Israel is gearing up to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its birth; six decades of destruction for the Palestinians, writes Khaled Amayreh
With spectacular fanfare and a plethora of highlighted events, Israel is planning to celebrate its 60th birthday on 18 May 2008.
According to an Israeli government website called Israelfestival.com, the festival will include "non-stop entertainment, [a] fashion show, a variety of ethnic food for sale, Israeli folk dancing, arts and crafts, Israeli and Jewish cultural and heritage pavilions and art exhibits".
The centrepiece ceremony is expected to take place in West Jerusalem and be attended by Israel's political and military leaders as well as foreign dignitaries. Among those expected are US President George W Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Israeli media and non-governmental organisations have already begun celebrations in earnest. For example, Israeli television has begun airing a new series called Shishim (meaning "60"), which looks back at the six decades since Israel was created in May 1948. The series, which began 31 March, is divided into six episodes, each devoted to one of the decades following the founding of the state.
Israel hopes that the high-pitched celebrations will serve as an opportunity to promote Israel and enhance its questionable standing abroad. "It is an opportunity to celebrate our achievements, our successes, our national being," boasted Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was not yet born in 1948.
From the Zionist viewpoint, Israel is a story of success. Today, Israel is a political and military force to be reckoned with, even if its power is based on the patronage of foreign entities. A country of no more than seven million people, including nearly 1.5 million non-Jews (mainly Palestinians), Israel more or less directs the politics and policies of world's only superpower, the United States, thanks mainly to powerful Jewish lobbies in Washington.
The power of the Jewish lobby largely explains how massive American financial and military support is to Israel, which is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars. Were it not for this nearly unlimited financial, economic, technological, political and military backing, Israel would never have been able to survive, especially given its predator tactics.
Israel, which has been mounting a vitriolic incitement campaign against Iran for its acquisition of nuclear technology, is a nuclear power on par with other established nuclear powers, and its military supremacy -- at least until summer of 2006 -- has covered the vast bulk of the Middle East from Turkey to Iran and from North Africa to east and central Africa.
Economically, Israel is also a regional economic superpower, with a GNP bordering on $0.5 trillion. In fact, Israel is among a few pioneering states in the field of electronics and the development of new generations of medicine, with Israeli pharmaceutical firms' share of the world market reaching billions of dollars.
Notwithstanding all its success and achievements, Israel remains a state based on racism, apartheid and criminality against the Palestinian people whose homeland it seized and whom it is trying to obliterate to this day. To be sure, Israel has failed. Palestinians remain, both as a human entity and as a national entity.
Israel, in order to achieve its goals, always sought to acquire, by hook or by crook, as much Palestinian land as possible while taking in as few Palestinian people as possible. The policies and tactics employed by Israel to achieve this goal are both blunt and insidious and amount to ethnic cleansing and the international crime of genocide. Israel has institutionalised racism, bulldozed hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages, shamelessly confiscated Palestinian land and property, including private homes, and recently built the so-called "Separation Wall" in the West Bank, aimed first and foremost at annexing to Israel as much Palestinian land as possible.
On top of all of this, Israel has perfected the practice of state-sponsored mass terror; a deliberate policy aimed at making Palestinian life as unbearable as possible with the ultimate goal of forcing Palestinians to leave their homes and land altogether. This is done in broad daylight; in full view of key world powers, such as the US, EU, Russia and China, which either keep silent or issue a few terse and innocuous words about the need to stick to a peace process that has form but very little substance.
Today, as Israel is getting ready to celebrate its 60th birthday, the massive theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem and its surroundings, continues unabated. Against all odds, the Palestinian people have survived. Indeed, Palestinian resilience to Israeli oppression is legendary -- a trait that continues to baffle and frustrate Israeli strategists. Perhaps it is this resilience that is encouraging influential Israeli political, military and religious leaders to openly call for genocide of the Palestinians.
