By Jeremy Salt
Nakba Day, May 15. One day, one date, but every day since May 15, 1948, has been a nakba day for the Palestinians. Their suffering at Israeli Jewish hands eclipses anything ever suffered by Jews in the Middle East. Their treatment is worse than suppression. It is persecution. On the West Bank, they are subjected to pogroms at the hands of Jewish settlers, big pogroms, little pogroms, inside one long continuing pogrom. In Gaza the Palestinians live in a game reserve created by Israel, there to be hunted down as the hunter desires, butchered en masse from the air or shot by some squib of a soldier with a big gun along the fence line.
In the name of the Jewish people, this is what the zionists have done to the Palestinians. In the name of the Jewish people, this is what the zionists have done to the Jewish people. In the name of the Jewish people, this is what the zionists have done to Judaism. In the name of the Jewish people, this is what the zionists have done to Jewish communities that had lived across the Middle East peacefully for 2000 years. A tragedy by any measure, only the remnants of these communities are left.
Israel has been built on an ideology that actively repudiates universal human rights, whatever the lip service paid to the latter by governments of Israel. There cannot simultaneously be a state based on zionist ideology and one based on respect for universal human rights. For one to live the other must die, which is why suggestions that the forthcoming annexation of the West Bank will somehow result in one state with equal rights for all are a delusion.
The state already has laws in place that can be further used to disenfranchise the Palestinians. The charter of the Jewish National Fund prevents land taken from Palestinian Muslims or Christians ever being sold or leased back to them. Then there is the absent ownership law, allowing the state to take over the land of Palestinians driven out of their homeland in 1948 and in 1967. Along with the absent absentees were the present absentees, Palestinians who had not fled or been driven out in 1948 but were not living at their usual place of residence. Their homes and land were taken, too. These laws are part of the web of bogus judicial measures passed since 1948 that have the single intention of transferring Palestinian property into Jewish hands. They will be there to be used in various ways once the West Bank is annexed.
The task ahead of the Israeli government after annexation will be to whittle down the Palestinian presence on the West Bank by all means possible. Changing the demographic balance by expanding existing settlements or building new ones and attracting waves of settlers to fill them with tax and other benefits will be the priority. While the aim over time will be to reduce the Palestinians to a negligible ethnic minority, if circumstances arise or can be created as in 1948 and 1967 to get rid of them all, so much the better. To think that having formally engorged the last of Palestine, Israel will begin sharing it with the people it has oppressed for the past seven decades is a complete delusion.
Israel thinks it has finally won its war against the Palestinians. There are sound reasons for its triumphalism. İt is armed to the teeth and it has more support than ever before from one of the most powerful governments in the world, the US. It has the increasingly open support of some Arab governments, with the United Arab Emirates now opening a direct air connection to Tel Aviv. Corrupt as they might be, these governments are the thin end of a wedge Israel thinks it can drive further into the Arab world.
Given the combination of all these factors Israel is not going to miss the opportunity to annex. All the circumstances have fallen into place. The time is right and the time is now. The ‘international community’ is already critical of what is coming but when Israel annexed East Jerusaem in 1967 ‘western’ governments did nothing. They did nothing when Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. They have done nothing to punish Israel for its serial atrocities in Gaza and on the West Bank and even now are trying to block prosecution of Israel in the International Criminal Court. They are all complicit in Israel’s crimes and after Israel annexes the West Bank they will again do nothing beyond administering verbal slaps on the wrist.
The EU is huffing and puffing but is not likely to take any meaningful action. The UN General Assembly may pass a resolution of condemnation, adding to the hundreds it has passed over the years, all of them treated with contempt by Israel. These resolutions are morally and legally significant but the UNGA has no power to follow through with measures that will punish Israel in real time and the US will prevent any similar resolution being passed by the Security Council.
King Abdullah of Jordan is threatening war, and one will probably erupt eventually but not because of anything the Jordanian king says or does. The Palestinian Authority has broken off all dealings with Israel and the US. Rather too late, Mr Abbas. You made your deal with the devil and now the devil is collecting his due. He will be laughing all the way to the West Bank.
On the brink of annexation, even Gideon Levy thinks it should go ahead. “Let Israel annex the West Bank. It’s the least worst option for the Palestinians,” ran the Haaretz headline over his article on May 10. “We have to stop fearing it and even say yes to it. It is the only way out of the deadlock.”
His logic goes as follows. The Palestinians have never been so weak, so isolated, fragmented and bereft of fighting spirit and everyone knows the world is tired of this conflict anyway. The occupation is here to stay. Annexation will put an end to the Palestinian Authority, but so what? It is dead anyway. Opponents of annexation fear that without a formal process it will be possible to sow ‘peace process’ and ‘two state’ delusions forever, so let’s have annexation and blow the delusions away.
