Posts filed under ‘terrorism’

israel and palestine: the new apartheid (3)

One of the questions provoking serious debate within Israel at the moment is the relationship between Israel's counter-terrorism strategy, democracy, and the rule of law. It is a serious issue and is being taken seriously. It is causing a great deal of heart-searching and opinion is deeply divided. I quote here from a letter by Dan Shaham, Director of Piblic Affairs at the Israeli Embassy, London (ie the person in charge of PR!):

The impact of this dilemma, was recently demonstrated when Israel's Supreme Court was divided six votes to five over the 'Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law' (temporary provision – 2003). The law currently halts granting legal status in Israel to Palestinians residents of the West Bank and Gaza who are married to Israelis. The law was initially passed in 2003, when Israel found that dozens of terror attacks were being carried out by and in collaboration with Palestinians who gained entry and residency in Israel by marrying an Israeli citizen.

Five of the Supreme Court Justices argued that Israel, as a sovereign state, has the right to prohibit the immigration of foreign nationals to its territory, and since Israel is in a state of war, the law, as it stood was in proportion to the threat. However, a further five Justices, led by the President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak – a champion of human rights – voted against the law, claiming it is a citizen's constitutional right to live with his/her family in Israel. The vote was, therefore, decided by Justice Edmond Levy, who recognised that the law violated constitutional right to family life, but considering the ongoing threat of terrorism, he rejected the petitions and gave the state a 9-month extension to amend the law

It is worth following those links. Aharon Barak's paper is well worth reading. What is clear is that the apparatus of the Security State (which Israel has become) is disturbing and dividing the people as it becomes more visible. I remember working with Mossad in Rhodesia in 1979 (that sounds grandiose: what I mean is that the Rhodesian and Israeli intelligence services worked closely hand in hand. At my level, it meant that I mainly got to read regular intelligence analysis reports). Israel was already and always a security state: it's just that in the world of the late 70s, Palestinians were terrorists and the Israelis were the embattled, courageous little nation that stood up to concerted Arab aggression and bit back with a vengeance. We Rhodesians admired the hell out of them! In fact, the admiration was mutual. But I digress!

The point here is that, no doubt as a fact in many Israeli minds (and it is certainly the position pushed in Israeli government propaganda), the present situation is presented as a new thing. It's as though there is somehow a new form of the "terrorist threat" faced by Israel. Much Israeli security rhetoric rides on the back of American post-9/11 "War on Terror". Subconsciously, the Intifada plays as a manifestation of a new global terror threat faced by all democratic countries. However, there is nothing new about it. What is new is the degree of radicalisation of the Palestinian community which has happened in response to Israeli terror tactics and the deafening silence of the western world over their plight, which has bred deapair and desperation.  It is not a new conflict: what is new is the level of visibility.

The parallel with South Africa is the escalation in the struggle against Apartheid, which happened in the mid-80s. When these sorts of conflicts escalate, the nature of the problem becomes nakedly visible. That creates problems for the government which is administering a policy of aggression and repression under the guise of separation. There is benign logic to separation: it needn't mean the same thing as oppression and exploitation. That is the rhetoric of acceptability that keeps otherwise decent citizens quiet about gross injustice. It enables the state to portray resistance as surprising, shocking, atypical, unrepresentative and immoral. The more naked the conflict, however, the more difficult that fiction is to sustain. That is what is happening in Israel at the moment.

Let's be clear: it is the duty of a sovereign state to protect itself and its citizens against terrorism and incursion. And in the contemporary climate, any democratic state is faced with the trade-off between security legislation, democracy, and civil liberties (please note, in parenthesis, that I do not include "human rights" in that list: by definition, these are simply non-negotiable). What I object to in the Israeli situation is what caused such outrage in the western democracies during the Apartheid era in South Africa: Israel illegitimately describes itself as being "at war", and casts the Palestinians as foreign aggressors. This is not a war between two states! It is a form of war – but it is the warfare of oppression and the conflict is caused by Palestinian resistance to that oppression. It is a civil war, in which a government is waging war upon a section of the populace – just as Saddam Hussein did against the Kurds and the Apartheid regime did against Black South Africans.

