Jim Miles: Between the Lines – Books Review

By Jim Miles
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

Between the Lines – Readings on Israel, The Palestinians, and the U.S. “War on Terror”. Edited by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufi Haddad.  Haymarket Books, Chicago, Ill., 2007.

This work is a powerful compilation of articles relating the story of the al-Aqsa Intifada, tying it into a broader world vision of the Middle East and American Empire. That serves as the main theme for the book, “the continuation of the Zionist colonial project, which has aspired to…control all of historic Palestine with the full backing of U.S. imperialism.”  Expressed similarly from another angle, “Israel plays a key role in enforcing U.S. imperial strategy regionally and internationally,  particularly…subsumed beneath the “war on terror.” It is essentially a partnership, not Israel controlling Congress, or the U.S. manipulating Israel, but a more cooperative partnership, perhaps not of equals of power in a military-economic sense, but certainly equals of ideology. 

Another strong sub-theme accompanies this over-riding viewpoint – that of the weakening power of Fatah and the PA and the rise of Hamas.  The authors are quite harsh on their treatment of Fatah as it became more and more elitist, riven with internal dissent and corruption, and more and more seen as a tool of the Israeli occupiers.  Accompanying this is the rising power of Hamas, partly as a result of their own strong organizational skills and ideology, but also because the Palestinians see them as a more reliable alternative to Fatah, not compromised in their association with the IDF and Israeli politics. 

Other ongoing minor themes accompany these two main texts.  Foremost of these would be the transition of the Israeli Left (Labour Party) into a partner for the Zionist Right (Likud) project of redeeming Eretz Israel and its longer-term goal of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.  Along with this transition is a similar transition of Israel adapting neo-liberal economic policies, including IMF restructuring ideas that leads inevitably to a larger income gap, lower wages, the use of import labour (rather than the rebellious Palestinians or the poorer Mizrahi Jews from the African diaspora), and a general deterioration of social services for the poor (the Mizrahi and ‘Arab Israelis’) and the increase in wealth of the Israeli elites, generally the Ashkenazi (European Jews).  This economic restructuring in turn transferred into the occupied territories, further diminishing the economic abilities and possibilities of a militarized occupied territory.

A third minor theme (none are truly ‘minor’, but play a smaller role in this narrative) is that of the Allon Plan, the “Field of Thorns” which includes all actions combined to assist with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and how it is really the subtext to all the political manipulations through the Peace Process, Camp David, the “disengagement”, “convergence”, and on into the “war on terror.”   Ethnic cleansing brings forth the idea of the “demographic danger” used politically as a rallying point, especially within 1967 Israel. 

Along with these themes is the ever-present one of media manipulations.  The freedom of “Between the Lines” to publish and the quotes derived from Israeli sources are often quite condemning of Israeli actions, political, economic, or military, yet little of that ever reaches the western press.  With the recent emphasis on the “war on terror”, the rise of Hamas, and the strong political turn to the far right, this openness is not nearly as apparent. 

This variety of ideas is summed up in toto at the end of the forward: “the mainstream discourse within Israel and abroad ignores the fact that Zionism, as the hegemonic ideology of the Israeli state and society, is constantly reproduced and sustained in the service of the Israeli-U.S. colonialist project, including the globalized economic interests that underlie it.”

There are numerous substantiated events and ideas that support the editors and authors viewpoint very strongly.  The articles read sequentially, as published in Between the Lines in its brief existence in Jerusalem during the Intifada, followed by additional essays on more recent events, significantly the Hamas electoral success and the Hezbolla military success in Lebanon.  They display a disconcerting foresightedness as to what future possibilities might arise.  Azmi Bishara, the Palestinian member of the Knesset who has recently been charged with accusations against the State of Israel (of course), is well represented throughout the book.  Many of the ‘common’ events (Jenin, the ‘wall’, Oslo Peace process) are presented within the discourse of Israeli-American colonial-imperial strategies, bringing them into the broader context of a more complete Middle East imperial project. 

While the whole text is powerful enough to raise my blood pressure and make me stifle the more crude epithets of anger, the final sections on the realization of the Allon Plan disguised under the freedom provided by the rhetoric of the “war on terror” and the new quests for “peace” on Israel’s terms only (“we have no partner”) leaves the reader with understandably scary imaginative scenarios.  Those scenarios include possible attacks on Iran, certainly done cooperatively between the U.S. and Israel although one or the other may lead the attack.  Add to this another instigated attack against Lebanon and Syria, using different tactics than the failed war of 2006.  Above all for Palestine, there is and will be a sustained increase of aggressiveness from the Israeli IDF in creating positions and conditions for the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank, while acting militarily against the Gaza strip (November 2006 – “Autumn Clouds”, how poetic) in its bantustan style prison camp formation.

