The Racism Barrier: Answering William Safire
by M. Junaid Alam
October 4, 2003
In the United States, the Palestinian narrative receives the same brutally dismissive treatment meted out to the dispossessed natives whose moving plight it strongly conveys. Concrete evidence is blocked and barred entrance at the gates of serious social discourse much as Palestine’s pregnant women are stalled and forced to give birth dangerously at checkpoints; important historical facts and statistics are swept aside like the lives of stone-throwing youths shot dead by ruthless occupation soldiers; undeniable facts on the ground are met with shameful silence by the mainstream media, their mastery over the art of indifference evidenced by a lack of outrage against the crushing realities imposed upon an increasingly desperate Palestinian mass pressed under the Israeli boot.
No doubt complicity in colonialism requires such cowardice as a national necessity: can a nation hand over its billions, its tanks, its fighter aircraft - its foreign policy -- to a settler-state without also relinquishing every basic and fundamental principle of human justice? The last of these exports, of course, must be cloaked in the most deliberate distortions and obfuscations, hidden and buried under layers of disinformation and lies, so as to soothe the conscience of initial doubters and stifle criticism evinced by those unimpressed with the farce playing out before them.
One of the primary court jesters in this gruesome debacle is William Safire, ardent Zionist, columnist for America’s paper of record, and personal friend of indicted war criminal and mass murderer Ariel Sharon -- who, naturally, holds the position of Prime Minister of Israel. On October 1st, our eminent columnist published a wonderfully deceptive and revealing piece titled, “The Arafat Barrier”. Mr. Safire justifies the creation of Israel’s monstrous twenty-foot high, barb-wire-adorned apartheid wall by invoking the specter of Arafat as an all-pervasive demon whose evil influence can only be exorcised by erecting a massive physical barrier. In less than two pages, Mr. Safire manages to pack and compress so many lies and myths into his argument one almost expects his salvos to explode straight out of an Israeli tank barrel and into the body of whatever Palestinian standing in the way.
No such luck for our New York Times columnist. But “The Arafat Barrier” does afford us on the pro-Palestinian Left the opportunity to expose and illuminate the moral poverty of Israel and the core tenets of Zionism itself. Any breakthroughs in the public debate about Israel can only emerge if such leftists actively tear apart the casually presented lies by going on the offensive.
Mr. Safire starts out with an impressive burst of fire: “By unleashing and sustaining suicide bombers against Israeli civilians, Yasir Arafat outfoxed himself: the Palestinian boss has given substance to the Israeli dream and U.N. promise of ‘defensible borders.’”
Immediately, Arafat is anointed as the chief scapegoat for the latest manifestation of Israeli racism. Arafat, all-powerful and all-evil being that he is, snaps his fingers, conjures up hordes of suicide-bombers, and orders them into Israel. Imbued with magical powers, he not only summons Palestinians into action single-handedly, but has actually forced Israel to build a costly wall spanning miles. Arafat would be flattered—and also, one might gather, confused: deity that he is, he can set Israeli construction firms into motion but remains unable to escape the crumbling walls of his own shelled-out compound, where Israel has imprisoned and threatened to execute him for the past year. Surely, God works in mysterious ways.
Mr. Safire, his racist frothing spilling out in his first few words, conceives of Palestinians not as a living, breathing, human people, but as mindless beasts controlled by a single leader, a leader beset by internal divisions in his own party and trapped under penalty of Israeli “liquidation.” In our esteemed columnist’s hallucinatory world, none of this matters: Arafat is everything, everything is Arafat.
By making suicide-bombings the active agent for what is then inevitably characterized as the Israeli “response”, Mr. Safire also rips bombings from their context, positing them as irrational and unprovoked attacks. This is a deliberate reversal of the actual flow and volume of violence: a century of Israeli expulsions, village-razing, expropriating, murdering, raping, looting, tank-shelling, bulldozing, and air-bombing preceded this desperate Palestinian response. It is a response which does not account for even 25% of overall casualties since 1987.
Suicide attacks inside Israel were never a part of the Palestinian strategy until the 1990’s, after the first Intifada, when Yitzakh Rabin ordered Israeli soldiers in their confrontation with protestors to “break their bones.” Israel murdered hundreds of Palestinian civilians, mostly youth armed with only stones and the dignified pride of a people defying Ben-Gurion’s prediction about them and their forefathers: “Their old will die, and their young will forget.” Many have died: none have forgotten.
After framing the violence in terms of the most desperate reaction of the oppressed against their oppressors, Mr. Safire must have felt quite pleased with himself when speaking of “the Israeli dream” of “defensible borders.” In truth, Israel abhors borders; its entire existence, including its very creation, depended precisely upon swallowing up and aggrandizing Palestinian land, every boundary a temporary vortex, a set of teeth arranged in a voracious jaw set to devour more and more Palestinian land and property while spitting out or chewing up its inhabitants. Indeed, how strange for our court jester, striking a serious pose, to speak of “defensible borders” about a nation founded by a group of white European settlers in the heart of the Arab world.
