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Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud

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Were the Palestinians better off under Labor government than under Likud?

For many years, much of the Western world understood Israel based on a cluster of myths, from the early fables of the Zionists making the desert bloom, to Palestine supposedly being a land without people for a people without land. That intricately constructed and propagated mythology evolved over time, as Israeli hasbara labored to provide a perception of reality that was needed to justify its wars, its military occupation, its constant violations of human rights and its many war crimes. Persistent Israeli propaganda did a splendid job of preserving the image of Israel internationally, although the tide began turning a few years ago starting with the first major war on Gaza in 2008. Of course, the Israeli hasbara would not have survived a day if Western mainstream media had the willingness or the audacity to unabashedly present the truth about the situation in Palestine.

I talked to Dr. Ramzy Baroud a writer and a journalist to explain the myths and realities of Israeli State: the liberal democracy with major divisions between the Right and the Left.

Ramzy Baroud: One aspect of the Western perception of Israel is that the ‘Jewish-state’, which is also a ‘democracy’, has been experiencing a battle between rightwing ideologues, and liberal forces that have labored to preserve Israel’s democratic ideals. By advocating such nonsense, Israel’s image was largely preserved as that of a democratic society, where forces of good and evil, democratic and otherwise, right, left and center, often co-exist, and within that co-existence, democracy blossoms.

Souad Sharabani: As far as the treatment of Palestinians is concern have there been substantial differences between the Left/the Doves and the Right/ the Hawkes?

Ramzy Baroud: Such misrepresentations are always grossly at odds with the reality. Take any aspect of Israeli history that many even in the western hemisphere now see as immoral and inhumane – for example, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, the massacres of 1947-48, the racism against Palestinians who remained in today’s Israel after the exodus/Nakba, the illegal occupation of the West Bank, and Gaza, the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, the construction of the illegal settlements, the building of the Apartheid Wall, and, more recently, the wars on Gaza which killed over 4,000 people since 2008. If one objectively looks into which governments ruled and continue to rule Israel, and which have directed these horrific events, one would immediately abandon the notion that the Israeli ruling elites are divided between doves and hawks. The fact is it was the Mapai Party, which was later joined by other supposedly ‘progressive’ forces and joined the Labor Party in the 1960s, that has been responsible for most of the bloodletting, ethnic cleaning and illegal practices that have pushed the situation to this degree of desperation.

Souad Sharabani: When did the rightwing parties gain power in Israel?

Ramzy Baroud: The rightwing in Israel did not achieve prominence until the late 1970s. Prior to that Israel was ruled exclusively by Labor governments. Benjamin Netanyahu’s current rightwing government officials are by no means short of exacting utter cruelty in inhumaneness, and the reality is that this behavior is rooted in a political past. All of their racist ideas, militant outlooks, calls for violence and ethnic cleansing, and anti-peace agendas are either rooted in Labor government practices in the past, or are more or less agreed upon, often publically, by the current center and left parties. In other words, while Israeli elites may disagree on internal matters, there is hardly much disagreement on the occupation, the use of military force, the illegal settlements and the overall advocacy for racial superiority of Jews over non-Jews. What largely differs is the expression of their political discourses, never the outcomes.

Souad Sharabani: So why in the west people still believe the Labor Party was all about Peace?

Ramzy Baroud: That said, the fundamental reason why some insist on maintaining that myth – of the peace-loving Labor Party – is that some are still frenziedly promoting the idea that Israel is still governed by democratic forces, peace-loving parties and so on, which allows Western governments time and space to ignore the plight of the Palestinians. Rightwing leaders like Netanyahu and his utterly racist goons like Moshe Yaalon, Silvan Shalon, Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennet, who are constantly mouthing off racist and violent statements are an utter embarrassment to Europe – still a major supporter of Israel – and they make it very difficult for the United States to even sustain the charade of its peace process. The West longs for the days when Israel was governed by less belligerent sounding leaders, regardless of their violent agendas.

Souad Sharabani: Please explain to me what has Labor done to deserve the title Peace Loving Government?