Between the Lines begins with a well-written introduction serving as a concise historical précis of events leading up to the al-Aqsa Intifada.  That section alone deserves to be mass-marketed for its clarity and brevity.  Following on that, as indicated above, the chapters follow in time-sequenced progression.  While there are details of the actual conflict itself, much of the narrative discusses the politics and behind the scenes working of the various members of the conflict, from the “Likud-Labor Gangster Government” with its “Provocative Escalations”, to the “Essence of the Conflict – Total War”, “The True Nature of Israel’s Democracy”, through Jenin and its implications for the resistance, Sharon’s re-election in 2003, the implications of the U.S. invasion of Iraq which leads into the “Era of Force, Force, and More Force.”

The closing chapters concentrate on the “disengagement” locally, and the preparations for a broader conflict regionally. 

The disengagement and the subsequent invasive tactics are rationalized by Silvan Shalom, the Israeli Foreign Minister in Sharon’s Likud government as part of the “global battle against this terrorism….That’s why we should do everything we can, because we are protecting our people fighting against this global phenomenon that is threatening the entire world, and all the democratic countries.”  This is the perfect political answer to support continued terrorism on the part of the Israeli’s and the U.S., making the aggressor and perpetrator into the victim, turning the victim into the aggressor.  Once again the western press is noted for its complicity: “The mileage this line of justification [previous] has received in the Western press is mind-boggling, especially considering the nature of the powers that promote it (the Zionist movement and U.S. ruling classes).”

While Israel sought to “convey the unequivocal message” that disengagement was a result of “Israel’s position of strength” it is also noted “if not for the resistance, Israel would never have considered disengaging from Gaza in the first place.” Ultimately, “while continuing to maintain full control over its [Gaza’s] land, air, and seas, Israel effectively imposed a containment regime of the Strip.”  At the same time it is really “a tactical redeployment to more effective positions of control…not unprecedented in Israeli policy” at the same time allowing more settlement and military engagements in the West Bank.  The worst aspect that I can see from this is the “Normalization of Transfer” such that “If one day the situation arises whereby Israel finds the opportunity to actively transfer Palestinians…in the West Bank or even Palestinian citizens of Israel…the international community can “understand” this necessity based on the disengagement’s precedent.” 

The final section looks at the broader conflict with the unsuccessful attacks on Lebanon and the election of Hamas in Gaza.

For Lebanon, an unnamed Israeli minister explained that their desire was “to turn Lebanon into a wasteland.  After that, things will be good.”  They are supported by the Americans as usual with Condaleeza Rice claiming, “that Israel’s catastrophic assault on Lebanon embodied the “birth pangs of the new Middle East.” (consider the source for that metaphor).  Again, the western media expressed the aggression of the Hezbollah attack as a unique provocative attack, but it was simply one of many in a back and forth ‘ember’ engagement.  For the U.S. and Israel it “provided a “unique moment” with “convergence of interests.”  Whereas before the U.S. remained discreet in its support of Israeli military aggression, this support was a “departure from past strategy” of the U.S. hiding “its fingerprints on the dirty jobs Israel committed in the service of the imperial master.”

Apart from the defeat of Fatah and the PA politically, the Hamas victory represents “the pinnacle of the mass popular movement that began with the Al Aqsa Intifada, to definitively displace the Oslo process paradigm and its infectious repercussions upon the Palestinian national movement.”  Part of this was because “Hamas unapologetically preserved and implemented, at times, the Palestinian right to resist, using force as a political tool.”  This of course fits well within the UN Charter on occupation and defensive war, two good reasons why Israel and the U.S. are planning their own “peace summit” with neighbouring Arab countries and not with UN presence.

The authors’ conclusion, if it is as prescient as their writing was during the Intifada, reveals a cauldron set to explode: “The stakes have risen to such a level that it is not irrational to preclude, in both the near and distant future, the possibility of accelerated ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their lands, the ignition of expanded regional wars, and the possible use of nonconventional weaponry.”

A fully engaging book, an intense read, Between the Lines provides a strong and comprehensible analysis of the al-Aqsa Intifada, its consequences, and probable future developments.  Along with the many other authors who have developed similar themes (Ilan Pappe, Ramzy Baroud, Tanya Reinhart, Jonathan Cook, Mishal and Sela) this story expands the library of information and consciousness concerning the occupation and ethnic cleansing that is the story of Palestine.

-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. 

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