While we wait for the other shoe to drop….


In this brief lull before the storm of rocketfire and aerial assualts that will undoubtedly be unleashed on the West Bank and Gaza tomorrow, after the Jewish Sabbath passes and following the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to revoke it’s ceasefire; in this pause between the first shoe dropping–the shocking suicide bombing that violently ended the lives of 17 children–18 if you count the bomber–and the second shoe of the IDF’s likely retaliation, let’s take time to reflect on some basic facts that no amount of bloodshed or media-spinning can change:

The ongoing occupation of Palestine by Israel is illegal, immoral, and retrograde. Israeli occupation is a strange survival of colonialism in the 21st century. Where else in the world do we hear of “settlements” and “settlers”? Where else in the world do soldiers and armed civilian groups take over hilltops, uproot trees and crops, steal water reserves, and block access to an indigenous population’s freedom of movement and right to earn a living, go to school, get to the doctor, or visit family and friends? The last place we witnessed human rights violations on this scale was in South Africa before the end of Apartheid. If it wasn’t right there, it isn’t right here. All humans deserve to live in dignity, whether their skin is black, white, or brown, whether their language is Hebrew, Arabic, or Russian.

Regardless of what the UN voted in late 1991, Zionism is, technically speaking, a form of racism. It is an ideology which clearly states that one group has more value, rights, and opportunities than another group. Although Israel is a democracy for its Jewish citizens, its Palestinian citizens (now comprising 20% of the Jewish State’s population) are not so lucky. Apologists for Zionism–many of them well-intentioned–plead that this ideology intended to distinguish, not to discriminate. Yet when one is on the receiving end of such legally codified and militarily backed “distinctions,” as one million Palestinians in Israel and nearly three million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are, the system certainly looks, feels, smells, and sounds like discrimination of the most rank variety. Recent academic studies by Israeli historians, sociologists, and anthropologists known collectively as “Post-Zionist Theorists” have outlined in intellectual terms what every Palestinian has known viscerally for more than half a century: This is an unjust system of structural violence and institutionalized discrimination that has dehumanized one group to the clear advantage of another group. Using the tragic and horrific deaths of the six million Jews who perished in the evil of the Nazi Holocaust to rationalize or justify the current dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians is, to say the least, in very bad taste. It dishonors the vast legions of innocent Jews slaughtered in the psychopathology that was the Nazi regime. Israel, as both a Jewish State and a Democratic State, has reached a crucial crossroad: to become more dictatorial, dehumanized, and violent, or to begin to adopt principles of universal human rights and truly democratic practices, first and foremost towards its own non-Jewish citizens. By painting Palestinians as “savages” incapable of civilized behavior or discourse, Israeli media spin, usually adopted and purveyed in an uncritical manner by western media agencies, will only ensure further human rights violations–perhaps even massacres–in the near future. Israel’s current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is no stranger to such dark deeds, after all.

US tax dollars pay for and enable Israel’s institutionalized racism and continuing human rights violations. US tax dollars pay for, deliver, and maintain the massive military machine that Israel has unleashed repeatedly on unarmed civilians in Lebanon, in the Galilee, and in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is guilty of a severe, consistent, and patterned violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory. These Conventions stipulate the proper behavior of an occupying force in the framework of International Law. Again and again, international human rights organizations, delegations of lawyers and physicians, journalists, and average people have found that Israel’s behavior as an occupying force is most improper. From its importation of its own population into the territories it occupies, to its use of indiscriminate military firepower on a civilian population, to its denial of Palestinians’ access to education, economic sustenance, medical care, natural resources, and religious sites, Israel is in grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and it is incumbent upon all High Contracting Parties to this Convention to hold Israel accountable. If they don’t or won’t, then let’s all practice more intellectual honesty and ask Kofi Annan to tear up this document on CNN once and for all.

What happened in Tel Aviv last night was indeed a vile act of terrorism and must be strongly condemned. The target was not a military installation or military personnel, but a group of innocent young people. There is no justification for this act, just as there is no justification for Israel’s use of F-16s on civilian neighborhoods or the institutionalized “closure” (the correct term is “siege”) of Palestinian towns and villages subjected to collective punishment by the IDF. The young man who executed the act of terror yesterday in Tel Aviv killed himself in the process. He knew well ahead of time that he would do so. That was his conscious intention. Imagine this young man’s state of mind. He strapped explosives on to his body and then coolly walked into a group of people and detonated himself. A living bomb. Does this act communicate hate and rage? Indubitably. But it also communicates a toxic level of frustration and hopelessness that no white, middle class American can begin to imagine. To quote the great African American poet, Langston Hughes, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun…or does it explode?” With yesterday’s shocking attack, we have the answer to this rhetorical question.

As long as Israel continues its illegal and unjust practices as an occupying power, as long as its state apparatus is built on the questionable foundations of institutionalized discrimination and structural violence, more and more young Palestinians will conclude that their futures are empty, their hopes aborted, their frustration unbearable. Israel has created a situation in which many people feel they have absolutely nothing to lose. The continuation of such a dangerous situation, as well as its reversal, is not in the hands of Yasir Arafat or the Palestinian Authority, a corrupt puppet regime to which Israel subcontracted much of the dirty work of its occupation, but in the hands of the Israeli Government and the one nation that funds and supports it unconditionally, the United States of America. After long experience, reflection, study, and discussion, it is this writer’s opinion that pressure on Israel can best be brought to bear through activism by informed citizens in the United States. We are paying for the political freak show that is the current Middle East. We fund it and support it and ship the lion’s share of arms to the region. It’s up to us to end the exploitation, discrimination, and explosions. And the time is now, before the other shoe drops. Not in our names should more children–Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or Druse–continue to die horrific deaths or live such depressing lives.

Laurie King-Irani, Ph.D, is the former editor of MERIP‘s Middle East Report and one of the founders of The Electronic Intifada – ElectronicIntifada.net.