Secure apartheid

If civil society NGOs are restricted or even banned in Israel, Western media take little notice of it. On October 19, Israel's defense Ministry classified six prominent Palestinian human rights and other civilian organizations as "terrorist organizations" and banned them. Just one day later, the Israeli government approved the construction of over 1,300 new houses in the occupied West Bank.

The six banned NGOs are Al-Haq, Defense for Children International Palestine (D.C.I.P.), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees. D.C.I.P. reported on the detention and abuse of children in the military court system. Al-Haq presented important evidence to the International Criminal Court for its investigations into alleged war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. All these NGOs represented the more than five million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. They also offered them services. For years, Israel's government has been pressuring these organizations with house searches and interrogations of employees.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have so far protested in vain against the latest repression of NGOs. The elimination as "terrorist organizations" is the latest puzzle of an escalating conflict that began a hundred years ago.

The long history of Israeli repression in the Palestinian territories

It was in the nineties: the tour guide stopped the bus and pointed to the other side of the river: "From there, Joshua crossed the Jordan with his people to take Jericho, and here the Israeli forces then also built a bridgehead in the Six-Day War."

The tourists, mostly from the USA, uttered sounds of astonishment and admiration and took pictures. The scene stuck in my memory because of the amazing logic with which two things were put in a direct connection here.

In this historical picture, the advance of the Israeli army in 1967 results from the biblical texts as a kind of logical instruction for action. The three-thousand-year-old book of Joshua of the Old Testament describes the land grabbing of the Israelite tribes in Canaan. The unspoken idea of the Israeli tourist guide was: since 1967, everything has finally been fine again.

The seizure of the biblical "promised land" and the attempt to secure it politically and militarily are the ideological basis and lifeblood of the State of Israel, and at the same time the origin of the so-called Middle East conflict and all its consequences.

The problem can be summed up in three sentences: many people lived in this "promised land", and in 1948 one should have asked them democratically whether they agreed that a state would be founded in the middle of their homeland, which defines itself as the "national home of the Jewish people". A corresponding vote would have resulted in an overwhelming rejection.

In his study "The Invention of the Jewish People", the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand shows how much the term "people" has been based on the myth-making of the newly emerged nation-states since the 19th century. A common origin based on religion and other ethnic characteristics was imagined, which then had to be used again for the construction of a somewhat homogeneous "people". However, one religious affiliation is not enough to turn French, Russian and Ethiopian Jews into a people. Or, for example, what should it be: a "Buddhist people", a "Christian people", a "Muslim people"? And where would be the "homeland" of such peoples? And further: would it make sense if every oppressed ethnic minority – be it in India, Myanmar, China, Spain, Turkey or Syria – claimed for themselves the right to take possession of a territory somewhere in the world in order to establish their own state there?

Ariel Sharon: "Law over the land"

Ariel Sharon published the second edition of his memoirs in 2001 with the significant title "Warrior", Warrior: a son of Russian immigrants who becomes a national hero over a military career in the Arab-Israeli wars and rises to the position of Minister of Defense and head of government. Sharon remembers:

"One constant was the tensions with the Arabs, whose villages were located between the Jewish settlements. Kfar Malal had been destroyed in an Arab attack in 1921 (...)in 1929, one year after my birth, the settlement was again threatened by the Arab riots (...) My father carried a small pistol and my mother also knew how to handle it (...) When I was thirteen, I helped to guard the fields. I sat in the darkness, armed with a club and the Caucasian dagger that my father had given me for my bar mitzvah."

Parents Vera and Samuel were Russian Jews with a high intellectual education. Vera, the daughter of a Belarusian timber merchant, had dropped out of her medical studies in Tbilisi to move to Palestine with Samuel. Samuel was originally from the large Jewish community of Brest-Litovsk. His family had fled the turmoil of the First World War to Tbilisi. The studied agronomist was a staunch supporter of the Zionist movement. For him, Eretz Israel was his land. He never had the slightest doubt that Jews had a claim to possession of the territory of the British mandate territory, which is presented in the Bible as the homeland of the twelve tribes of Israel. Sharon's parents are ideally typical of the pioneers of Zionism in Palestine.

