Ruim een kwarteeuw geleden, om precies te zijn 26 jaar voor het begin van 'de genocidale bombardementen' van de zelfbenoemde 'Joodse staat' op de Palestijnse burgerbevolking, vergeleek de alom gerespecteerde Amerikaanse hoogleraar Richard Falk in een essay getiteld 'Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust':
Israeli policies with regard to the Palestinians to the Nazi Germany record of collective punishment. Identifying himself as a Jewish American, Falk stated that his use of the term holocaust 'represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current [Israeli] genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy [for the Palestinians].'
Falk also stated that... 'a pattern of criminality associated with Israeli policies in Gaza has actually been supported by the leading democracies of the 21st century.'
Falk responded to criticism by saying: 'If this kind of situation had existed for instance in the manner in which China was dealing with Tibet or the Sudanese government was dealing with Darfur, I think there would be no reluctance to make that comparison.' He attributed the reluctance to criticize Israel's policies to the sensitive history of the Jewish people, as well as the state's ability to 'avoid having [its] policies held up to international law and morality.'
Even voor alle duidelijkheid: Richard Falk is Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and author of Crimes of War: Iraq and The Costs of War: International Law, the UN and World Order after Iraq. He is also current UN Rapporteur for Palestine.
Welnu, Frits Barend, wij beiden bezitten de Nederlandse nationaliteit, wij beiden zijn in 1947 geboren, jij acht maanden voordat ik het eerste levenslicht zag, wij beiden komen uit een burgerlijk, middenklasse gezin, wij beiden hebben een vergelijkbare scholing ondergaan, wij beiden zijn journalist, en wij beiden zijn bejaard. So far, so good. Maar nu, er bestaan twee grote verschillen tussen jou en mij, jij voelt je joods, ik ben geen jood. Mijn ouders waren oorlogshelden, mijn moeder, een Schotse, diende bij het Britse leger, mijn vader vocht tegen de Nazi's en de Japanners op Nederlandse onderzeeboten tot de Geallieerden hadden gewonnen. Jouw ouders moesten onderduiken om niet te worden afgevoerd naar een nazi-vernietigingskamp. Ik stel met nadruk 'vernietigingskamp' omdat een concentratiekamp een uitvinding was van het Britse leger in Zuid Afrika. Ik neem aan dat jouw jeugd in het teken stond van onverwerkte trauma's van je ouders. Sinds vrij recentelijk is bekend dat trauma's van de ouders erfelijk overdraagbaar zijn. Hetzelfde gaat op voor in elk geval mijn vader, die vijf jaar lang opgesloten zat op onderzeeboten die regelmatig zwaar gebombardeerd werden en hij telkens weer moest afwachten of zijn duikboot niet getroffen werd. Bij ons thuis werd nooit over de oorlog gesproken. Pas veel later ontdekte ik de onderscheidingen die mijn vader had ontvangen van Koningin en Vaderland. Na zijn dood ontving ik zijn fotoboeken uit die tijd waardoor veel duidelijk werd. Mijn vader was een moeilijk mens, ik was een moeilijk kind, want ook ik droeg de erfelijke sporen van die gruwelijke tijd met mij mee, zo realiseer ik mij nu op mijn 76ste. Voor joden moeten de ervaringen nog gruwelijker zijn geweest, het besef dat nagenoeg de hele westerse wereld zich van hen had afgekeerd. Voor joodse kinderen die het verdriet en de eenzaamheid van hun ouders droegen, en regelmatig hun ouders wilden troosten, moet de situatie verpletterend hebben geleken. Ik leerde daarentegen één ding, namelijk dat de grootste zonde van de mens onverschilligheid is. Nobelprijswinnaar Elie Wiesel schreef daarover het volgende:
Ik heb altijd geloofd dathet tegengestelde van liefde niet haat is,maar onverschilligheid,
het tegengestelde van kunst niet lelijkheid,maar onverschilligheid,
het tegengestelde van leven niet dood,maar onverschilligheid jegens beide,
het tegengestelde van vrede niet oorlog,maar onverschilligheid jegens beide.
Het tegengestelde van cultuur, schoonheid,edelmoedigheid is onverschilligheid.Dat is de vijand.
En daarom geloof ikdat literatuur of kunstof schrijven of onderwijzenof werken voor de mensheidmaar één doel heeft:vechten tegen de onverschilligheid.
Wie zou dit beter hebben kunnen weten dan Wiesel, de man die de Holocaust overleefde. Oké, je zult nu wel begrijpen waarom ik jouw onverschilligheid ten aanzien van het Palestijnse lijden niet begrijp. Daarom nu het essay van professor Richard Falk:
Slouching towards a Palestinian holocaust.
Schoorvoetend richting een Palestijnse holocaust.
Richard Falk argues that in the context of recent disturbing developments in Gaza which are a clear expression of deliberate intent by Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty, it is not an irresponsible overstatement to associate such conduct with the criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats, 'The Second Coming'
THERE is little doubt that the Nazi Holocaust was as close to unconditional evil as has been revealed throughout the entire bloody history of the human species. Its massiveness, unconcealed genocidal intent, and reliance on the mentality and instruments of modernity give its enactment in the death camps of Europe a special status in our moral imagination. This special status is exhibited in the continuing presentation of its gruesome realities through film, books, and a variety of cultural artefacts more than six decades after the genocidal events ceased. The permanent memory of the Holocaust is also kept alive by the existence of notable museums in several countries devoted exclusively to the depiction of the horrors that took place during the period of Nazi rule in Germany.