One way of trying to legitimate a war is to deprive the victim group of residency and citizenship. If you make them stateless, or "foreign", then you can claim that it is vital to put up a "security fence" to protect your borders. The South Africans created so-called Independent Homelands. They were neither viable nor self-governing. They had puppet regimes and were entirely dependent on South African funding for existence. They were often geographically scattered, so that one continually passed between sections of Bophutatswana and South Africa (for example), in precisely the same manner as one does between Israel and the areas nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The measure of autonomy enjoyed by the Authority is seen in the fact that Israel is refusing to pay PA salaries while Hamas is in power!

Palestinians are not foreign aggressors. They are refugees in their own land. If that is not enough, they are subjected to a panoply of laws that any of us would find absolutely intolerable. What land they do have is expropriated at will by the Israelis. Their water has been cut off. They have intermittent electricity supplies. Their lands have been annexed, their houses bulldozed and their communities made into ghettos by the Wall and the checkpoint system. Their communities are invaded at will by the Israeli military. Any resistance is met not only with massive reprisal, but is branded as terrorism and condemned throughout the western world. They are the price that Israel demands fort the protection of US and British interests in the regions – and that Israel receives!

The point of these three posts is simple. For some reason, it was easy to see Apartheid for what it was. Nelson Mandela and the ANC were not regarded as terrorists (by in large), but as heroic resisters – freedom fighters. Of course, some of the methods of resistance were particularly hard to stomach – such as the gruesome necklacings in which vehicle tyres were paced around the necks of suspected sell-outs, filled with petrol and set alight. We in the west like our conflicts "tidy" – guns, warplanes, tanks, rifles, chemicals and missiles at dawn are all perfectly acceptable. Necklacings and suicide bombers are far to messy, up close and personal. It's a cultural thing – we know how to "do" war, and those other ways of resisting are just frightful – too primitive! "Won't do, my boy – won't do at all!"

Yet the parallels between the structures of Apartheid and the situation in Israel and Palestine are real. They are not strained, overly-pressed or only vaguely analogous. We ought to see Palestinian resistance for what it is – the response of a people who are being made war on. It is simply not true that all parties to a conflict must bear equal blame. A bullied child who stands up to the bully is not violent in the same way as the bully! People who defend themselves and their communities are not terrorists. And not every government of a sovereign state is legitimate – even if it is has been democratically elected! Hitler was elected, and look what he did with his Aryan policies! When is the rest of the world going to shrug off this ridiculous paralysis that says, "We don't know everything, so we can't choose sides"??? The ignorance on many aspects of South African political and economic life under Apartheid was sometimes encyclopaedic – yet that didn't stop people getting involved, protesting and boycotting. It didn't stop them being right, either! They got involved – and Apartheid crumbled. The sad thing is that, like anti-Semitism, we all thought it had been consigned to the dustbin of history. It hasn't … yet! It's alive and well, and living in the Middle East.

9 June, 2006 at 12:17 pm 8 comments

israel and palestine: the new apartheid (2)

At the height of Apartheid, the standard of living for white South Africans was exceeded only by that of Californian Americans. I was staying with my parents in Cape Town in 1989. It was a beautiful place to be. Dining out was a pleasure – huge portions of delicious food (especially beef and seafood) – and so cheap by comparison with the UK! Yet at the same time, not 30 miles away, in the so called "Independent Homelands", black South Africans were literally starving to death. Bishop Malusi Mpumulwana told a conference I hosted in Cambridge of his experience of a Eucharist held in one of these areas just outside Cape Town. A woman brought her baby to the altar, and held it up to Malusi not for a blessing, but for the bread. He told her gently, "Daughter, our tradition does not allow children to eat the bread and drink the wine. But I will happily bless your baby!" The woman retorted, "Father, this bread will be the only food my child eats all weekend! We are starving – and you would refuse this? And yet you tell us that Jesus is the Bread of Life!"

The reason for black starvation was that the South African government controlled the access to and distribution of resources. So called "separate development" had nothing whatsoever to do with equality. It meant annexing resources and benefits for white South Africa. Whites enjoyed the standard of living they did because a panoply of laws excluded 35 million people from a slice of the economic cake!