The autobiography of the "warrior" Sharon is worth reading, because he describes how the conflict between the resident Arab population and the Jewish immigrants steadily escalated. In the end, the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 are nothing more than the internationalization of a civil war for the possession of land and water that has been simmering for decades. The establishment of the State of Israel, approved by the UN in 1948, acted as an accelerant of the conflict, which continues unchanged to this day.

Sharon describes the hardship of early settler life, the efforts of his parents to make a piece of land in the cooperatively organized "Moshav" arable for the cultivation of citrus fruits. A piece of land on which there was no water, you had to get it by donkey from the river. They built miserable huts to have a roof over their heads. Sharon remembers how at night the wind whistled through the cracks and how from his bed he could see the rats running around. The settlers had worked with their hands, according to Sharon, "built a village out of nothing (...) a malaria-infested wasteland made productive."

Despite sporadic clashes, the routine of daily living together remained. Jews and Arabs got along, writes Sharon:

"Jews and Arabs still managed to live with each other, meeting daily in the fields and markets and maintaining relationships that grew normally from their interaction."

The most amazing in this regard is the remark:

"Neither my parents nor their colleagues had any problem with the idea that they could live with the Arabs on an equal basis. Although the Moshavniks were ardent nationalists, they were not chauvinists, they never came up with the idea of being better than others. My parents firmly believed that the Arabs had full rights in the country (...) Jews and Arabs could be Citoyens side by side."

It is precisely at this point that Sharon adds a decisive linguistic clarification: the Arabs, his parents believed, had rights "in the land" (ba'aretz), but the Jews undoubtedly had rights "over the land" (al ha'aretz)

Supporters of the Zionist movement sometimes argued that there had never been a Palestinian people or a Palestinian state, and that the Jewish immigrants had settled and made fertile regions that were largely uninhabited or inhabited only by wandering Bedouin tribes.

The memoirs of Ariel Sharon prove - if it needed any more proof – that this claim is false. It is also irrelevant whether the non-Jewish population of the British mandate area is referred to as Palestinians, Arabs, locals, residents, or whatever. No serious historian will deny that the territory was inhabited relatively densely, at least in the fertile, irrigated areas. There were centuries–old villages that had a majority Arab population, there were – in addition to Jerusalem - cities such as Haifa and Jaffa, where Arab Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Greeks and people of all religions and colors lived together, which the disintegrated Ottoman multi-ethnic empire had once encompassed.

The archives of the British Mandate Administration show a clear factual situation.

At the time of the founding of the State of Israel in May 1948, there were about two million inhabitants in the British mandate territory, of which about 650,000 people who felt they belonged to the Jewish religion and had immigrated from numerous countries, and more than twice as many non-Jews who belonged to the Arab-Muslim cultural circle in the great majority. The Jews argued that they had property rights there because Judea and Samaria was the "biblical homeland of the Jewish people". They called it "Aliya", which is understood as the return of the Jews to their promised land. The Arabs responded with bloody uprisings, which were put down just as bloody. This escalated into a guerrilla war between Arab and Jewish militias.

It can only be understood with the Holocaust of the Nazis how, under these circumstances, it was possible to decide on the establishment of a Jewish state on Palestinian territory. The resolution was a program for war, death and the devil. Under pressure from the United Kingdom and the United States, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947, thanks to which Palestine was divided into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Arab countries had fiercely fought the resolution.

On May 15, 1948, a few hours after the official founding of the State of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia attacked Israel. They will be beaten back. The Israeli forces also captured about 40 percent of the land that was envisaged in the partition plan for an Arab-Palestinian state. 750,000 Arabs and thus half of the Palestinian population lost their homeland. They were forcibly expelled or fled for fear of a life under Israeli rule.

In the next war, the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel conquers, among other things, the West Bank, which it controls militarily in violation of international law to this day.

