I’m not Israeli. I’m not Palestinian. Nor Jewish, nor Arab, nor Muslim. I’ve never been to Jerusalem, nor Ramallah. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go there. I have no relatives who live there, no family who ever went there, or came from there. I have a friend who lives there, but I only knew him when we were children in Calcutta more than forty years ago. I don’t remember what he looks like.
It is a fair question: why do you care so much about Israel and the Palestinians? If you care about humanity, why not concentrate on the Great Lakes of Africa, where close to six million people have been killed between 1998 and the present in what is called Africa’s World War? [The six million figure is from the International Rescue Committee. It is contested by the Human Security Project, whose own numbers suggest that the excess mortality in the Congo is less than one million]. Of course I care about this war, which is far greater in scale than what is ongoing in Gaza and the West Bank (the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories is less than the maximum estimate for mortality in the Congo, and the lower estimate is twice the population of Gaza). I do not see the Israeli exertions in the Occupied Territories as especially different from the U. S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance.
My investment in Israel is, however, not simply the same as my interest in other injustices, in other places. There is a particular set of reasons why I am invested in the struggles of the Palestinian against Israeli excesses:
(1) As an American.
For several years now I’ve been on the board of the National Priorities Project (nationalpriorities.org). We collect federal data to show how poorly our taxes are spent by the government, with so much more on guns than on anything else. The U. S. now spends half of the total world’s military expenditure, and holds an arsenal that is capable of total planetary annihilation. Actual U. S. military spending is at about 7.5% of the Gross Domestic Product, which is far more than ever before. There is an asinine view that such expenditure leads to the “military multiplier.” Certainly this is somewhat true of military spending (that there are ancillary industries that benefit from this expenditure), but the scale of the military’s place at the trough outweighs this point.
I don’t see military expenditure as irrational. It is perfectly rational for an irrational system. Our ruling class prefers to engineer stability through forms of military expenditure than through any spending that increases social solidarity (universal health care, robust public education from the crèche to the Ph. D., and so on). In fact, the ruling class sees any such social solidarity spending as a rebuke to its own resplendent superiority – any idea of social fellowship might turn the cramped Coach passengers against the First Class section. The obscenity is made normal to prevent us individuals from forming a true society (to reverse Margaret Thatcher’s dictum, “You know, there is no such thing as society. Only individual men and women, and there are families”).
A section of the U. S. government’s budget (funded by my taxes as well) goes to military forces outside the United States. This too is not an irrational expenditure. In 1968, Samuel Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies argued that formerly colonized states had only one institution capable of being the agent of social modernization: the military. In a weird way, Huntington’s book was an indictment of colonialism, which had otherwise conducted socio-cide in its colonies. Huntington and his colleague Lucien Pye made the case for U. S. support toward the process of “military modernization.” Thus, so much of our tax money went to insalubrious regimes, from Pinochet to Suharto, and now to formal non-military regimes that are equally authoritarian, such as Mubarak’s Egypt, and, dare I say it, Netanyahu’s Israel.
Mubarak turns his U. S. funded arsenal against his own people, and to block the Gaza-Egypt border; Netanyahu uses his own war toys against the benighted Palestinians, which, in turn holds the Israeli population in physical and moral hostage in its hyper-militarized neighborhood. Egypt gets close to $2 billion, more than half in direct military aid and the rest in economic aid that allows the Egyptian government to siphon off its own resources to internal security and arms procurement. It is a ghastly situation. Until Iraq, Israel was the largest recipient of U. S. aid, over $100 billion over the past fifty years, with half that amount in military aid. Over the past ten years, economic aid to both Egypt and Israel has gone down as military aid has escalated. In 2008, for instance, the U. S. gave Israel $2.38 billion in military aid, and virtually no money in economic aid (or what is known as Economic Support Funds — $39.7 million went to Migration and Refugee Assistance).