Something similar is happening to the Palestinians. The Wall has annexed the water supplies. Israelis and settlers fill their swimming pools and water their lawns while Palestinians have to buy water by the tanker load because supplies have run out. Bethlehem is out of water, and it is summer – desperately hot. There are no regular supplies of electricity. People are desperate for food and the shops are empty. Cut off rom their fields and olive groves, they can neither grow or earn money to buy food. Food has to be transported in, and that means trying to pass through the Israeli checkpoints. Israel, the paymaster, has refused to pay any salaries to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas was elected, on the grounds that they are a terrorist organisation and any salaries would amount to state funding for terrorism. That means, in effect, that most other salaries also remain unpaid. Charities are being asked not for money, or clothing, or other items, but for food. New legislation in the US means that charities there demand astounding, impossible amounts of information and paperwork from any Palestinian recipients of funding, so that aid is drying up to a trickle.

Whatever our politics, we need to recognise that this is a humanitarian crisis. People are dying for lack of food and water. What is particularly obscene is that this is a crisis created quite deliberately. The Palestinians are a community under seige. The Israelis can act with impunity because there is a deafening silence from the international community. Not only that, but they receive the active backing of the US because of the power of the Christian and Jewish votes in that country. The Christian and Jewish communities. These are the two faith communities whose God is Yaweh – God of the Exodus, liberator of slaves, enemy of oppression. Jesus is the one who announced the Good News that the kingdom of God is for the least first; who said "Blessed are you poor; woe to you who are rich! Blessed are you hungry; woe to you who are filled!" How is it that this same God and same saviour can be enlisted to justify cruelty and oppression, and blindness to the plight of the helpless, save by some demonic sleight of hand?

"Love your neighbour as yourself", Jesus said. That means putting ourselves in the place of our neighbour. How would we feel if we had no water, food, electricity or money? And what would we be asking of our brothers and sisters? Whatever our answer, that is what is being required of us.

3 June, 2006 at 1:26 pm Leave a comment

israel and palestine: the new apartheid

Apartheid was a violent system.  It wasn't just the overt violence of the militarisation of the townships, the assassinations, the arbitrary arrests and torture – it was the daily attacks on the humanity, freedom of movement, rights to association, expression, education and normal family life from the system that shaped everyday Black existence.  Systems, in other words can be violent.  It's a violence you don't see because it's how life is.  The point, however, is that in a violent system, overt violence is neither surprising nor exceptional.  It is the endemic violence breaking out into the open.

That's not how it "plays" to the outside world, of course.  The news reports used to be full of "outbreaks" of Black violence – acts of terrorism, rioting, communist subversion etc.  The implication was clear: this had nothing to do with people responding to violence inflicted on them, but was an instance of unjustified and ungrateful unruliness and general inclination to violent disorder!  Yet it was nothing of the kind.  It was the response of people who found themselves under daily attack.  When a political system is predicated upon a group within that society being less than fully human, less deserving of the normal human rights, is grudgingly tolerated and accorded the minimum of respect and space, the system is effectively a constant attack and exercise of force over that group to keep them in subjugation.  If the default mode is that they have no right to be there, then every concession towards what everyone else would take for granted is regarded by the state as a generous gift, and every protest or demand for equality an instance of outrageous selfishness and ingratitude.  If the oppressed group's response becomes violent in answer to the violence being inflicted on them – if, in other words, the oppressed group dares to fight back – they are characterised as terrorists.

Tragically, ruling groups – states – find a ready audience for this sort of Orwellian rhetoric in the international community.  States are generally regarded as legitimate (if occassionally a little oppressive or flawed).  It is appallingly easy for any state to brand protest and violent response as "terrorism", and notoriously difficult for people to recognise that states themselves can be terrorist.  We talk about Libya and Syria as "terrorist states" in connection with "state-sponsored terrorism".  The notion of a state as a "terror organisation" is far more difficult to comprehend – emotionally, as well as intellectually.  The presence of the trappings of legitimacy – the police, the army, the judiciary, the organs of government – means that states can pass and enforce laws which are in fact attacks on its citizens.  They can deploy their armed forces to carry out policies that in any other context would be deemed acts of war, or terrorism.  That is what happened in South Africa under Apartheid.  It is what is happening now in Israel.

