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ZNET (Marxist web site) INTERVIEW WITH TANYA REINHART (TAU, linguistics)

ZNET INTERVIEW WITH TANYA REINHART

November 8, 2002

 

ISRAEL/PALESTINE - How to End the War of 1948, by Tanya Reinhart Seven Stories Press http://www.sevenstories.com

Available also at amazon.com, and several other distributors.

 

 

Q: Can you tell  ZNet,  please,  what  your  new  book,  "Israel/ Palestine - How to End the War of 1948," is  about?  What  is  it trying to communicate?

 

R: Israel - backed by mainstream Western media  - describes its war against the Palestinians as a war of defense, a  necessary response to Palestinian terror, a noble instance  of  the  global war against terrorism. It is amazing how still now, after two years of massive Israeli destruction of the Palestinian  society, so little  is  known  about  the  real  facts  of  how  this  war developed, and what Israel's role in it is. The first aim of this book is to bring these facts to light.

 

The book follows Israel's policies over  the  three  years  since Ehud Barak became prime minister, until the  summer  of  2002-the darkest period  in  the  history  of  Israel  so  far.  Based  on information available in abundance in the Israeli media,  we  can track a shift of policy right at the start of  this  period  -  a shift away from the Oslo conception, which dominated since  1993. This is, of course, a long story, documented  in  detail  in  the book, but let me give you the gist of it.

 

Ever since the Palestinian territories were occupied in 1967, the Israeli military and political elites have deliberated  over  the question how to  keep  maximum  land  (and  water)  with  minimum Palestinian population. A simple solution of annexing the heavily populated Palestinian land  would  have  created  a  "demographic problem"  -  the  fear  that  a  Jewish  majority  could  not  be sustained. Therefore, two basic approaches were formed. The  Alon plan of the Labor party proposed annexation of 35-40  percent  of the territories, and either a Jordanian rule,  or  some  form  of autonomy for the rest of  the  land,  to  which  the  Palestinian residents will be confined. In the eyes of its  proponents,  this plan represented a necessary compromise. They believed  it  would be  inconceivable  to  repeat  the   "solution"   of   the   1948 Independence war, when much of the land was obtained "Arab-free", following mass expulsion of the Palestinian residents. The second approach, whose most vocal spokesman was Sharon, strived  to  get more. In its extreme realization it maintained that it should  be possible to  find  more  acceptable  and  sophisticated  ways  to achieve a 1948 style" solution. It would  only  be  necessary  to find another state for as many Palestinians as possible.  "Jordan is Palestine" was the phrase Sharon coined in the 1980's.

 

In 1993, in Oslo, it seemed that the Alon  plan  triumphed.  This was enabled also  by  Arafat's  cooperation.  In  the  past,  the Palestinians always opposed the Alon plan,  which  robs  them  of much of their land. But in 1993 Arafat was  about  to  loose  his grip on Palestinian society, with endless protest  over  his  one man rule, and the corruption of his  organizations.  An  apparent "smashing victory" seemed the only thing that could save  him  in power. Behind the back of the local Palestinian negotiating  team headed by Haider Abd al-Shafi, Arafat accepted an agreement  that leaves all Israeli settlements intact even  in  the  Gaza  strip, where 6000 Israeli settlers occupy one third of the land,  and  a million Palestinians are crowded in the rest. As  years  went  by since Oslo, Israel extended the "Arab-free" areas in the occupied Palestinian territories to about 50% of the land.  Labor  circles began to talk about the "Alon Plus" plan, namely - more lands  to Israel. However, it appeared that they  would  still  allow  some Palestinian self-rule in the other 50%, under conditions  similar to the Bantustans in South Africa.

 

On the eve of the Oslo agreements, the majority of Israelis  were tired of war. In their eyes, the fights over land  and  resources were over. Haunted by the memory of the Holocaust, most  Israelis believe that the 1948 war  of  independence,  with  its  horrible consequences for the Palestinians, was necessary to  establish  a state for the Jews. But now that they have  a  state,  they  just long to live normally  on  whatever  land  they  have.  Like  the majority of Palestinians, the  Israeli  majority  let  itself  be fooled into believing that what  we  were  witnessing  were  just "interim agreements" and  that  eventually  the  occupation  will somehow end, and the settlements wiil be  dismantled.  With  this conception of what is ahead, two third  of  the  Jewish  Israelis supported the Oslo agreements in the polls. It was  obvious  that there was no majority for any new war over land and water.