Furthermore, unlike the settlements, which are there forever, annexation is reversible. One day it can be turned into a democracy. So let’s awaken this reality from its sleep, and embrace annexation, thinks Gideon Levy: “Anschluss [the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938]. In the hills and in the valleys, in area C and in the end the entire West Bank.”
It is true that the Palestinians have never been in such a weak position but from the beginning, their fate was never going to be determined just between themselves and their enemies. The first was Britain. It gave the zionists what it had no right to give them and it shielded them while they were establishing their colonies. Otherwise, they never would have got their foot through the door.
Britain and France followed through in 1956 by trying to destroy the Egyptian champion of Arab nationalism and Palestinian rights, Gamal abd al Nasir. France and Britain supplied Israel with its tanks and planes and France built the nuclear reactor at Dimona before the US took over as Israel’s protector and benefactor, arming and financing it to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars since the 1960s. What small people could defeat this combination, no matter how valiant their resistance?
What is critically important in this historical morass is that the Palestinians are not alone. Unlike other native people who have been put to the sword by imperialism and colonialism, they have a vast hinterland embracing not just the Middle East and the Islamic world but a large and constantly growing segment of public opinion in ‘western’ countries. Palestine is not just a Palestinian question but an Arab question, a Muslim question and a global human rights question. In the long term it is this hinterland that Israel has to vanquish, not just Palestine.
While Israel is on the back foot morally, ethically, and legally, abstract issues count for nothing against its logic of force. In 1967 ‘western’ intelligence agencies knew it could defeat any combination of Arab armies and it did. In 1973 it took a beating in the first week but still came out on top, with territory in Sinai it could then trade for what it really wanted, the consolidation of its military and settler presence on the occupied West Bank. However, while it remains outwardly confident that it can defeat any combination of enemies, there is an underlying nervousness in the statements of its military commanders that has not been evident before.
In fact, for those who look carefully, the conventional military balance has been changing steadily against Israel ever since 1973. The war of that year would have been lost had not Anwar Sadat stopped the advance of the Egyptian army after a week of fighting. The US saved Israel with weapons airlifted straight to the battlefield. As Sadat knew, the US would have intervened with its own forces to prevent Israel being defeated but the myth of invincibility that had prevailed since 1967 was exploded. The war showed that on the battlefield, Israel could be defeated.
Israel’s next major war, Lebanon 1982, was predominantly an aerial and artillery onslaught on a civilian population. The ‘enemy’ was several thousand Palestinian fighters and the small number of Syrian troops based in Lebanon, hopelessly trying to stop an invading army of 40,000 soldiers backed by tank, artillery and air and sea power. In these circumstances the outcome on the ground was inevitable, but logistically the campaign was a mess, acknowledged even by the Israelis themselves. On top of this was the shame and horror of the Sabra and Shatila massacres.
The PLO went from Beirut but Hizbullah was born. On the ground, its part-time fighters were soon not only holding the line against Israel’s soldiers and their South Lebanese Army quisling proxies but on occasion scoring spectacular successes, some based on the interception of Israel’s electronic communications. By 2000 Israel had had enough and pulled out, virtually overnight.
In 2006 it tried to show Hizbullah who was boss with another invasion, failing again and failing in the most humiliating fashion. Its troops were outfought by Hizbullah’s part-time soldiers and its supposedly indestructible Merkava tanks repeatedly blown to bits by Hizbullah explosives. The launching of the land-to-sea missile that put an Israeli warship out of action was another unpleasant surprise.
Since that time Israel has been planning continually for a third-round but so has Hizbullah. It is far stronger and better armed than it was in 2006 and capable of inflicting devastation on Israel whatever the damage it also suffers.
The assassination in 2005 of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, was immediately blamed on Syria when there was only beneficiary – Israel. Later, Hizbullah opened its electronic surveillance secrets to show how Israel had been tailing Hariri across Beirut by drone for months and had drone footage of the precise spot on the Corniche road where Hariri was assassinated in February. Because relations with Hariri had been difficult, Syria was automatically blamed in the ‘west.’ The outrage generated in Lebanon compelled Syria to withdraw the few troops it still had in the country.
While the propaganda played in Israel’s favor it did not impede the rise of Hizbullah as a political and military force, as a resistance movement in the eyes of many Christians as well as Muslims. The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia continued trying to undermine Syria and its allies in Lebanon through Hariri’s son Saad but he was not up to the task, as his arrest and chastisement in Saudi Arabia in 2017 was to show.