I just finished reading Norman Finkelstein’s ‘This Time We Went Too Far’: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion (O/R, 2010) and large sections of the report by Sir Richard Goldstone. Norman Finkelstein has unjustly been tarred and feathered as unreliable. Reading his book, one cannot understand why this is so. It is forensic and cautious. Finkelstein bases his assessment on the reports of various establishment human rights organizations, the United Nations, the Goldstone report and the voices of Israeli soldiers. There are not as many adjectives as one might want to use to describe the outrage that was the so-called “war” on Gaza (2009). More invective can be found in Ha’aretz, from such writers as Amira Haas and Gideon Levy. Finkelstein takes the 594-page Goldstone report and writes what amounts to a 154-page executive summary, with a wonderful epilogue that gives us a sense of why there has been such a torrent against Goldstone, himself a respected South African jurist and a life-long Zionist. Goldstone demolished the Israeli myths about the “war,” showing how there was no reason for Operation Cast Lead, no reason to use Israel’s immense military power (funded and supplied by the U. S.) against a largely de-militarized civilian population. The Goldstone report calls the blockade illegal, berates Israel for targeting civilians, and for its use of white phosphorus. The report goes into minute detail into how Israel needlessly attacked al-Maqadmah mosque, al-Fakura school and other such places. The accumulated evidence led Goldstone to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.
The destruction of Gaza is not in Goldstone’s ambit. It was already a shell of a society. Joe Sacco’s remarkable graphic non-fiction, Footnotes in Gaza (Metropolitan Books, 2009) depicts the cartoonist’s visit to the strip in 2002 and 2003. Sacco goes to investigate the massacre of some Palestinians by the Israeli army in 1956. But to get that story he has to tell us of the dreary state of affairs in contemporary Gaza. All this is before the Hamas take-over in 2007, and long before the war of 2009. Even then things are miserable. As they were in 1956. The people of Gaza, a large slum more than anything else, have not caught a break. Finkelstein traveled there in June 2009, six months before the invasion, and he too details the pitiful conditions. But the people of Gaza remain resilient, “No Palestinians I met evinced anger or sorrow at what happened. People appeared calmly determined to resume life, such as it was, before the invasion [during Sharon’s reign], although the continuing blockade weighed heavily on them.” The people in Sacco’s comic are equally human, but one can sense the anger, the frustration, and the futility. A recurrent theme in Sacco’s comic is the bulldozing of homes by the Israeli Defense Forces. There is an image of a woman talking to Sacco in her home, with a massive bulldozer pulverizing homes not far away. She says, “We’ve moved away and come back, moved away and come back. If we had money, we would have rented somewhere else long ago. What would you do in my place?” Not long after, her home is gone. I have a book-shelf full of such accounts. They are intolerable to read.
All this is a consequence not only of the right-wing capture of public opinion and the State in Israel, but also because of the callous green light from Washington, and its greenbacks. What outrages me is just this, that the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is underwritten by my taxes. The U. S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P. L. 87-195) offers a caveat for military finance. “No assistance may be provided under this part [of the law] to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” The self-righteous indignation of the U. S. ruling establishmnet is reserved for the suicide bomber; nothing of any consequence is said of the illegal use of tax money to fund Israel’s human rights violations.
(2) As an Indian.
In 2003, I wrote a book published in India called Namaste Sharon: Hindutva and Sharonism Under US Hegemony (LeftWord). When the parties of political Hinduism took control of New Delhi in 1998, their main leaders turned to Tel Aviv for inspiration. The BJP, which is programmatically given over to Islamophobia, developed an understanding that the Israelis had found a magical solution to their own neighborhood, and to their domestic Arab population, which could be emulated for South Asia and India. What Israel had devised was an iron fist in the neighborhood, including a Wall around its territory, with the promise to its domestic Arabs of expulsion or a swift clobbering if they made any noises toward multi-culturalism or equality. The main admirer of the Israeli Road was the BJP’s leader, L. K. Advani, who came to Tel Aviv to draw some of Netanyahu’s strength. In 1995, Advani went to Israel, took notes from his visit to the Generals and Spooks, and returned to India filled with the vocabulary of hot pursuit and terrorism. Five years later, Advani returned to Israel, this time as India’s Home Minister. At the Indian Embassy, Advani said, “In recent years we have been facing a growing internal security problem. We are concerned with cross-border terrorism launched by proxies of Pakistan. We share with Israel a common perception of terrorism as a menace, even more so when coupled with religious fundamentalism. Our mutual determination to combat terrorism is the basis for discussions with Israel, whose reputation in dealing with such problems is quite successful.” Advani earned Netanyahu’s smile.