 

But the ideology of war over land never died out in the army,  or in the circles of politically influential generals, whose careers moved from the military to the government. From the start of  the Oslo process, the maximalists objected to giving even  that  much land and rights to the Palestinians. This  was  most  visible  in military circles, whose most vocal spokesman was  then  chief  of staff, Ehud Barak, who objected to the Oslo agreements  from  the start. Another beacon of opposition was, of course, Ariel Sharon.

 

In 1999, the  army  got  back  to  power  through  the  political generals - first Barak, and then Sharon (the book  surveys  their long history of collaboration). The road was open to correct what they view as the grave mistake of Oslo. In their  eyes,  Sharon's alternative of fighting the Palestinians to the  bitter  end  and imposing new regional orders may have failed in Lebanon  in  1982 because of the weakness of ?spoiled  Israeli  society.  But  now, given the new war philosophy established  through  U.S.  military operations  in  Iraq,  Kosovo,  and,  later,   Afghanistan,   the political  generals  believe  that  with  Israel's  massive   air superiority, it might still be possible to execute  that  vision. However, in order  to  get  there,  it  was  first  necessary  to convince  the  "spoiled"  Israeli  society  that,  in  fact,  the Palestinians are not willing to live  in  peace,  and  are  still threatening Israel's very existence. Sharon alone could not  have possibly achieved that, but Barak did succeed with his  "generous offer" fraud.

 

By now, much was written already about Barak's non-offer in  Camp David. Nevertheless, a careful examination of the information  in Israeli media reveals more about the extent of the fraud,  and  a chapter in the book surveys all the  details.  In  fact,  Barak's Camp David was the second round of his mastery  of  deception  of public opinion. Several months  before,  he  did  the  same  with Syria, letting Israelis and the  world  believe  that  Israel  is willing to withdraw from the occupied Syrian  Golan  Heights.  In the  polls,  60%  of  the  Israelis  supported   enthusiastically dismantling all settlements in the Golan Heights. But the  end  of this round of peace negotiations was just the same as  the  later end of the negotiations with the  Palestinians.  Israelis  became convinced that the rejectionist Asad i would not  be  willing  to get his territories back and make peace with Israel. Since  then, the possibility of war with Syria has been in the  air.  Military circles explain openly that "Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are trying to trap Israel in a 'strategic ambush' and  that  Israel  has  to evade that ambush by setting one of its own... The  circumstances could be created during or near the end of an American  offensive against Iraq" (Amir Oren, Ha'aretz, July 9, 2002).

 

On September 28, 2000, Sharon, with  Barak's  approval,  threw  a match into the boiling  frustration  which  was  accumulating  in Palestinian  society,  with  his  provocative  visit  to   Temple Mount/Haram  al-Sharif.  The   massive   security   forces   that surrounded him used rubber bullets against unarmed demonstrators. When these events triggered further demonstrations the next  day, Barak escalated the shooting and ordered Israeli forces and tanks into densely populated Palestinian areas. By all indications, the escalation of Palestinian protest into armed clashes  could  have been prevented had the Israeli  response  been  more  restrained. Even in the face of armed resistance, Israel's reaction has  been grossly out of proportion, as stated by the General  Assembly  of the UN, which condemned Israel's "excessive  use  of  force",  on October 26, 2000.

 

Israel defines its military action as a necessary defense against terrorism. But in fact, the first Palestinian terrorist attack on Israeli civilians inside Israel occurred  on  November  2,  2000. That was after a month during which Israel used its full military arsenal against  civilians,  including  live  bullets,  automatic guns, combat helicopters, tanks, and missiles.

 

What is particularly astounding is that most the  military  plans underlying Israel's actions in the  coming  months,  had  already been conceived right at the start, in October 2000 including  the destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure ("Field of  Thorns" plan). The political strategies aimed at discrediting Arafat  and the Palestinian Authority were also ready right from  the  start. Barak's political circles prepared  a  manuscript  known  as  the "White Book", which announced that Arafat had never deserted  the "option of violence".