Ramzy Baroud: Labor has no traction for Peace.

Labor governments in Israel, whether those that existed in the late 40s and 50s, or those that ruled under the leaderships of Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and so on, never truly showed any genuine sign that ending the occupation and granting Palestinians a form of real sovereignty was ever on their agendas. Don’t believe the hype. Rabin was given a Nobel Peace Prize after the 1993 signing of the Oslo accords despite the fact that Oslo did not give Palestinians sovereignty or even self-determination. Instead, it sliced up the West Bank into various zones, ultimately controlled by the Israeli army; and bribed some within the Palestinian elites with fake titles, VIP cards and mounds of money to play along. Rabin was killed by a rightwing zealot because as far as the religious and ultra nationalist camps in Israel were concerned, even such ‘concessions’ as a Palestinian flag and a national anthem, among other symbolic ‘achievements’ offered to the Palestinians by Oslo, were still considered a taboo.

Souad Sharabani: Tell us about the construction of Settlements in The West Bank and Gaza; were they the creation of the Right Wing Government or of Labor?

Ramzy Baroud: Due to most formations of rightwing governments, we always assume that the religious parties are entirely the work of the Likud. The fact is it was the Labor that gave the religious camp its prominence. Soon after the 1967 war, the Labor-led Israeli government unleashed settlement construction throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The early settlements had strategic military purposes, for the intent was to create enough Israeli settlements and presence on the ground to alter the nature of any future peace processes. Thus came into effect the Allon plan, named after Yigal Allon, a former general and minister in the Israeli government who took on the task of plotting an Israeli vision for the newly conquered Palestinian territories.

This plan sought to annex more than 30 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza for security purposes. It stipulated the establishment of a “security corridor” along the Jordan River, as well as outside the “Green Line”, a one-sided Israeli demarcation of its borders with the West Bank. The plan envisioned the incorporation of all of the Gaza Strip into Israel, and was meant to return parts of the West Bank to Jordan as a first step toward implementing the “Jordanian option” for Palestinian refugees. In effect, this was nothing but ethnic cleansing coupled with the creation of an ‘alternative homeland’ for Palestinians. Evidently, the plan failed, but not in its entirety. Palestinian nationalists ensured that no alternative homeland was ever to be realized, but the seizure, ethnic cleansing and annexation of occupied land was a resounding success.

Souad Sharabani: So returning the newly occupied territories was never the intention of the Labor government?

Ramzy Baroud: What was important and consequential, is that the Allon plan provided an unmistakable signal that the Labor government of Israel had every intention of retaining power, particularly in large parts of the West Bank and all of Gaza, and it further had no intention of honoring United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.

To capitalize on the government’s ‘alluring’ settlement policies in the West Bank, a group of religious Jews rented a hotel in the Palestinian town of Hebron to spend Passover at the Cave of the Patriarchs, and simply refused to leave, sparking the Biblical passion of religious orthodox Israelis across the country, who referred to the West Bank by its Biblical names, Judea and Samaria. Their move ignited the ire of Palestinians, who watched in complete dismay as their land was conquered, renamed and later settled on by outsiders. In 1970, to ‘diffuse’ the situation, the Israeli government constructed the Kiryat Arba settlement at the outskirts of the Arab city, which invited even more orthodox Jews to Hebron.

Allon’s plan may have been intended for strategic purposes, but soon after, what was strategic and political intermingled with what became religious and spiritual. Regardless, in the final analysis, Palestinians were losing their land at a rapid speed, a process that would eventually lead to major Israeli population transfers, initially to occupied East Jerusalem – which was itself illegally annexed shortly after the 1967 war – and eventually to the rest of the occupied territories. Over the years, the strategic settlement growth was complemented by the religiously motivated expansion, championed by a vibrant movement, and exemplified in the finding of Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) in 1974. The movement was on a mission to settle the West Bank with legions of fundamentalists.

Soud Sharabani for 30 years has been a freelance radio journalist based in Toronto Canada. She has worked for the CBC and BBC, as well as for PEN INTERNATIONAL.

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