none of the Israeli leaders are ready to commit to in their part of the territory. And then to complain that Dr. Ashrawi is against finding a permanent peace in the region is a mere hogwash.

Rather than questioning Ashrawi’s sincerity for finding peace in the Occupied Territories, a more appropriate question would have been: Did Mr. Sharon, the current Israeli PM, ever accept the Oslo Accords? The answer is a resounding ‘No.’ How about the vast majority of the Israelis? How sincere were they in their desire for peace? If the Israeli people genuinely opted for the implementation of the Oslo Accord, why did they then elect Sharon, a war criminal with a history of massacre of thousands of Palestinian people, adjudicated to be "personally responsible" by Israel’s own Kahane commission of enquiry, and one who opposed the Oslo Accords, to power?

Has Sharon, the war criminal, evolved into a dove now? No. Even before the so-called Palestinian Roadmap was launched by the Quartet, Sharon and his militant Jewish ministers were complaining. Sharon was quoted in B’sheva, an Israeli weekly newspaper, as saying, “I am here to preserve the land of Israel, not divide it…. After all, nothing will come out of this Road Map planning anyway…” [9] What’s that ‘land of Israel’ he was talking about? It was everything from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. His Minister of Tourism Benny Elon, who is also the leader of the neo-fascist National Union, was on a tour of the U.S. in May ’03 promoting his program of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as the only solution. Joining Elon’s plan were Martin Peretz, publisher of the New Republic, and officials of the Christian Coalition and the Christian Broadcasting Network, as well as Garry Bauer and Christian talk show host Janet Parshall. (Interestingly, Ronn Torossian, Elon’s spokesman, is also the media director of the Christian Coalition. Revs. Falwell and Robertson are Elon’s hosts.)

In total contempt for the ‘Roadmap,’ Sharon is expanding the Settlement activities. Knowing the strength of the neocons within the Bush Administration and the support base from evangelical Christians, his own deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, among many Likudniks, is now openly calling for cementing the dream of Eretz Israel. Independence of Palestine is an oxymoron to this bunch of Zionists. Their activities only remind me of the remark of Bertrand Russell, who on January 31, 1970, said: “Traditionally, the imperial power wishes to consolidate its authority with the least difficulty by appealing to reason and negotiations what it has taken by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. Every experience is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.” How well his remark fits the Israeli official policy! After 1948, came the 1956- and 1967- wars of aggression, followed still by the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, every time taking the Israeli border further out, and every time uprooting a people from its ancestral homes to make such territories exclusively for Jews; a simple race-based solution to her annexation policy. During the ensuing negotiations that were to follow, Israel would always speak from position of strength, thus, limiting the discussion to her latest excesses.

Through a very calculated measure, Sharon’s government has ensured that Arafat is reduced to a man without any ‘real’ authority, with his security forces totally destroyed by Israeli bombs and bulldozers, a fact that has been validated by EU. There is no police station that is intact. (So, when Bush complains about Arafat’s inability to rein in on the so-called Palestinian ‘terrorists’ one cannot shy away from entertaining negative thoughts about either his mental health or the quality of education in Harvard. Which one is at fault?) Sharon openly called for the murder of Arafat and laments the fact that in the early ’80s, he did not complete this task in Beirut. Can anyone imagine this coming out from the elected Prime Minister of a state that calls itself the ‘only democracy’ and above all, ‘an outpost of civilization’ in the Middle East? This overt declaration to murder the elected leader of the Palestinian people is so immoral that when the UN General Assembly voted to condemn Israel’s decision, there were 133 votes in favor and only 4 in opposition. (Besides Israel, the opponents included the US, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.)