 

Amid the propaganda, a theme that had already emerged in  October 2000 was the analogy linking present circumstances to the war  of 1948. Major General Moshe Ya'alon, then  deputy  chief  of  staff (and the present  chief  of  staff),  explained  that  "this  was Israel's  most  critical  campaign  against   the   Palestinians, including Israel's Arab population, since the 1948 war - for him, in fact, it is the second half of  1948"  (Amir  Oren,  Ha'aretz, November 17, 2000). After two years of brutal Israeli  oppression of the Palestinians, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that  the leading military and political circles in  Israel  that  produced this analogy still believe that "the second half" - a  completion of the ethnic cleansing that started in 1948 - is  necessary  and possible.

 

My second aim in the book is to show that despite the horrors  of the last two years, there is still also another alternative  open to  end  the  war  of  1948  -  the  road  of  peace   and   real reconciliation. It is amazing how simple and feasible would be to achieve  that.  Israel  should  withdraw  immediately  from   the territories occupied  in  1967.  The  bulk  of  Israeli  settlers (150,000 of them) are concentrated in the big  settlement  blocks in the center of the West bank. These areas cannot  be  evacuated over night. But the rest of the land (about 90% - 96% of the West bank  and  the  whole  of  the  Gaza  strip)  can  be   evacuated immediately. Many  of  the  residents  of  the  isolated  Israeli settlements that are scattered in these areas are speaking openly in the Israeli media about  their  wish  to  leave.  It  is  only necessary to offer them reasonable compensation for the  property they will be leaving behind.  The  rest  -  the  hard-core  ?land redemption fanatics - are a negligible minority that will have to accept the will of the majority.

 

Such immediate withdrawal would still leave under debate the 6 to 10 percent of the West bank with the large settlement blocks,  as well as the issues of Jerusalem and the  right  of  return.  Over these, serious peace negotiations should start.  However,  during these negotiations Palestinian society could begin to recover, to settle  the  land  that  the  Israelis  evacuated,  to  construct democratic institutions, and to develop its economy based on free contacts with whomever it wants. Under  these  circumstances,  it should be possible to address the core issue of what is the right way for two peoples who share the  same  land  to  jointly  build their future.

 

In Israel, the call for  immediate  withdrawal  is  drawing  some public support since Amy Ayalon  (former  head  of  the  security services) has openly called for it, and was  joined  in  February 2002 by the Council for Peace and Security - a body of about 1000 establishment members. To judge by the polls, this plan  has  the support of 60  percent  of  the  Jewish  Israelis.  This  is  not surprising, as it is the same majority that has been consistently supporting the dismantlement of  settlements  since  1993.  In  a Dahaf poll of May 6 2002, solicited  by  Peace  Now,  59  percent supported a unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli army  from  most of  the  occupied  territories,  and  dismantling  most  of   the settlements. They believe that this will renew the peace process, and that this  solution  is  the  most  hopeful  of  the  options outlined  in  the  survey.  This  majority  is,  of  course,  not represented at all by the political  system,  but  it  is  there.

 

 

Q: Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

 

R: I began writing the  book  during  the  first  months  of  the Palestinian uprising.  It  started  as  columns  in  the  Israeli Israeli  paper  Yediot  Aharonont,  and  more  extended  internet articles for Znet and Israel Indymedia, that were  following  the events as they took place. But I then extended the research  into a full coverage of the period. The first draft was  completed  in February 2002, and appeared in April in  French  as  Detruire  la Palestine, ou comment terminer la  guerre  de  1948  (France:  La Fabrique, 2002) The  present  English  version  covers  also  the period between April and the summer of 2002, when Israel  entered its new and most cruel stage of  the  destruction  of  Palestine, with its operation "Defensive Shield," and  the  horrors  in  the refugee camp of Jenin.