"Breaking the silence"

The usual international terms "Palestinian Territories" or "Palestinian Authority" are words that conceal a lie. For neither are these territories autonomous, nor do the Palestinian authorities have any real sovereignty on the patchwork of their state dummy. These are zones that, similar to the Indian reserves in the USA, were defined by Israel without democratic participation and against the will of those affected. The patchwork is divided into different levels of "autonomy". But whatever these gradations and the administrative inventions of the Israeli bureaucracy may be, two things are always the same and omnipresent for every place in Palestine: the uninterrupted military surveillance and the uninterrupted land grabbing by the construction of the Jewish settlements. There are now well over three hundred settlements, inhabited by more than half a million Jewish settlers.

From the Palestinians' point of view, the map of the West Bank is a geography of shame and lack of dignity. In the south, the Gaza Strip, officially independent but in reality dependent on Israel and Egypt, is a cage in which two million people live among the ruins left by the Israeli Air Force in their respective attacks. They live in conditions that the writer Ralph Giordano, who comes from a Jewish family, once called "the lowest circle of the hell of life". The West supports the Egyptian dictator, who is making the formerly permeable border with the Gaza Strip as close as possible. Western media seem to have come to terms with the situation after the Oslo agreement failed.

This makes eyewitness accounts all the more important. in 2018, the non-governmental organization "Peace Watch Switzerland", which cooperates with the aid organization of the Evangelical Church (HEKS), sent a group of observers to Israel and Palestine for three months to examine the human rights situation. They were often present from the early hours of the morning until the evening at various Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank and at the border crossings of the "Separation Barrier" and documented the methods by which the Israeli occupying power keeps the daily lives of the Palestinians under control. The historian Henriette Hanke Güttinger was a member of the delegation and has now presented the inventory of the exploration in a book.

What is shocking in this report are not only the observations of harassment and violence against the civilian population, but also the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers of the group "Breaking the Silence". The organization consists of members of the army who were deployed in the occupied territories and then have to deal with feelings of guilt and traumatic emotional consequences. See box.

Statements of a former officer of the Israel Defense Forces:

"The aim is to control the Palestinians by various military means. We are setting up mobile checkpoints (flying checkpoints) within the West Bank with the aim of intimidating the population with these roadblocks. For example, if a Palestinian is planning a trip, he never knows where he will get to a checkpoint where 18-year-old heavily armed soldiers will show him who has the power. (...)

We also carry out so-called mapping missions. Heavily armed soldiers go to the house of a family in the middle of the night, of which the secret service knows, they are not suspected (...) The soldiers surround the house. Everyone is awakened, from the infants to the old people. Everyone and everything is photographed. Questions are asked: where do you go to school? Where do you work? (...) Every Palestinian now knows what is flourishing for him. The message is: even if you never do anything, they can come to your house at any time and treat you like that. This is psychological warfare (...)

Or we go to a village, get an innocent man out of his house, so that all the people see this and get angry, because they know he is innocent. Children then throw stones, and then our military rearguard arrives and can make arrests. For years, this military action in the occupied Palestinian Territory has been systematic. People from other countries come to us to learn how to intimidate and control the population (...)

At a first such use you are still decent. After 20,40 deployments, one roars. You want to make a short process."

The Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell once said that the biggest failure of his generation was the inability to prevent the catastrophe that was seen to be coming: "The colonization of the West Bank can no longer be reversed. The settlers are so numerous and so powerful that an attempt to take action against them would lead to a civil war. It is easier to wage war against the Arabs than against the settlers." (Der Spiegel 28, 2014)

And Uri Avnery, the Israeli journalist and peace activist who died in 2018, called the victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 the greatest evil for Israel. Israel became an occupying power, and the regime of military occupation infected the hearts and brains of Israeli society, slowly destroyed Israeli democracy. Because the same Israeli soldier or policeman could not be a dictator in the West Bank and a democrat five kilometers further in Israel.

Israel, like many countries in this world, has not only light but also shadows in its past. No person of realpolitik reason would question the right of the present state of Israel to exist. But imagine that an Israeli Prime Minister would publicly ask the Palestinians for forgiveness for wrongs suffered. It would be nothing more than a gesture of reconciliation. But a gesture that could also activate Israel's self-healing powers.