Since his coming to power, Sharon has demolished some 4000 Palestinian homes. [10] He is starving Palestinians to death. A UN report, by Jean Ziegler, a Swiss sociologist and UN special envoy, blames Israel’s security policies for “collective punishment” of the Palestinians. The 25-page report says 22% of Palestinian children under the age of five suffer severe malnutrition, and most families have only one meal a day. “The Occupied Palestinian Territories is on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the extremely harsh military measures imposed by the occupying Israeli military forces since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000,” the report warns.[11]

The Apartheid Wall is constructed, more Palestinian land seized, more settlements built, more orchards and commercial centers destroyed, many leaders of the resistance movement assassinated, thousands detained, bombs and shells dropped indiscriminately on civilian targets – all these in violation of scores of international laws and Geneva Convention. Just in the Rafah refugee camp alone recently, IDF demolished hundreds of homes making nearly 1300 people homeless, notwithstanding the murder of nearly a dozen people. In its Oct. 13 press release, the Amnesty International declared, “Such wanton destruction is unlawful and constitutes a war crime.” [12] Only a dim-witted person can believe in the sincerity of the Israeli government towards establishment of a Palestinian state within the borders of the pre-’67 (now Occupied) Territories of West Bank and Gaza. And Prof. Ashrawi is no fool. She has studied the Israeli policy of ‘annexation and slow but sustained death’ of her people for too long to be fooled by all the shenanigans and hypocrisies. As a genuine human rights activist and intellectual, she has tried to open our eyes to the realities of her dispossessed people. She is not against a peaceful coexistence but understands that there can never be peace without justice. Hers is a noble cause and should be applauded and helped, not abused.

I support Premier Bob Carr’s decision to honor a genuine peace activist like Ms. Ashrawi and deplore Turnbull’s hypocrisy. People like Wertheim shut their eyes to the marauding activities of their co-religionists in the Jewish state and, instead, opt for finger-pointing those who resist such abuses of human rights and international laws. They should be ashamed of their abhorrent behavior. That kind of partisan attitude is simply immoral and should be shunned.

Notes:

[1] A letter to the editor of SMH was sent by this writer, Oct. 24, 2003, which commented on Wertheim’s objections to Prof. Ashrawi’s receiving of the Sydney Peace Prize.

[2] These are the exact terms by which Netanyahu, Sharon and Likudniks described the Palestinian people.

[3] The information on the NY Times came from NPR. The NY Times has the largest circulation of all newspapers in the USA.

[4] European Jewish migration to Palestine was facilitated during the British Mandate that increased the Jewish population from a mere 60,000 in 1917 to 600,000 in 1947. The ownership of the land increased from 2.5% to 6%. Notwithstanding these facts, on Nov. 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the UN, under heavy pressure from USA, Europe and USSR, despite strong opposition from all Arab, Asiatic (except the Philippines) and African (except S. Africa and Liberia) countries, recommended that a “Jewish State” be established in Palestine. It allotted 56% of Palestine to the Jews (comprising then only 32% of the population in Palestine). Before the British mandatory rule ended on May 15, 1948, Zionists seized 80.48% of the total land. But the land by itself was not enough for them; it had to uproot its Palestinian people. And this it did by terrorizing Arabs. In one village alone (Deir Yassin) they massacred every man, woman and child of its 254 inhabitants on April 9, 1948. During this process, they evicted 770,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homes. Of the occupied 524 villages, the Israelis completely destroyed 385 villages.

[5] See “Abusing Anti-Semitism” by Ran HaCohen, www.antiwar.com (Sept. 29, 2003)

[6] See Gulf News, Oct. 5, 2003: “Israel accused of starving West Bank.”

[7] This was the remark of Saab al-Arakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

[8] http://www.campaigntoendthesanctions.org/ashwari.htm

[9] The statement was cited by Haggai Segal in B’sheva, an Israeli weekly newspaper.

[10] See the reports from the recently concluded Jerusalem Summit. http://www.israelunitycoalition.com/jerusalemSummit/main.htm

[11] The Amnesty International, Press Release of Oct. 13, 2003: “Israel/Occupied Territories: Wanton destruction constitutes a war crime”

[12] Gulf News, Oct. 5, 2003: “Israel accused of starving West Bank.”

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