Against this background, it is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as 'holocaust'. The word is derived from the Greek holos (meaning 'completely') and kaustos (meaning 'burnt'), and was used in ancient Greece to refer to the complete burning of a sacrificial offering to a divinity. Because such a background implies a religious undertaking, there is some inclination in Jewish literature to prefer the Hebrew word 'Shoah' that can be translated roughly as 'calamity', and was the name given to the 1985 epic nine-hour narration of the Nazi experience by the French filmmaker, Claude Lanzmann. The Germans themselves were more antiseptic in their designation, officially naming their undertaking as the 'Final Solution of the Jewish Question'. The label is, of course, inaccurate as a variety of non-Jewish identities were also targets of this genocidal assault, including the Roma and Sinti ('gypsies'), Jehovah's Witnesses, gays, disabled persons, political opponents.
It has always been controversial to extend the reach of 'holocaust' beyond this historical memory of the Nazi genocide. There are those who believe that it is a violation of this memory to suggest any comparability with other experiences of collective suffering. Yet I share with others the view that in certain circumstances, especially in situations of neglected perceptions of genocidal behaviour, the provocative linking of a given set of events with the Jewish experience of Nazism is called for. Iris Chang did this with some powerful effects, referring to the Japanese massacre of civilian residents of Nanking, China in 1937 as 'the forgotten holocaust'. The same language has been used in reference to the strategic bombing campaigns of the Allied Powers in World War II that devastated German and Japanese cities, culminating in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is against this background that I am suggesting that the dire and worsening situation in Gaza threatens to produce a new holocaust.
Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza with this criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express an unmistakable and deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty that endanger its collective survival. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust in the making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in mass tragedy.
If ever the ethos of 'a responsibility to protect,' recently adopted by the UN Security Council as the basis of 'humanitarian intervention,' is applicable, it would be now, to act to start protecting the people of Gaza from further pain, suffering, and most of all, from total collapse through starvation and disease. But it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to do anything even in the face of this severe crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force regardless of the human burdens inflicted on the Gazans.
Even if the pressures exerted on Gaza were to be acknowledged as having genocidal potential and even if Israel's impunity under America's geopolitical umbrella is put aside, there is little assurance that any sort of protective action in Gaza would be taken. There were strong advance signals in 1994 of a genocide to come in Rwanda, and yet nothing was done to stop it; the UN and the world watched while the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnians took place, an incident that the World Court described as 'genocide' a few months ago; similarly, there have been repeated allegations of genocidal conduct in Darfur over the course of the last several years, and hardly an international finger has been raised, either to protect those threatened or to resolve the conflict in some manner that shares power and resources among the contending ethnic groups.
But Gaza seems in some respects morally worse, although mass death has not yet resulted. It appears to be worse because the international community is watching the ugly spectacle unfold while some of its most influential members actively encourage and assist Israel to proceed with its approach to Gaza. Not only the United States, but also the European Union, is complicit, as are such neighbours as Egypt and Jordan, apparently motivated by their worries that the democratic strength displayed by Hamas may add to their own problems associated with the rising influence of the Muslim Brotherhood within their own borders. It is undoubtedly relevant that Hamas, founded by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, immediately declared itself to be the Gaza extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is helpful to recall that the liberal democracies of Europe paid homage to Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games, and then turned away tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. I am not suggesting that the comparison should be viewed as literal, but pointing out that a pattern of criminality associated with Israeli policies in Gaza has actually been supported by the leading democracies of the 21st century.
To ground these allegations, it is necessary to consider the background of the current situation. For four decades, ever since 1967, Gaza has been occupied by Israel in a manner that turned this crowded area into a cauldron of pain and suffering for the entire population on a daily basis, with more than half of Gazans living in miserable refugees camps and even more dependent on humanitarian relief to satisfy basic human needs. With great fanfare, under Sharon's leadership, Israel supposedly ended its military occupation and dismantled its settlements in 2005. The process was largely a sham as Israel maintained full control over borders, airspace and offshore seas, as well as asserted its military control of Gaza, engaging in violent incursions, sending missiles to Gaza at will on assassination missions that themselves violate international humanitarian law, and managing to kill more than 300 Gazan civilians since its supposed physical departure. In essence, Israel's 'withdrawal' from Gaza in 2005 was a redeployment of Israeli ground forces and the removal of settlements without genuine 'disengagement', as claimed, and certainly without giving up the realities of control.
These developments were at the time cleverly pitched by Israel and the United States to the outside world as courageous and unilateral peace moves taken at Tel Aviv's initiative, but the most tangible result has been to turn Gaza as a totality into a virtual free-fire zone. As a recent expert observer, Jennifer Loewenstein, wrote in the last issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies, Israel's removal of its physical presence from Gaza 'did nothing to alleviate the misery and in fact tightened the noose around the Gaza.'