 According to Lenin, "The purpose of terror is to terrify".  Terror is not some sort of playground bullying writ large, nor is it sadism and evil on a grand scale (though of course, all those elements can be present in individuals).  It is a deliberate strategy.  I learned this interrogating many Zimbabwean guerillas during the Independence Struggle.  I had always thought that "terrorists" were simply bad people – bullies with guns.  Crucially, for me, they lost any claim to being "liberators" because the principal victims of terror were their own people.  I came to realise that this wasn't the case.  The argument I heard went something like this: "You accuse us of terror and war-mongering.  Yet our people live in daily terror because of your laws.  We are not safe in our own houses.  You see yourselves as peaceful, reasonable people – but that is only because you are insulated against the fear and daily violence that you are committing against us.  You do not have to be violent – although you will be ruthlesslessly violent as soon as it seems necessary.  You are safe because we are weak.  You think that when our people smile and fawn, that we are grateful?  Not so.  We are cowed and terrified!  The people are very scared.  They fear you.  If we soldiers come to free them, they will betray us – even though they agree with us – because they are so scared of what you might do to them.  So we want to make them more afriad of us than of you.  Then they will help us and join the struggle."  I used to respond, "But then they are acting out of fear.  Surely you want to win their trust and support?  You cannot win hearts and minds through terror!"  The response I got was this: "When you have a man by the balls, his heart and mind will follow!  This is what we have learned from you".

The relevance to the Palestinian situation is this: Palestinian violence is the violence of response to attack.  Palestinian terror is a response to the terror inflicted on the people by Israel.  Its cause doesn't lie in some Palestinian propensity to lawlessness, violence and barbarism, but in the daily violence inflicted on the community by the Israeli state.  Prior to the current Intafada, it was inconceivable that Hamas could have won a Palestinian election.  Yet the violence of the Israeli state has radicalised the whole community.  The Palestinains see the Hamas fighters as liberators – as protectors who are resisting in their name.  They support Hamas because they see it as the only credible response to the war being waged against that community. 

When the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addresses both houses of Congress, therefore, and insists that any precondition to negotiation with the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is that the Palestinians “renounce terrorism, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, accept previous agreements and commitments, and recognize the right of Israel to exist", we need to recognise this for the cant and subterfuge it really is.  In effect, it's like the school bully sitting astride his victim, hitting him and rubbing his face into the dirt, and saying, "I'll only think of stopping this when you stop resisting and crying and objecting!"  It's saying to the Palestinians, "We're at war with you.  And we'll only even think of stopping when you first surrender!"  There is no real negotiation envisaged.  There is no intention to withdraw from the settlements.  The Wall is to form the permament border between Israel and the Palestinian territories – a border which has already been extended to annexe 10% of the Palestinian land – crucially, the 10% holding all the water supplies!  There is no offer of a viable Palestinian state – simply a patchwork of small, isolated "outcrops" of Palestinian land which are cut off from one another.

Israel, with the active support of the United States, is thumbing its nose at UN resolutions demanding an end to the oppression of the people there.  Instead, what Israel envisages is succeeding where South Africa failed – in the project of Apartheid.  Apartheid (significantly pronounced "apart-hate" in Afrikaans!) was always translated as "separate development".  This is a literal enough translation of the term – but it carefully omits and disguises what Steve Biko spotted only too clearly and lost his life for: it is a means of oppressing and subjugating the people it excludes.  It is an act of war on its own citizens; system of violent terror.  In our Reformed theological tradition, a government which is the enemy of the people is a tyrant, and needs to be removed.  Israel is a terrorist state as far as the Palestinian question is concerned.  It is a tragic and often-noted irony that the people whose national identity was formed by the Holocaust should act as they do to the Palestinians.  It is ironic that Olmert's address was drafted with the help of the Holocaust author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.  Wiesel knows better than most that the Holocaust was made possible only by the silence of the wider international community over Germany's actions.  The Nazis mounted an active campaign of terror against its population and the world kept silent.  Now Olmert wants – and is getting – the same silence over his own terror policies against the Palestinians. 

