'Extreme Politics'

Occupation and Moderation don’t mix

Many writers – including Nick Cohen– have asked why those who support a Palestinian state can’t say what kind of a state it would be. That question is easily answered. One reason is that there is no viable one or two state solution that any Israeli government so far will accept unless they come under international pressure. The only option they will consider is an Israeli state expanding to cover most of the West Bank in addition to its existing territory. (This has been the stated aim of Israeli Prime Ministers from Ben Gurion in the 40s to Begin in the 70s, Shamir in the 80s and Sharon a few years ago and Olmert now. Many of them aimed at a 'Greater Israel' claiming the right to expand into Egypt, Lebanon and Syria based on the borders of the Biblical kingdom of Israel (1), (2).) The other is that if we believe in democracy it’s up to Palestinians and no-one else to decide what kind of a state they want.

Cohen and others also ask why the left support religious groups like Hezbollah and Hamas rather than democratic socialists. The answer is that under military occupation there is no chance for moderate democrats to get any significant political support. We can support them if we like – but Palestinians won’t support moderation while living in the extreme conditions of a military occupation that starves and shoots civilians routinely. Also, once again, if we believe in democracy it’s up to Palestinians, not any of us in other countries, to decide who they want to govern them through democratic elections. If Lebanese people vote for Hezbollah and Palestinians for Hamas in large numbers who are we to tell them they can't? Did we tell Israelis they couldnt elect war criminals like Olmert and Sharon or Americans they couldnt elect war criminals like Bush and Cheney?

Hezbollah and Hamas are both Products of Occupation

It was the torture and killing of large numbers of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians during the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon from 1982 to 1999(?) that led to Hezbollah being founded and gaining mass support in Lebanon by resisting the occupation and providing social services such as hospitals and schools which the Lebanese government couldn’t provide under occupation and the Israelis refused to provide (3), (4).

Similarly the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza led to the development of both Fatah and Hamas. Israeli refusal to offer Fatah anything for peace in the Oslo II negotiations combined with Fatah’s financial corruption and Hamas’ funding of hospitals, clinics and schools led to Hamas gaining widespread support (5).

(Hamas and Hezbollah both recieve funding and arms from Iran - but Israel recieves far more funding and far more arms from the US government. If the former is illegitimate foreign interference so is the latter - and Iranians, Palestinians and Lebanese , as members of weaker states and groups have far more to fear from the US and Israel than vice-versa.)

Why Palestinian politics isn’t moderate : Starvation and killing of civilians under Occupation

The UN reported in May 2007 that two-thirds of Palestinians were unemployed and 70% of Palestinian households were in poverty by December 2006 - largely as a result of occupation and sanctions (6). The UN also found that 46% of Palestinian families couldn't afford the minimum amount of food needed to survive. In Gaza, facing Israeli and international sanctions and aid cuts, far more are suffering acute hunger. Even in 2004, before the current sanctions, many Palestinians suffered malnutrition and hunger - and many children had their growth stunted as a result. Most Palestinian families had to line up in food queues to get one meal a day even before the current sanctions (7), (8).

Civilians are deliberately targeted and killed by occupying Israeli forces and attacked by Israeli settlers. Their houses are often bulldozed or blown up with explosives, sometimes with the occupants inside them (9).

Wafa Idrees was one example of how an ordinary Palestinian became a suicide bomber. She began as a First Aid worker for the Red Crescent. John Pilger interviewed many people who knew her. In her work she saw pregnant women and wounded civilians die or lose their babies as Israeli soldiers routinely prevent them passing through checkpoints to get to hospital. She went to bring wounded civilians to hospital by ambulance – and she and her colleagues were fired on, often wounded, some of them killed by Israeli forces. She herself was shot and wounded twice and sometimes beaten by Israelis (10), (11).

She became the first woman to become a suicide bomber. Her colleague Ahlam Nasser was still witnessing and experiencing what Wafa did under occupation by Israeli forces years later (12). In the subsequent years and in the 2006 war between Israel, Palestinians and Hezbollah the Israeli forces continued to target Lebanese and Palestinian ambulances and more Palestinian ambulance personnel have been killed (13), (14). The Israeli military (IDF) and government have alleged repeatedly that terrorists, weapons and explosives are transported in these ambulances or that claims of Israeli attacks on ambulances are hoaxes but have never produced a shred of evidence for their claims - and have had to retract claims of videos of missiles transported in ambulances, later admitting they were stretchers (15), (16).

