Book review:  War Against the People

A new book argues that the knowledge and weaponry developed by Israel in its wars against the Palestinians have allowed it to carve a place in the world’s military-industrial complex, TP O’Mahony is not convinced.

HOW does Israel get away with it? The author poses this question at the very beginning of his book, which is subtitled Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification.

The author, by the way, is head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and author of an earlier book entitled An Israeli in Palestine.

“In a decidedly post-colonial age, how is Israel able to sustain a half-century occupation over the Palestinians, a people it violently displaced in 1948, in the face of almost unanimous international opposition?

“Why, indeed, does the international community tolerate an unnecessary conflict that not only obstructs efforts to bring some stability to the wider Middle East, a pretty important geo-political region in which the United States and Europe are fighting a number of wars, but one that severely disrupts the international system as a whole?”

Halper says that various commonsense explanations have been put forth, primarily the clout wielded by the Jewish and Christian fundamentalist communities in the USA. “The perception that Israel is one of ‘us’, a white Global North nation fighting Muslim terrorism and sharing ‘our’ moral values, plays a role as well.”

A more prosaic answer might just be that Israel serves US interests in the Middle East and, in return, is given a blank cheque by Washington.

The campaigning Australian journalist and documentary film-maker, John Pilger, summed it up in a recent Guardian interview: “Nothing basically has changed in Palestine. The Israelis have grown more confident in their oppression, terror and murder of Palestinians, because they can. If Hillary Clinton becomes president, watch that confidence grow and the murders increase.”

Those who doubt the latter pro-Israeli assertion about a Hillary Clinton presidency would do well to reflect on the implications of a recent article in the International New York Times entitled “Israel’s unsung protector: Obama”.

Written by Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, it highlighted the fact that over seven years, President Obama has not permitted passage of any UN Security Council resolution even obliquely critical of Israel alone.

“But a careful examination of the record shows that, since 1967, every other American president allowed, or even had America vote for, Security Council resolutions taking Israel to task for actions and policies of weapons and security systems.”

Ms Friedman concludes that of the last nine presidents, Obama is the only one who has completely shielded Israel from Security Council resolutions. There is nothing on the record to suggest that Hillary Clinton — if she makes it to the White House — will do anything different.

Despite his track record, Ms Friedman says there are officials in Washington who believe that the President has grown so frustrated with trying to revive Middle East peace talks that he may lay down his own outline for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state peace agreement, in the form of a resolution in the UN Security Council.

Ms Friedman says that the hope still is that Obama may recognise that preserving the two-state solution for the future “is the most important legacy he can leave in this arena”.

However, anyone reading Jeff Halper’s book would consider the possibility of a two-state solution — or any solution — a remote possibility, especially given the hardline policy of the Netanyahu government on land-grabbing, the expansion of illegal settlements, and the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Halper concocts an elaborate thesis, central to which is what he calls security politics, to explain the “big reason” why there is support for Israel, not just in America, but even among countries with no Jewish or Christian Zionist lobby.

For him security politics is “a less visible manifestation” of international relations. “Rather than a mere export commodity, trade in military and security products constitute a resource whereby a country converts its military prowess into political clout”.

The author found that Israel has diplomatic relations with 157 countries, and “virtually all the agreements and protocols Israel has signed with them contain military and security components.. from these tiny threads, it dawned on me that when military relations are mixed into the diplomatic stew, new, surprising and seemingly impossible constellations emerge”.

This leads him to conclude that the Occupied Palestinian Territories did not pose a financial burden on Israel or an unwanted source of insecurity and conflict.

“Indeed, the opposite was the case. Without an occupation and an interminable conflict, how could Israel sustain its international standing? The Occupation represents a resource for Israel in two senses: economically, it provides a testing ground for the development of weapons, security systems, models of population control and tactics without which Israel would be unable to compete in the international arms and security markets, but no less important, being a major military power serving other militaries and security services the world over lends Israel an international status among the global hegemons it would not have otherwise.

“Israel is a small country scrambling to carve out a niche in the transnational military-industrial complex. Where would it be without the Occupation and the regional conflict it generates?”

Halper asserts that governments today are waging a “war against the people” — whether “securitization” against asylum seekers in Fortress Europe, “counterinsurgency” in Afghanistan, or the subliminal war of policing and surveillance arising everywhere. And he further asserts that Israel’s contribution to this is key, not least the exporting of high-tech weaponry and methods of pacification perfected on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Frankly, I found this thesis far-fetched. Other countries — the UK, Sweden, France, Germany and Japan come to mind — export high-tech weaponry, security systems and methods of pacification without being deliberately engaged in long-term and seemingly interminable conflicts with neighbours.

The reality is that the present situation in the Middle East is an “unwanted source of insecurity and conflict” for Israel.

Not even the most hardline Zionist would oppose a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially one that would guarantee the future of the State of Israel. That’s why the two-state solution represents the best deal in town. Hopefully, the preservation and promotion of this deal will yet be part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

War Against the People

Jeff Halper

Pluto Press, €25


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