30 May, 2006 at 11:49 am 4 comments

Overcast day, overcast soul

It's grey and gloomy and muggy here today. That reflects how I'm feeling. I don't want to live in a country where the Prime Minister – for whom I campaigned and voted in 1997 – gets up and, time and again, tries to silence criticism about Iraq. And does so by pretending that the only reason we have terror on our streets is because terrorists basically run around looking for excuses to blow people up, so that if it wasn't Iraq, it would be something else. What drivel! It's so ridiculous that it's risible. Yet, coming as it does from the Prime Minister, it's sinister. It means that there's not going to be any attempt to get rid of the root causes of terror on our streets. And the danger of not dealing with the real causes, but with made-up ones, is that things fester and get worse.

I don't want to live in a country where bombs go off because young Muslims are becoming radicalised because they're alienated, discriminated against, and because they look at what's happening in Palestine and Iraq and conclude that Britain and the USA are anti-Muslim and pro-Israeli. I don't want to live in a country whose policies contribute proactively to death and terror on the streets of Iraq and Palestine and which cannot then understand young people in this country wanting to do something to change things.

I don't want to live in a country where moderate Muslims have to be called in and paraded before society, both to say "See? Not all Muslims are evil!" and also, in a sense, to give account of themselves. I don't want to live in a society that is suspicious of Muslims rather than of terrorists because it assumes that the two are synonymous. I don't want to live in a country that spends most of its time and effort investigating whether there is something intrinsically wrong about Islam, rather than looking at its own actions in the Muslim world. I don't want to live among people whose working assumption (promoted by the media) is that the bombings show that all Muslims are fanatical, evil, violent fundamentalists, when the IRA never led them to ask the same questions about Christianity.

And I don't want to live in a country where the Daily Telegraph can run a front page showing Ken Livingstone in a line with two radical Muslim clerics under the headline, "These men blame Britain!" (Mind you, it would be nice to be able to live here without the Daily Telegraph!)If we have got to the point where we lump all criticism of the government under the same heading, and assume that critical voices are pro-terror voices, and silence engagement by suggesting publicly that it is the same as associating ones self with voices calling for British deaths, then we are deep, deep, deep in the brown smelly stuff!

I don't want to be told to "Go home, then!", either. I'm not saying I don't want to live here. This is my home. I want it to be a good place, though – a place where the logic of terror makes no sense at all.

22 July, 2005 at 10:59 am 3 comments

The politics of the rabbit hole

So Tony Blair thinks there's no connection between the London bombs and Iraq? What he means, presumably, is that there ought not to be a connection. After all, it's no good saying there isn't when the network claiming responsibility give that as part of their reason and justification. But Blair is essentially suggesting that to buy into the notion that British foreign policy and presence in Iraq is linked to the bombings is somehow to buy into and justify the logic of terrorism. As though agreeing that the connection is exists is the same thing as condoning the response!

It's an argument totally devoid of logic but with enormous power to silence. It's cunning and insidious. If you watch the wider picture, you'll notice a smuggling operation going on. What presents is the need for the nation to unite in the face of threat, in the name of law and order and democracy. That is perfectly acceptable. But smuggled in is the insistence that "If you are really behind us in the opposition to terror, you'll proclaim as vehemently as I do ["I being TB] that there is no connection to Iraq, no motivation othere than sheer bloody-minded evil, no problem to be solved other than combatting terrorists who would have done this regardless of the war, and no problem with my government's foreign policy that needs to be addressed!"

The position he's taking here is an attempt to deflect and silence criticism of his pursuit of the Iraq war – a position morally bankrupt and responsible, to date, for the deaths of 24 864 Iraqi civilians. He mustn't be allowed to evade responsibility for that. We elected him – we owe it to the rest of the world, to the families of the dead in Iraq and London and to the very values Blair reckons are under attack by the bombers to hold him to account. It is the most effective contribition we can make to ensuring that the terror doesn't continue.

19 July, 2005 at 10:21 pm 2 comments

Let’s stop pretending suicide bombers are cowards

Am I the only one who gets really angry with the media depiction of suicide bombers as cowards? They may be many things, but cowards they certainly aren't! I've fought in a war, and one thing that strikes me forcibly is that most soldiers spend and awful lot of time and energy surviving! The idea is to kill the enemy while escaping harm. Yet these people quite deliberately give up their lives. When I try to imagine myself into the mind of the bombers, or the terrorists who flew the planes into the twin towers, I'm haunted by wondering what it is like waking up knowing that today you are going to die. Or what goes through their minds in the last seconds before they detonate their bombs. Are they frightened? Any last-minute doubts about whether or not it's worth it? When they look at the passers-by they are going to kill, what do they think, or feel?

