While on the surface it appears invincible, Israel lies exposed in its behaviour as a racist, belligerent, arrogant and colonial pariah, writes Ayman El-Amir*
Next week Israel will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its declaration of independence in the presence of an enviable number of dignitaries and heads of state. One week later, on 15 May, the Palestinians will commiserate their Nakba -- the day they were driven from their homeland by Jewish paramilitary settlers who established the state of Israel. While Israel will be showered with words of admiration and congratulation, principally by those countries that helped create it, the Palestinians will be huddled together in exile or under military occupation, encircled by the Israeli wall of shame that was probably inspired by the Nazi wall that enclosed the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw in 1940. The only statements making reference to them will be the empty rhetoric of Arab officials calling for peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state, and probably maligning Hamas. Victors will continue writing history, at least as long as they remain powerful.
At 60, Israel appears solid, focussed, constantly expanding and basking in the adulation of its powerful supporters and the resignation of its intimidated neighbours. By contrast, the Palestinians, evicted from their homeland, appear weak, divided, starved, vulnerable and spurned by most Arab leaders. Israel, a warrior state armed to the teeth with conventional and nuclear weapons, represents a success for the great powers in more ways than one. Their most important achievement was offloading the centuries old "Jewish question" on the Arabs. Ever since, Israel has proved a belligerent state bent on aggression and expansion, which was also useful to the powers that nurtured it. However, Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians and other Arabs, and its extensive settlement under occupation of their land, makes it appear more like a giant on stilts than a peace-loving nation that lives by the norms of international law.
In spite of the glow of success, two historical factors are corroding the underpinnings of Israel as a state. First, Israel was founded on the 17th century doctrine of settler colonialism -- the New World migration model of which the United States is the unique surviving example. As European settlers arrived in droves to the New World that Christopher Columbus discovered in 1492, the land was ethnically cleansed of its indigenous population, especially North American Indians. Hundreds of tribes and ethnic communities were systematically devastated or driven west of the Mississippi river to make room for European colonists. In 1778, even before becoming the nation, new Americans signed a treaty with the Indian Delawares -- the first of what would become a body of more than 380 treaties that never held in the face of the desire to expand. Under those treaties, the nascent US gained more than one billion acres of Indian land in North America, mostly by force, coercion and outright war, with some bought for as little as 10 cents an acre. Consciously or otherwise, this was the model adopted by the Zionist movement to seize Palestine under the fallacy of "a land without a people for a people without a land", with the support of the British via the Balfour Declaration. This shared model of ethnic cleansing and land expropriation is the strongest bond between Israel and the US.
During its so-called "war of liberation", Israel committed 70 massacres and atrocities against the Palestinian people as part of a methodical campaign of ethnic cleansing. It terrorised and expelled 85 per cent of the population from 747 Palestinian towns and villages. Most of these were either obliterated to prevent the return of Palestinian inhabitants or given to immigrant Jewish settlers. At the time, this created a population of 900,000 refugees who were "temporarily" relocated to neighbouring Arab countries. Palestinian refugees are now estimated at 4.5 million, half of them in host Arab countries. According to Salman Abu Setta, general coordinator of the Right of Return Congress, 80 per cent of the Jewish population of Israel live in about 10 per cent of the historic land of Palestine under the British mandate. Most of the territories extending from Beersheba in the south to the northern swathe of the Upper Galilee are scarcely populated. The density of the Palestinian population in Gaza is 6,000 individuals per one square kilometre -- a total of 1.5 million Palestinians heaped upon each other under inhuman blockade conditions. Israel rejects the Palestinians' right of return even to these vacant areas, justified by what amounts to a racist policy of maintaining the "Jewish" nature of the state -- another echo of Nazi Germany under Hitler.
Immigration to Israel has become a matter of economic opportunity, not the claimed pseudo-religious Zionist ideology of "return to the Promised Land". The population of Israel is 5.2 million out of a world Jewry population of 13 million, with about five million living in the US. Immigration to Israel is declining; the fertility rate among the Jewish population is 0.5 per cent, far below the population replacement value, while the Palestinian fertility rate is nearly three per cent. Israeli politicians regard this as a bomb ready to explode. Israeli concerns have prompted rising calls to declare Israel an exclusively Jewish state where only Jews are eligible for citizenship. The rest -- that is, the Palestinians who have lived on that land since the time of the Canaanites -- are regarded as a nuisance to be evicted when circumstances are favourable.
Israel's main problem, however, is that unlike the American Indians or indigenous populations in other colonised lands, the Palestinians refuse to disappear or melt away. Despite the brutal occupation, genocide, mass detentions, numberless checkpoints, the economic blockade, daily humiliation and starvation, and the powerful support afforded to Israel by the US administration, Palestinians refuse to be amassed together in a reservation under the title of a Palestinian state. Palestinian elders keep the keys to their original houses, the deeds to their property, and teach their children about the horrors they had to endure at the hands of those they once embraced as neighbours in the historic land of Palestine.
Sixty years after its "independence", Israel has lost its moral compass. Aggression, occupation and expansion have become its most vaunted practices. Hence it has no sense of security. It seeks regional recognition and cooperation but enforces a system of apartheid against the Palestinians. It forces a stop at Yad Vashim on the schedule of every visiting dignitary but kills Palestinian men, women and children, bulldozes their houses and orchards, confiscates their land, pumps out their water, arrests and detains thousands of them indefinitely, violates every human dignity under the sun, and denies the nation it subsumed its legitimate rights. Israel is not planning on any just and lasting settlement with the Palestinians. Like its master, the US, it only believes in the force of arms -- the ability to subjugate by destruction. That is what the Nazis did to the Jews and other minorities in Europe; and that is what the Jews of Israel are doing to the Palestinians. What Israel and the Western alliance call "acts of terrorism" by fundamentalists are the same acts they cheered as heroic by the resistance to Nazi occupation in Europe.
When the White Star Line launched the Titanic ocean liner on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in February 1912, it was widely promoted as a passenger ship "designed to be unsinkable". It was equipped with the most sophisticated available technology and the best crew of the time. While en route to New York the Titanic hit an iceberg on 14 February and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, to the shock of the world and the maritime industry. How long can Israel afford to behave as the unsinkable ship of the Middle East?
* The writer is former Al-Ahram correspondent in Washington, DC. He also served as director of United Nations Radio and Television in New York.