Nothing has revealed this historical -- and ongoing -- reality of Israeli ethnic cleansing more clearly than that nation’s own group of ‘new historians’, who have exposed Israel’s past via declassified archives for the past twenty years. The founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, writing in Europe more than fifty years before Israel was created, raised the urgent matter of “spirit[ing] the penniless [Palestinian] population across the border” and “expropriat[ing] gently the private property on the state assigned to us.” As the blade of colonialism was sharpened by time this “gentleness” gave way to the formulation of Vladmir Jabotinsky, Zionist leader of the 1920’s and admirer of Mussolini’s fascism: “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop under the protection of a force independent of the local population -- an iron wall…”
Others who followed expressed equally revealing comments: Ben-Gurion, justifying the expulsion of Palestinians from 1947-1949, said, “I support compulsory transfer. I don't see anything immoral in it;” Moshe Dayan gloated in 1969 that “There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population;” a few months ago IDF Chief of Staff Ya’alon described Palestinians as a “cancer” for Israel requiring “chemotherapy.” From 1880 to the present, Zionism has seen its control of historical Palestine rise from 0% to 7% to 48% to 78% and now 100%. Israeli historian Tom Segev summarizes, “‘Disappearing’ the Arabs lay at the heart of the Zionist dream, and was also a necessary precondition of its existence.” In a word, the verdict is in, and Mr. Safire should take note: Israel does not want “borders” unless they are marked in Arab blood.
Our columnist continues, “Two-fifths of the barrier against terrorist infiltration is already built,” and soon after he terms it “a protective fence.” At first glance one is inclined to rejoice: surely, a wall erected between colonizer and colonized, a “protective” wall preventing “terrorist infiltration”, might have been constructed, in a moment of Israeli generosity, to provide Palestinians some small respite from the infiltration, usurpation, and annexation of their land, homes, olive groves, and water resources by Israeli zealots. This would be a most welcome development: accounts of our Israeli ‘new historians’ inform us Israeli terrorism has resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians, the displacement of almost a million more, destruction of a half-thousand villages, and theft of truckloads of private property, jewelry, land deeds, bank accounts, furniture -- in 1948 alone.
In the end one is left disappointed, for Israel’s new wall is in fact another one of its agents of violence in its vast array of overt and subversive weapons, designed to destroy the Palestinians by isolating and demoralizing them. As reported by the London Guardian on July 3, 2003, the wall is an excuse to engage in the old Zionist pastime of land theft: “The Israeli government has confiscated hundreds of acres of Palestinian land on the West bank,” the article begins, “this week.” Not to worry: this will be accompanied by another Israeli favorite -- destroying homes: “The first phase of the road map…obliges Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes -- but yesterday an Israeli official accompanied by soldiers…mark[ed] out the confiscated land and hand[ed] out demolition orders.” The military administrator had an explanation for Guardian reporters ready at hand: “It’s a bit sensitive.”
But hasn’t the administrator read Mr. Safire’s latest? -- the wall is made to protect Israel’s “vulnerable” cities. Whether these cities are built on land occupied in 1948, or land occupied in 1967, or land occupied yesterday, does not concern our columnist: even the settlements, “where 200,000 West Bank Jews live,” the good writer kindly notes, must not be left “exposed” to evil Arafat. That the very existence of these settlements epitomizes the total negation of Palestinian rights to land they have lived on for centuries, and represents a violent thrust into Palestinian lives, does not trouble Mr. Safire. Every settlement is but one spike on the deadly end of a mace, for each one is accompanied by racist bypass roads which slice up Palestinian villages and are accessible only to Jews, bringing with them army checkpoints, blockades, and outposts, all instruments used to harass and beat Palestinians on a daily basis, a phenomenon widely reported by international and Israeli human rights groups as well as Jewish and Christian activist groups on the ground who have been attacked by the settlers themselves.
Yes, Mr. Safire, the settlements must be “exposed”—that is, seen for what they are, colonial enclaves occupied by racists built on stolen land.
Our columnist nonetheless goes on. After explaining that he once “choppered” into the settlement of Ariel with his good friend Sharon in tow, he hails the illegal enclave as a “courageous town.” Does Mr. Safire lack the intelligence to see that there is actually very little that is courageous about settlers, living a posh existence off of stolen land, often as hooligans assisted by the army in their mission to ravage a basically defenseless Palestinian people, burning their crops, poisoning their cattle, and ransacking their stores? Once the inevitable rage on the Palestinian side accumulates, it implodes: not in an army base or settlement, but, most of the time, in a major Israeli city. What a deluxe, consequence-free venture for the “courageous” settlers (and army)!