Why do suicide bombers evoke such particular horror in us? Why do we portray them as so very, particularly evil? It can't be for their effectiveness – many bombers die taking hardlyanyone with them. Perhaps it's the deliberation of it all. Or the knowledge that anyone around could be a walking bomb. Or maybe it's our horror of casualties. After all, we expect to go to war with minimal casualties. We have smart bombs and tanks that can pound the hell out of people and places from great distances. We shelter our troops behind inches of toughened metal and glass. We kill people from heights or distances. We rarely have to see them, or engage with them as human beings. They are statistics. Our military language carefully removes the personal, human element from our killing and dying. Suicide bombers don't allow us that sort of detachment. Their stuff is too "in our faces"; too personal. They remind every one of us that, in their eyes, we're to blame – each of us. Not just our government, but us. They say, in effect, "This is between you and me".

We are happy to participate in the kinds of things that breed suicide bombers. Israel carries out its state terrorist policies (well, come on, let's call a spade a spade! If anyone elese did what they do to the Palestinians, we'd regard it as an act of terrorism, wouldn't we?) because Britain and the US exercise their vetos in the UN. We might not like it. We might protest. But we don't see ourselves as deliberately and personally involved. In the eyes of the victims, we're culpable. We are participating. When a Palestinian loses a child to an Israeli sniper or gunship, or his wife dies giving birth at a chekpoint because the soldiers won't allow her to get to an ambulance, or a farmer loses his land and wealth at a stroke because the Wall is routed through the family olive grove, then that person blames you and me, just as much as George Bush, Tony Blair or Ariel Sharon.

I spoke to some Palestinian young people of 17-18 years. What was terrifying was the level of despair. They saw no way out, no end to the fighting and no means of influencing events. The only people who, in their eyes, were doing anything positive, were Hamas. One told me, "The Americans think they have their smart bombs. Well, we've got even smarter bombs!" She was referring to suicide bombers. Pretty desperate when you look at suicide bombers as a sign of hope, eh? And when a 14 year old girl believes the only thing left is to sign up as a martyr – what is going on?

And no, before anyone starts, this isn't an apology for terrorism or suicide bombers. On a personal and spiritual level, it's an attempt to understand fellow human beings. I think that is vital and we do no good pretending things are other than they are. Calling them cowards makes it easy to dismiss them. I interrogated many "terrorists" in Zimbabwe. Some had done some very, very evil things. But there were two things that struck me. Firstly, they were, without exception, brave. Secondly, they saw themselves as being engaged in a struggle against a great evil, against a powerful enemy who was waging a terror war on their people, with no means to wage it other than through terrorism.

That was a salutary lesson for me. It meant I had to take them seriously as human beings. It meant I had to take seriously the fact that they had consciences and a moral argument for what they were doing. It meant I had to take them seriously as soldiers. It meant that I couldn't ignore the ways in which they saw every citizen of what was Rhodesia as intimately connected to and involved in what was going on on the streets of the black townships.

If we want to rid the world of terror, one of the things we need desperately to do is to avoid playing things as though they are different from the way they are. If we don't like terror on our streets, then we must recognise that it has come to our streets from their streets. And they reckon we're to blame! We can't just disagree – we need to struggle for justice and peace.

12 July, 2005 at 9:21 am 2 comments

Praying for our enemies



Quite a challenge in the wake of the London bombings, isn't it? Yet Jesus gives a command that is a deliberate rejection of the cycle of violence, hatred and revenge. He says that we are to love our enemies, too. Praying for them as people we love (rather than as those we hate and fear) is immensely challenging. So, as soon as the news broke, we set up a vigil cangle – a huge candle with 6 tealights set into it. We prayed for the victims and their families, the rescuers and medics, the government, the G8 summit and for a world in which poverty is history and justice and peace render terrorism and violence redundant. We also prayed this prayer: "We light a candle for the bombers. Restore their humanity. Keep them from further evil. Have mercy on their souls."

9 July, 2005 at 11:36 pm 1 comment


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