During this period sanctions against Iran were continually tightened. Iran’s computer systems were sabotaged and its scientists assassinated by Israel’s agents and in 2018 the US withdrew from the multi-state nuclear agreement with Iran. The assassination of Umar Suleimani in January this year was another provocation which Iran took in its stride, retaliating with missile attacks on US bases in Iraq.
The assassination infuriated Iraqis as well, as their countrymen were among the dead. They and their parliament again demanded that the US remove its troops from their country. This refuses to do, thereby setting them up for further retaliation.
With the US refusing to launch an open military attack on Iran, and with the combination of sanctions, assassinations, cyber sabotage and the threats of military attack failing to bring down the Iranian government, the US/Israel turned on Syria. It was the central pillar in the ‘axis of resistance’ (Iran, Syria and Hizbullah) and if it could be destroyed, the axis would collapse at the centre. That was the calculation. This criminal conspiracy was initially orchestrated by Obama and Clinton, who wanted to launch an air war that would destroy Syria just as the US-NATO air war had destroyed Libya.
However, seeking a UN fig leaf, the US and its allies were blocked at the Security Council by Russia and China. Thwarted, they had to settle for a proxy war fought on the ground by the most violent armed groups on the face of the earth, the same groups they had pledged to destroy as part of their ‘war on terror.’
So far their war has taken the lives of close to half a million Syrians. The material damage has been enormous. Syria has been gravely weakened, yet the US/Israel and their ‘western’ and regional allies have failed to reach their overall objective. Syria still has territory to liberate but Bashar is still in the presidential palace and the strategic alliance with Iran and Hizbullah remains intact.
Yemen is another strand of this pan-regional war waged by the US/Israel and their allies. The Houthis are an independent force, but it suits the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to present them as Iranian puppets in the same way that they like to present Hizbullah as no more than an Iranian proxy.
From planes built in the US and with missiles produced in the US and the UK, Saudi pilots have been killing Yemenis in their streets, their homes, and their markets. After five years of war the death toll – overwhelmingly civilian – hovers around 250,000. Malnutrition alone, caused by the US-supported Saudi land, sea, and air blockade, is thought to have killed 85,000 children.
Yet, with the material odds all against them, the resistance of the Houthis has been extraordinary. Saudi Arabia launched this war five years ago but has proven unable to win it. The Houthis are destroying Saudi convoys, they have missiles that can reach Saudi cities and shipping in the Red Sea, and they now say they are ready to extend their campaign to Israel. Far from being shrunk, the ‘axis of resistance’ has now been effectively expanded to include the Houthis and a large segment of Iraqi society.
Israel continues to launch aerial attacks on Syria every other day. It vows to clear all Iranian forces from Syria but Hizbullah and Iran will not leave Syria to stand alone and neither are they going to be drawn into war at a time that suits Israel. In fact, they do not believe the Israelis at present have the confidence to go to war, certainly not alone against Iran (and so far they have failed to convince the US to do their dirty work for them).
On World Quds Day (May 22) Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Khamenei, reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to Palestine in a speech centering around seven main points that make it clear Iran has not retreated one inch from the position it set out in 1979:
1) the liberation of Palestine is a Muslim religious obligation but also a human rights issue. 2) the aim is the liberation of all Palestine “from the river to the sea” and the return of all Palestinians to their homeland.
3) in the struggle for Palestine there should be no trust in ‘western’ governments and institutions dependent on them.
4) the attacks on Syria and Yemen, the assassinations, the creation of Daesh (the Islamic State) and many other things are all intended to divert attention from the resistance front and open up attacks for the zionist regime.
5) attempts by some Arab governments to normalize relations with Israel are shameful, vain and futile.
6) greater efforts need to be made to organize resistance as “one cannot communicate with a savage enemy except through force and from a position of power.”
7) Palestine belongs to all Palestinians and on this basis, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Palestinians will eventually decide their future in a referendum, “but the zionist regime has to go.”
In confronting Iran the zionists are dealing with a culture/civilization thousands of years old that knows how to play the waiting game, however long the game has to be played. To interpret forbearance under military attack as weakness is to misunderstand the mindset and the strategy of both Iran and Hizbullah. They look at the changing military balance and the declining global power of the US and they do not believe time is on Israel’s side. The zionist state believes otherwise. It has nuclear weapons so, in its view, this is not a gamble with history but ultimately a war it cannot lose.
In time, how much time we don’t know, the outcome between two irreconcilable positions will be decided.
– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.