But of course, as our columnist reminds us, this is precisely why the wall is being built: so that Palestinian anger at present injustices can be further aggravated and pressurized by the separation wall enterprise before unleashing itself, perhaps not in a suicide bombing (or perhaps so) but through crude though increasingly improved grenade, rocket, and missile launches. The specific means do not matter: No people who have endured this much violence and suffering will lapse into complacent cooperation with their own extermination because of any wall, no matter how high it reaches, how many volts run through it, or how many moral eunuchs support it.
After reviewing some details concerning expenditures for the separation fence, Mr. Safire goes on to restate one of the most oft-repeated lies of the past decade: Arafat was “presented with almost all the West Bank” - excluding our “courageous” Ariel settlement - refused this kind offer, and “launched the second intifada.” To lend this lie legitimacy, Mr. Safire cites Dennis Ross. The problem of course is that Dennis Ross is a prostitute of the pro-Israeli lobby; formerly propped up by the noxious American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), he works as a consultant for a pro-Israeli lobbying group and is a colleague of the American ayatollah Daniel Pipes. Our ‘friend of Sharon’ might as well have invoked David Duke to back up the integrity of the Aryan Nation.
Ross or no Ross, a more categorically absurd fairy-tale spin of events concerning the Barak accord and the second Intifada is difficult to imagine. Barak never offered to hand over all the West Bank to the Palestinians, because Barak in fact never agreed to dismantle the settlements at all. Indeed, he built more settlements on the West Bank (some forty) than Likud’s Netanyahu. Palestinians would have lacked real control and sovereignty, their land reduced to disconnected ghettoes, broken up by Israeli settlements and surrounded by the soldiers guarding them. A brief look at any recent map of the Occupied Territories with the settlements shown confirms this.
Moreover, Barak denied the Palestinians sovereignty over not only land but water, since the settlers hold monopoly over water rights. He also announced there would be no compensation, not to speak of actual implementation of the UN-guaranteed right of return, for the millions of Palestinian refugees created by Israeli ethnic cleansing over the years. A specialist working for the British Foreign Office put it thusly: “Barak offered the trappings of Palestinian sovereignty while perpetuating the subjugation of the Palestinians.” (Guardian, April 10, 2002) This is the substance of the “offer”: a prison cell with a sticker label.
As for Arafat “launching” the second Intifada, the truth turns out to be quite different. The deliberately provocative visit of the Likud hawk Ariel Sharon to a Muslim place of worship is what sparked the second Intifada. Sharon, surrounded and escorted by hundreds of Israeli troops and at the time best known for his murderous performance in the Lebanese refugee camps in 1982 (before more recent murderous performances had to be taken into account), marched into Islam’s third holiest place on the day of Muslim prayer. Even Israeli “liberals” termed it a “provocation.” In the first few weeks of the violence that followed, Israeli soldiers, described by former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges as the only troops he has seen who killed children “for sport”, murdered hundreds of Palestinian civilians, most of them teenagers. In the same period there was only a dozen or so Israeli dead.
Mr. Safire has completely inverted the truth on two major counts in the course of one sentence. Does Mr. Safire borrow his method from Mr. Goebbels? Perhaps; what is quite clear is that he borrows his ideology from Mr. Jabotinsky & co.: explaining the need for Israel to hold off construction for one part of the wall for now, he gleefully adds: “That does not mean to abandon Ariel; far from it….fencing can encircle each of the villages, defending them as islands, or perhaps a horseshoe-shaped barrier not attached to the main line with Israeli troops stationed in the gap.” Our columnist sketches out, in military language, to what great lengths Israel must go to secure its colonists, positioned like artillery, supported by walls, flanked by troops.
Is this any way to live – as garrisoned “islands”? Yet this is supposed to be the Zionist dream: an existence which, dependent on separation and exclusivism, removes the Palestinians and “redeems” the land for the Jews. Yet, politically, financially, and demographically, it is so absurd and fantastic that Mr. Safire must play the role of General to achieve it.
This is no small matter: It was Jabotinsky, after all, who penned the essay The Iron Wall and once wrote, “Zionism is a colonizing adventure and, therefore, it stands or falls on the question of armed forces.” He and other Zionists, however, posing their solution to what Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein has described as “the reciprocal challenges of Gentile repulsion or anti-Semitism and Gentile assimilation” facing European Jewry, adopted the position that Jews will constantly be harried and disrupted in Gentile society because of their efforts to assimilate, and will find refuge only in their own homogenous state. Has not the opposite occurred?