 

My major source of information  is  the  Israeli  media.  In  the Israeli papers you can find much more about what is going on than in any outside coverage. One often hears statements  interpreting this as signifying that the Israeli media  is  more  liberal  and critical than other Western media.  This,  however,  is  not  the explanation.  With  the  notable  exception  of  courageous   and conscientious journalists like Amira Hass Gideon Levi, and a  few others, the Israeli press is as obedient  as  elsewhere,  and  it recycles faithfully the military and governmental  messages.  But part  of  the  reason  it  is  more  revealing  is  its  lack  of inhibition. Things that would look outrageous in the  world,  are considered natural daily routine.

 

For example, on April 12, 2002, following the  Jenin  atrocities, Ha'aretz innocently reported what ?military sources had told  the paper: ?The IDF [Israeli army] intends to bury today  Palestinans killed in the West Bank camp The sources said that  two  infantry companies, along with members of  the  military  rabbinate,  will enter the camp today to collect the  bodies.  Those  who  can  be identified as civilians will be moved to a hospital in Jenin, and then on to burial, while those identified as terrorists  will  be buried at a special cemetery in the Jordan  Valley.?  Apparently, no one in Israel was particularly concerned  at  the  time  about issues of international law, war crimes and mass graves.  Israeli TV even showed, the evening before, refrigerator trucks that were waiting outside the Jenin camp to transfer  bodies  to  terrorist cemeteries?.. It was only after international attention began  to focus on Jenin that this information was  quickly  concealed  and reinterpreted using any absurd reasoning to explain that  nothing of the sort had  ever  happened.  This  is  how  the  respectable analyst Ze'ev Schiff of  Ha'aretz  later  summarized  the  event: Toward the end  of  the  fighting,  the  army  sent  three  large refrigerator trucks into the city. Reservists decided to sleep in them for their air conditioning. Some Palestinians saw dozens  of covered bodies lying in the trucks and  rumors  spread  that  the Jews had filled trucks full of Palestinian  bodies.""  (Ha'aretz, July 17, 2002).

 

 

Q: What are your hopes for Israel/Palestine - How to End the  War of 1948?  What  do  you  hope  it  will  contribute  or  achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you  have  for  the book, what will you deem to be a success? What  would  leave  you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

 

R: In the present political atmosphere  in  the  US  and  Europe, anybody who dares express  criticism  of  Israel  is  immediately silenced as an anti-Semite. Part of the reason  why  the  Israeli and  Jewish  lobby  has  been  so  successful  in  forcing   this accusation is the massive lack of knowledge about what is  really happening. Without the facts, the dominant narrative remains that Israel is struggling to  defend  its  mere  existence.  Attention focuses only on the horrible and despicable  Palestinian  terror, so that if you criticize Israel, you are  accused  of  justifying terror. My hope, then, is to give the readers the weapons to face such accusations - a detailed knowledge of the facts.

 

My second hope is to restore hope. As I said, a sane and rational solution is still possible. People have managed in  the  past  to move from a  history  of  bloodshed  into  peaceful  coexistence, Europe being the most well known  example.  After  two  years  of horror, a majority in both the Israeli and Palestinian people  is still willing to open a new page. I show this in  detail  in  the book, and I end the book with the story of the  many  Palestinian and Israeli activists who are struggling together  for  the  only future worth living - a future based on basic human values.  What is needed to give hope a chance is for the people of the world to intervene and stop the Israeli military  Junta,  which  does  not even represent the Israeli majority.

 

Finally, and perhaps most important, I try to give  some  picture of the Palestinian tragedy - the best I can  from  my  privileged position as a member of the oppressing  society.  With  the  U.S. backing, and the silence of the Western world, there is a serious danger that what we have seen so far is only the  beginning,  and that under the umbrella of a war in Iraq, the Palestinian  people may be destined to a choice  between  annihilation  or  a  second exile.  Arundhati  Roy's  description   of   the   situation   in Afghanistan at the time seems so painfully applicable to what the Palestinians are enduring: Witness the infinite  justice  of  the new century. Civilians starving to death while they  are  waiting to  be  killed.?  My  biggest  hope  and  plea  is  -  save   the Palestinians! Make 'stop Israel!' a part of any struggle  against the US war in Iraq. If the governments of the world will  not  do that, my hope is that the people of the world still can.

 

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