Recently, Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai threatened to "inflict a greater holocaust" on Palestinians. Similarly, a growing number of rabbis associated with the two largest religious camps in Israel, the Haredi ultra-Orthodox religious sector and the national Zionist religious sector, issuing one edict after the other, permitting soldiers to murder at will Palestinian civilians, including children, on the grounds that in war all among the enemy population ought to be treated as combatants, including children.
One might imagine that this is exaggerated, but it is not. Recently Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, director of the Tsomet Institute, a religious seminary attended by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, declared: "All of the Palestinians must be killed; men, women, infants, and even their beasts." And the chief rabbi of the City of Safad, Shmuel Eliyahu, urged the state and the army recently to hang the children of a Palestinian fighter who last month attacked the Merkaz Haarav Centre, run for Jewish settlers in West Jerusalem, killing eight pre-military Talmudic students in retaliation for the killing by the Israeli army of more than 130 Palestinians, most of them innocent civilians, in the Gaza Strip.
The mushrooming of fascist impulses is not confined to the religious sector. In March, the Israeli media quoted Knesset members and former cabinet ministers as threatening to extend discriminatory laws against non-Jews in ways reminiscent of Nuremberg Laws passed in Nazi Germany. One Israeli Knesset member reportedly told his Arab colleague: "the day will come when we will kick you out of this house."
Such instances raise no eyebrows in a country where some rabbis, like David Batsri, openly teach that non-Jews are animals and donkeys. A recent opinion survey published this week showed that as many as 75 per cent of Israeli Jews support ethnic cleansing of Arabs from mandate Palestine -- Israel proper and the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Understandably, the poll drew angry reactions from the Israeli Arab community. Jamal Zahalqa, an Israeli Arab Knesset member, suggested that Arabs are being treated in ways similar to the way Jews were treated in the Third Reich ahead of World War II.
"The hateful smell of racism and fascism is wafting everywhere in this country. You must know that we didn't come to Israel from abroad... On the contrary; it was Israel that invaded us. We are the indigenous people of the land, and we receive our legitimacy from our belonging to this land, not from having Israeli citizenship," he said.
Zahalqa described the poll as "additional evidence underscoring the growing rampancy of racism and fascism in Israel as a result of the ongoing waves of hate against everything and anything Arab."
The fears of Zahalqa and other Israeli Arabs are real. Recently, hundreds of Arab residents from Jaffa, Lod and Ramleh took to the streets to protest against the planned eviction by the state of thousands of Arab residents from Jaffa. Authorities had issued warrants for the evacuation and destruction of hundreds of homes, claiming infringements on building regulations. The state also claimed that, "the families [had] lost the right to continue living in their homes, since these homes belonged to their parents ... "
"We are here and we won't leave. We will either live on this land or die on this land. We will not let you touch our lands or our holy places," said Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Arab movement in Israel. "All your rulings belong in the trashcan. We are not afraid of you. We will continue to live in our homeland," he added.
Last year, Richard Falk, a renowned American Jewish professor of international law and practice, wrote an article entitled "Slouching toward a Palestinian holocaust," in which he warned that Israel was moving towards the perpetration of a holocaust against the Palestinians. "Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not," said Falk.
Justifying the Israel-equals-Nazi analogy, Falk argued that developments in Gaza (the blockade against its estimated 1.5 million inhabitants), were especially disturbing because they expressed vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its backers to subject an entire human community to life- endangering conditions of maximal cruelty. "The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating into a collective tragedy," Falk wrote.
In sum, from the standpoint of fascism, Israel has much to celebrate in terms of political and military achievements. But in terms of justice, morality and humanity, one struggles to name a country on earth that so openly practices oppression and racism. As such Israel, on its 60th birthday, remains what it was when born six decades ago: a state built on blood, murder, theft and lies.
Is Israel about to change its ways? Don't hold your breath, Israeli leaders might say. Unless, that is, you're Palestinian.