Consider the following: In his revealing book The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust Israeli scholar Tom Segev notes, “The Revisionists” - the wing of Zionism Jabotinsky belonged to -“had fairly wide-ranging links to the Nazis,” adding that their leadership “distributed a memorandum to its members” advising that “The Nazis should be treated politely and with reserve.” (p. 32) By 1928, Segev adds, “The revisionist right…had long been sympathetic to Benito Mussolini and now and then even to Adolf Hitler’s Nazism—except, of course, his anti-Semitism,” and quotes a 1932 Revisionist lawyer as saying “Were it not for Hitler’s anti-Semitism, we would not oppose his ideology.” (p. 20, 23) Such was the level of faith placed in European racist philosophy by Zionism (how different were Goebbels and Jabotinsky?). Even Ben-Gurion, who was repulsed by Jabotinsky as Segev notes, declared “If I knew that it was possible to save all the children in Germany by transporting them to England, but only half of them by transporting them to Palestine, I would choose the second…” (p.24)
Zionist leaders invested so much in their racialist approach that they acted at the expense of other Jews. To cite Segev’s book one last time, the author quotes 1925 Zionist Jacob Klatzkin, author of Encyclopaedia Judaica, who wrote, “If we do not admit the rightfulness of anti-Semitism, we deny the rightfulness of our own nationalism.” (p.30) In practice this meant the Zionist attitude toward the Holocaust left much to be desired from the humanist point of view. Yet precisely where Jews have separated themselves, discriminated against and pushed apart the racial Other (Arabs), life has been most difficult; where they exist as equals and partners in multicultural societies, such as America and Britain, and now even Germany, they are thriving, with anti-Semitism no more (or in some cases less) prevalent than other forms of racism against other minority groups. Therefore the core tenet of Zionist philosophy, that anti-Semitism is a natural and inevitable Gentile impulse, has now been discredited by reality and shamed by history.
So whereas mindless pro-Israel fanatics like Mr. Safire cling to their precious settlements and all the madness that comes with them, others have become wiser: Avraham Burg, former speaker of Israel’s Knesset and former chairman of the Jewish Agency, has written an article which, given the stature of the author, is worth quoting at length:
“The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice…It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents’ shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun…A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself.” (Guardian, September 15, 2003 [adopted from original publication in Hebrew in Israeli paper Yediot Arahnot])
Returning to our op-ed piece, Mr. Safire is doubly pleased with himself for having not only spelled out the details of increasing Israel’s neurosis but also showing that such a maneuver would illustrate that “Israel respects America’s intercession” and that “only Bush – not the Europeans or U.N. – can influence Sharon.” The swipe at the rest of the world is understandable enough: aside from the U.S, everyone else is, of course, “anti-Semitic.” But the first part is truly comical: whatever inkling of impartiality maintained by the Bush administration that has not been crushed, intimidated, and bullied into irrelevance by Israeli lobbying and browbeating has been ignored by Sharon anyway, save killing Arafat. Whether or not the White House withholds a few meager millions to “punish” continued Israeli construction of the wall is meaningless given the cover of UN vetoes, military hardware, and billions in loans and investment it has showered upon Israel. In short, there has been no “intercession”: when Israel sticks the six-inch serrated blade into Palestine that Mr. Safire calls “the Arafat Barrier” America will not be absolved because it did not pay for the last few centimeters.
After making some noises about “extend[ing] the fence to defensible [sic] positions,” Mr. Safire makes a nod to the introduction of his piece with an equally dishonest and disgusting ending: “That gives future Israeli governments opportunity to improve territorial defenses if a Palestinian partner does not emerge. When that peacemaker does emerge, he or she will find the defensible-border issue already settled – thanks to Yasir Arafat.”
In other words, Israel will do as it pleases, pushing the Palestinians into a more and more hopeless predicament, such that a puppet leader of our choosing will be forced to bow and kneel before the new territorial reality created by irreversible Israeli colonization.
The final and oft-repeated canard concerning the lack of “a Palestinian partner” for peace is also a nice ending touch, and, in fact, the one part of Mr. Safire’s article with which I agree entirely. Indeed, no nation has worked as hard to find a peace partner than Israel, which has been searching so meticulously and methodically that it has occupied the entire Palestinian nation to find this treasured partner. Israel’s advanced search party of F-16 aircraft and Merkava IV tanks has scoured the land; its bulldozers overturned houses; its torturers beaten children; its security services corralled thousands of men; to find and dig out this reluctant Palestinian messiah.
But a willing accomplice to Israel’s genocidal agenda with even an iota of support from the Palestinian masses will never be found. Mr. Safire can continue with his paper columns, Mr. Sharon with his tank columns and Israel with its barriers, bullets, bombs, and bulldozers: it will not matter in the end. Every injustice, every atrocity, has and will only continue to sharpen and strengthen the indomitable Palestinian will to resist against all odds.
M. Junaid Alam is a Political Science Undergraduate at Northeastern University in Boston, and a member of Northeastern Univ. Campus Against War and Racism. He designed and maintains the website of M. Shahid Alam (http://www.msalam.net). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org