At Birzeit University in the Israeli occupied West Bank, students and faculty are fundamentally remaking the dominant paradigm of Israel Studies as it has been configured in the United States and increasingly in Great Britain, with its proud “advocacy” mandate on behalf of the Israeli state. Birzeit’s program turns this paradigm inside out, providing students with a radical alternative: a settler-colonial framework is central within the curriculum, as is a comparative analytic framework.
The ongoing attacks on Congressional critics of Israeli policies like Rep.’s Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for their alleged antisemitic remarks appear culled from the same playbook that Israel’s supporters in Great Britain used to tarnish Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: continuously vilify the messenger in order to discredit the message. In our continuing discussion of this issue (see our roundtable on the manufactured controversy over Ilhan Omar’s tweets) we asked two commentators from Great Britain and two from grassroots activism in the United States to respond and reflect on what is behind this tactic and why now it is being deployed in each context.
The firestorm that greeted newly elected Congresswoman (D-MN) Ilhan Omar’s tweets about the Israel lobby’s clout in Congress reveals as much about her critics as it does about the rising tide of progressive politicians who no longer show deference to establishment prohibitions on criticizing Israel. Having lost the moral argument about Israel’s brutal occupation of the Palestinian people, Omar’s critics pounced on the allegedly antisemitic tone of her comments rather than address her criticism of the US’s one-sided support for Israel. We asked several commentators to reflect on this largely manufactured controversy and what it tells us about the current limits of debate about Israel in the US today.
The United States’ Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and the Challenge to the International Consensus
On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would be moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv in fulfillment of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act (henceforth Embassy Act). In one fell swoop, the US has seriously challenged 70 years of international consensus enshrined in international law as regards the status of the city, and put the potential for a two-state solution into a tail-spin. What are the consequences of this major policy change?
The White House announcement distinguishes between recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and establishing an embassy there and recognizing “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.” In other words, the Trump administration, like all those before it, seeks to avoid acknowledging how Israel, in defiance of UN resolutions, has altered the demographic and geographic realities of the city.
Lodge 5 at Swarthmore College is a dignified building in gray stone, the aesthetic match of much of the rest of the bucolic campus located 20 miles outside Philadelphia. The structure houses three floors supporting Jewish student life: a kosher kitchen, a lounge and a library whose walls are heavy with such texts as the Talmud and Midrash. It is the natural place for Kehilah, Swarthmore’s Jewish student group, to meet in order to plan events and attend to other business.
The present era of counter-terrorism wars has severely damaged what, in hindsight, looked like a solid international consensus about which forms and levels of violence are “legal” in war and what “humanitarian” limits are imposed on such violence. The counter-terrorism paradigm of “with us or against us” in which the latter—and all that is proximate to it—is regarded as targetable upends the important distinction in international humanitarian law (IHL) between civilians and combatants and inflates the norm of proportionality to justify indiscriminate violence. This paradigm is the dominant strategic approach in the US “war on terror” and Israel’s “war model” approach in the Occupied Territories, as well as among regimes like Syria and Saudi Arabia.
What makes Hebron special is the religious-nationalist militancy of the Israeli settler projects in the city and its environs—along with the ferocity of the accompanying violence. In the province as a whole, the settlement pattern is the same as elsewhere in the West Bank—the inward creep of colonization forces the occupied population into ever smaller and denser enclaves. The southern Hebron hills are a recurrent flashpoint, as settlers and Israeli army bulldozers repeatedly try to push Palestinian shepherd families out of their villages.
Dear Sen. Sanders,
I’m a contributor to your campaign and enthusiastically support your bold, relentless critique of the billionaire class that is undermining democracy and making a decent life impossible for millions of people. I’d like you to speak more about how big money has been a destructive force in shaping our foreign policy as much, if not more, than our domestic policies. Perhaps no issue exemplifies this problem like Israel-Palestine.
For those accustomed to the themes of Sino-Arab diplomacy, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on January 21 was predictable enough. It might not have attracted much attention at all if not for Xi’s statement that “China firmly supports the Middle East peace process and supports the establishment of a State of Palestine enjoying full sovereignty on the basis of the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Sandy Tolan, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015).
Two stories, two dreams: one realized, the other dashed.
A boy born to a fragmented, impoverished refugee family living under harsh military rule is mesmerized by the sound of a violin and vows not only to master the instrument but also to start a school to share its liberating beauty with others. And he does it.
For 51 days in July and August 2014, Israel conducted a military operation in Gaza known as Protective Edge. It was the third major Gaza operation by the Israeli armed forces in seven years, and by far the most lethal and destructive. Some 2,205 Palestinians, including 722 militants and over 500 children, and 70 Israelis (64 of whom were soldiers) were killed. Thousands of Palestinians were wounded; over 18,000 of their homes were destroyed; some 470,000 were displaced; and large areas of Gaza were essentially razed.
In the shadow of the Israeli separation wall, and on the bucolic campus of al-Quds University in Abu Dis, a suburb of East Jerusalem, sits a museum dedicated to Palestinian prisoners of Israel. The Abu Jihad Museum for the Prisoners’ Movement is named after the Palestinian political prisoner and martyr, Khalil al-Wazir or Abu Jihad, who gained notoriety as a leader of the first intifada and an advocate for prisoners’ rights. Al-Wazir was assassinated by Israel in Tunisia in 1988.
Since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, around three quarters of a million Palestinians have been arrested, sometimes for actions taken against Israeli soldiers or civilians, but at other times for association with others or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the early days of the occupation, thousands of Palestinians were rounded up, many serving sentences of ten years or more.
MERIP contributing editor Joel Beinin came to Cleveland in early March to discuss the popular struggle against Israeli occupation in the West Bank as well as what was at stake in yesterday’s Israeli elections. His host was the Northeast Ohio Consortium on Middle East Studies (NOCMES). Beinin’s visit included an hour-long interview on “The Sound of Ideas” on WCPN, the local NPR affiliate in Cleveland, and lectures at Case Western Reserve and Kent State Universities.
Early each morning, dozens of workers from Jaba’ walk up a narrow set of stairs with trash strewn on either side to reach a bus stop on Highway 60, which bisects the West Bank on its way from Nazareth to Beersheva. As they climb the stairs, the workers pass a tunnel that once allowed villagers convenient access to the highway, but which has been blocked by limestone boulders, dirt and rubble since the intifada of the early 2000s. At this bend in the road, nine miles northwest of Jerusalem, much of the horizon is defined by the 20-foot high concrete separation wall.