Israel sent a slew of Mossad agents into India to give the party of political Hinduism a hand. Israel’s former Ambassador to India, Yehoyada Haim acknowledged that the Israelis helped India during the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan, and other such moments, but hastily pointed out, “The less we said about these matters, the better for both our countries.” My book was written to lay out some of these connections, most of them facilitated by Advani and his ideological doppelgänger, Netanyahu. In 2000, Haim spoke highly of the Indian many consider to be close to Likud, “Mr. Advani is a very unique man. I like him very much. Ideologically and personally he reminds me of some people from an earlier generation of Israelis. He was very happy as he could personally see the methods we’ve developed to fight terrorism. He also met Mossad’s head. Now, we’re going to examine what counter-terrorism methods are appropriate for India. For example, Israel is totally fenced by the most sophisticated electronic fences, but how can India achieve that in a jungle or high up on a mountain? The head of Mossad took down notes and is now doing his homework (on India).”
Not only did the BJP import Mossad-type methods to deal with terrorism, but the political Hindu parties have also adopted Tel Aviv’s geopolitical theory of terrorism. And more practically, during the BJP reign, and even under the subsequent Congress rule, India has become a major importer of Israeli arms. In 2009, bilateral military trade between the two countries reached $9 billion. India is one of the main customers of the Israeli weapon’s industry, another subsidy provided from afar for the occupation of the moth-eaten Palestinian territory. It should be said that whereas the BJP is eager for an ideological convergence with Tel Aviv (as I argue in Namaste Sharon), the Congress is not so clear. As Yiftah Shapir of Tel Aviv University’s Insitute for National Security Studies puts it, India is a not a reliable ally since it has not fully “given up its non-aligned identity….India’s behavior in international forums does not indicate that it can be relied on to help Israel in any difficult situation. India’s position on all aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict is not a neutral one, rather is decidedly pro-Palestinian.” A true friend of Israel is one who would bend knee to its every whim, viz. the U. S. India does not yet qualify.
I write about Israel to debunk its myth. It has not been able to subdue the Palestinian spirit, or the Palestinian political world, or the threat of violence against its own citizens. Rather, the Israeli military has only been able to put its foot on the throat of the Palestinians, who as yet are able to voice their complaints, and scream their dreams. I don’t believe that New Delhi can learn any lessons from Tel Aviv. The outrageousness of Indian military actions in Kashmir and the unnecessary exertions against the tribals in central India are examples of India’s own excesses. It needs little assistance. Other examples are necessary for a progressive solution: political settlements, acknowledgement of mutual complaints and mutual interests.
I also write about Israel in the hope that others will join in the campaign to end our subsidy for its human rights violations, this both from the U. S. taxpayer and from the Indian government (in the arms purchases). Israel is dependent on the U. S. taxpayer. Its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is only possible because of the U. S. disbursement. Absent our monetary support, it will be not able to continue in the current manner.
I suppose I also write as a human being. But there is nothing special about Israel’s actions here. It is simply one more example of modern violence. As Jigar put it five decades ago,
Kya qayamat hai ke is daur-e-taraqqi mein, Jigar
Aadmi se aadmi ka haq ada hota nahin.
How tragic, Jigar, that in this Progressive Age,
People do not follow the role assigned to Humans.
VIJAY PRASHAD is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at: email@example.com