Would many of us be moderate in our political views if we were subjected to these conditions? If we say our family, friends and neighbours starved or simply shot in the head?

There’s nothing unusual or abnormal about Palestinians' reactions

In Britain high levels of unemployment on their own cause a rise in support for extremist parties. In Bradford and Burnley the loss of jobs caused by textile factories moving overseas led to sectarian riots between British people of Asian and non-Asian descent a href="#_ftn17" name="_ftnref17">(17) The neo-fascist British nationalist party got 27% of the vote and support for radical Islamic groups similarly rose (18)..

In France youth unemployment of 40% in inner cities led to the neo-fascist Le Pen coming second in the 2002 Presidential elections and to massive riots across the country in 2005 (19), (20).

If you added in a brutal military occupation or decades of economic sanctions British and French politics and society would look a lot like Palestinian and Iraqi politics and society.

It’s ludicrous to demand that Palestinians support moderate politicians while subjecting them to hunger, poverty and constant killing causing extreme suffering. No large group of people on earth would react any differently than they have.


copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007

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Sources and Footnotes

(1) = Cook, Jonathan (2006) ‘Blood and Religion – The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State’ , Pluto Press, London, 2006 , pages 138-141

(2) = Morris, Benny(1999) ‘Righteous Victims – A History of the Arab Israeli Conflict’ , John Murray, London , 2000 (hardback) pages 75,138,141-143,483

(3) = Morris, Benny(1999) ‘Righteous Victims – A History of the Arab Israeli Conflict’ , John Murray, London , 2000 (hardback)edition, Chapter 12 especially pages 552-560

(4) = Time magazine 28 Jun 2006, 'Will Hizballah Go To War for Iran?', http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1208916,00.html

(5) = BBC News 25 Jan 2007, 'Who are Hamas?', http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1654510.stm

(6) = BBC News 25 Jan 2007, 'Who are Hamas?', http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1654510.stm

(6) = UN News Service 29 May 2007, 'Two-thirds unemployment in occupied Arab territories – UN labour study', http://www.un.org/apps/news/storyAr.asp?NewsID=22713&Cr=labour&Cr1=&Kw1=unemployment&Kw2=Palestinian&Kw3=

(7) = Independent 22 Feb 2007, 'Half of Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza malnourished ', http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2293476.ece

(8) = UN ESCR , 'The right to food :Report by the Special Rapporteur, Jean Ziegler , Mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, advanced edited copy 31 Oct 2003 ', http://www.unhchr.ch/pdf/chr60/10add2AV.pdf , summary - page 2

(9) = Amnesty International 18 May 2004 , 'Israel and the Occupied Territories : Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property. Executive Summary', http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde150402004

(10) = Pilger, John (2006) , ‘Freedom Next Time’ , Bantam, London, 2006 , pages 93-95

(11) = Observer 3 Feb 2002, ‘Hatred sown in a carer's heart' ’http://observer.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,4348774-102275,00.html

(12) = As (11) above

(13) = Amnesty International Press Release 8 Nov 2006, 'Israel/Occupied Territories: Amnesty International delegate visits scene of Gaza Strip killings', http://news.amnesty.org/index/ENGMDE150872006

(14) = Amnesty International Press Release 21 Nov 2006, 'Israel/Lebanon: Further evidence of grave violations in Israel-Hizbullah conflict underlines urgent need for UN inquiry', http://news.amnesty.org/index/ENGMDE020352006

(15) = Human Rights Watch 3 Dec 2006 , 'The “Hoax” That Wasn’t: The July 23 Qana Ambulance Attack', http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/mena/qana1206/index.htm

(16) = Guardian 6 Oct 2004, ‘Israel backtracks on missile claim’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1320613,00.html

(17) = BBC News 3 Jul 2001, ‘Race riot town seeks answers’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1420334.stm

(18) = Guardian 4 May 2002 , 'Gains by far right but relief for ministers', http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,709698,00.html

(19) = BBC News 22 Apr 2002, ‘France stunned by Le Pen success’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/1943459.stm

(20) = BBC News 16 Nov 2005, ‘France extends laws to curb riots ’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4441246.stm

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007