Destroying Olive Branches in the Middle East
Many people like olives because they are delicious and produce wonderful oil. They were originally cultivated in Syria, Palestine and Crete and there is evidence that some existing trees are 2,000 years old, which is amazing.
But there aren’t any 2,000 year-old olive trees in Palestine, nowadays. Indeed there are very few left in the Palestinian lands that have been illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. Since then, the Israelis have destroyed 800,000 Palestinian olive trees and last week the Israeli army cut down another 52 in a village whose farmers are being driven into poverty by yet another vicious act of Israeli malice. The destruction was ignored by Western nations which claim they want a solution to what US Secretary of State Kerry calls a “puzzle where it is important to fit together all the pieces into a coherent whole.”
Yes, it’s a puzzle. But even Kerry, in an off-guard truthful moment, ventured to say that if there is no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state with second-class citizens.”
That was welcome acknowledgement of Israel’s intentions and arrogance, but Kerry withdrew his words when there were yelps of disapproval. The usual people protested and received the customary encouraging publicity that is given to Israel by the US media. Israel’s main representative in Congress, the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said it was “both offensive and inaccurate.” And the censure caused Kerry to announce that he, like almost every US politician, “will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes,” which, alas, was a statement made for partisan political purposes. He chose to ignore the fact that Israel is already an apartheid state where Palestinians are non-citizens.
There is nowhere else in the world, apart from Britain’s mediaeval Tribal Areas of Northern Ireland, where twenty-foot high concrete barriers separate peoples of different religions. But the Israelis go further, because their barricades exemplify apartheid which is “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.” Israel has 400 miles of walls separating Israel’s Jews from Palestine’s Arabs, and one of its latest extensions involves a village near Bethlehem which grows olives in “unique terraced hills built by hand over millennia.” Its irrigation system was built by the Romans and has lasted 2,000 years, but it’s going to be destroyed by the Israelis. And nobody will do anything about it.
There will not be a squeak of protest from any western country, least of all the United States whose legislative system is controlled by the Israeli lobby. The wealthy propaganda and lobbying machine, AIPAC, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, calls the shots in Washington and has given money to almost every Senator and Member of the House of Representatives. And why would it do that?
All decent people are in favour of donating to charities. But legislators of the US Congress are not charities. When they are given money by an organisation of any sort they are expected to produce results that are favourable to the donor — and in the case of AIPAC they certainly do that. President Obama isn’t a charity, either, and his speech to the 2011 AIPAC forum was grovelling and obsequious.
Obama declared that “I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. (Applause.) It’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels. (Applause) . . . Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we’re going to keep up the pressure . . . the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories . . .”
He continued his pathetic discourse by declaring that “I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland . . . [and] when an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it (applause).”
This was probably the most pitifully sycophantic speech ever made by a US president. But he needed AIPAC support for his re-election campaign the following year. And of course he got it.
Two days after Obama’s rejection of the Palestinian people the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressed both houses of Congress in a triumphant diatribe denying the rights of Palestinians. And for this he received adulation on a scale hitherto reserved for international figures of illustrious achievement.
Since 1824, when the French hero of the Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette, was the first distinguished foreigner invited to deliver a speech to America’s legislators, dignitaries from each of France and Britain have spoken at eight joint meetings of Congress, the greatest number of addresses by representatives of any countries (and Churchill’s three orations were historic) ; but there haven’t been any French or British luminaries welcomed in recent years.
So guess which country has been privileged to be awarded the next highest number of appearances in front of the legislators of the world’s greatest democracy.
Washington has laid out the Congressional carpet seven times for Israeli politicians, and Netanyahu leads with two imperial appearances. And after his last triumphant performance it was reported that “President Obama got 25 standing ovations from Congress during his 2011 State of the Union address. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got 29 today.”
It is barely credible that this brutally racist prime minister could receive such adulation from the massed representatives of a nation having a Declaration of Independence declaring that “unalienable Rights” include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Life? — A recent letter in Britain’s medical journal The Lancet notes that “the life expectancy table [for 187 countries, in the Global Burden of Disease Study] ranks healthy life expectancy at birth for men in Israel at ninth worldwide, compared with 86th for men in the neighbouring Occupied Palestinian Territory. Corresponding ranks for women are 12th and 97th, respectively. This astonishing gap highlights yet again the apartheid-like regime that is in place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We must all remember that the artificial boundaries currently in place between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories were not in place 60 years ago, so the sizeable life expectancy gap is a recent phenomenon.”
There is little liberty or happiness for Palestinians in their own country, because almost all Arab lands have been seized by the Jews. Yet Israel’s persecution of Palestinians meets with the wholehearted support of America’s government whose taxpayers give Israel over three billion dollars a year.
The bankrolled legislators of America’s Congress contemptuously ignore UN Security Council Resolutions about Palestinian rights. In 1979, with the US abstaining, the Council declared that “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
But UN resolutions mean nothing to Congress or presidents if they are critical of Israel. Election money is much more important. In total, Washington has vetoed 42 Council resolutions intended to curb or criticise Israeli excesses. And in his grovelling speech to AIPAC Barak Obama declared that “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — (applause).”
While the recent talks between Israel and Palestine were taking place the Israelis approved the illegal building of another 13,851 new settlement houses on Palestinian land. So the talks collapsed. They were never meant to succeed by either Washington or Tel Aviv.
You would think that Israel might want to come to some sort of equitable arrangement with the Palestinians. But Netanyahu will not consider any pact other than a one-sided declaration of total supremacy. He wants eradication of the Palestinian people. And Washington’s unconditional support for Netanyahu and his contemptible regime means that Israel will carry on its policy of apartheid, aided by hacking down the olive branches of peace. The Israelis will continue building illegal settlements and destroying the olive groves of Palestine.
Brian Cloughley lives in France.
A version of this piece appeared in The News (Pakistan) on 12 May.