As unacceptable as this earlier part of the story, a dramatic turn for the worse occurred when Hamas prevailed in the January 2006 national legislative elections. It is a bitter irony that Hamas was encouraged, especially by Washington, to participate in the elections to show its commitment to a political process (as an alternative to violence) and then was badly punished for having the temerity to succeed. These elections were internationally monitored under the leadership of the former American president, Jimmy Carter, and pronounced as completely fair. Carter has recently termed this Israeli/American refusal to accept the outcome of such a democratic verdict as itself 'criminal'. It is also deeply discrediting of the campaign of the Bush presidency to promote democracy in the region, an effort already under a dark shadow in view of the policy failure in Iraq.
After winning the Palestinian elections, Hamas was castigated as a terrorist organisation that had not renounced violence against Israel and had refused to recognise the Jewish state as a legitimate political entity. In fact, the behaviour and outlook of Hamas are more complex and diverse. From the outset of its political existence in 1987, Hamas seemed ready to work with other Palestinian groups, especially Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, to establish a 'unity' government. More than this, their leadership revealed a willingness to move towards an acceptance of Israel's existence if Israel would in turn agree to move back to its 1967 borders, implementing finally unanimous Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Even more dramatically, Hamas proposed a 10-year truce with Israel, and went so far as to put in place a unilateral ceasefire that lasted for 18 months, and was broken only to engage in rather pathetic strikes mainly taking place in response to violent Israeli provocations in Gaza. Efraim Halevi, former head of Israel's Mossad, was reported to have said, 'What Israel needs from Hamas is an end to violence, not diplomatic recognition.' And this is precisely what Hamas offered and what Israel rejected.
The main weapons in this period relied upon by Hamas, and other Palestinian extremist elements, were Qassam missiles that resulted in producing no more than 12 Israeli deaths over the last six years. While each civilian death is an unacceptable tragedy, the ratio of death and injury for the two sides is so unequal as to call into question the security logic of continuously inflicting excessive force and collective punishment on the entire beleaguered population of Gaza, which is accurately regarded as the world's largest 'prison'
Instead of trying diplomacy and respecting democratic results, Israel and the United States used their leverage to reverse the outcome of the 2006 elections by organising a variety of international efforts designed to make Hamas fail in its attempts to govern Gaza. Such efforts were reinforced by the related unwillingness of the defeated Fatah elements to cooperate with Hamas in establishing a unity government that would be representative of Palestinians as a whole. The main anti-Hamas tactic relied upon by Israel and the US government was to support Abbas as the sole legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, to impose an economic boycott on the Palestinians generally, to send in weapons for Fatah militias and to enlist neighbours in these efforts, particularly Egypt and Jordan. Washington appointed a special envoy, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, to work with Abbas's forces, and helped channel $40 million to build up the Presidential Guard, which were the Fatah forces associated with Abbas.
This was a particularly disgraceful policy. Fatah militias, especially in Gaza, had long been wildly corrupt and often used their weapons to terrorise their adversaries and intimidate the population in a variety of thuggish ways. It was this pattern of abuse by Fatah that was significantly responsible for the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections, along with the popular feeling that Fatah, as a political actor, had neither the will nor capacity to achieve results helpful to the Palestinian people, while Hamas had managed resistance and community service efforts that were widely admired by Gazans.
Inducing civil strife
The latest phase of this external/internal dynamic was to induce civil strife in Gaza that led to a complete takeover by Hamas forces. With standard irony, a set of policies adopted by Israel in partnership with the United States once more produced exactly the opposite of their intended effects. The impact of the refusal to honour the election results has after 18 months made Hamas much stronger throughout the Palestinian territories, and put it in control of Gaza. A public opinion poll in July 2007 taken by a pro-Fatah Palestinian newspaper suggests that if elections were held at present, the Abbas leadership would win 13.47% of the vote, while the Haniyeh Hamas leadership would receive 51.47% of the vote, with the remainder going to a variety of other Palestinian political personalities. Such 'blowback' is reminiscent of a similar effect of the 2006 Lebanon War that was undertaken by the Israel/United States strategic partnership to destroy Hezbollah, but had the actual consequence of making Hezbollah a much stronger, more respected force in Lebanon and throughout the region.
Israel and the United States seem trapped in a faulty logic that is incapable of learning from mistakes, and takes every setback as a sign that instead of shifting course, the faulty undertaking should be expanded and intensified, that failure resulted from doing too little of the right thing rather than, as is the case, doing the wrong thing. So instead of taking advantage of Hamas' renewed call for a unity government, and its clarification that it is not against Fatah as a political formation representing a portion of the Palestinian people but only that 'we have fought against a small clique within Fatah' (Abu Ubaya, the military commander of Hamas), Israel seems more determined than ever to foment civil war in Palestine. This appears to be aimed at making the Gazans pay with their well-being and lives to the extent necessary to crush their will once and for all, thereby severing forever the destinies of Gaza and the West Bank, leading to two antagonistic bantustans that are supposed to quell the struggle for Palestinian self-determination.
The insidious new turn of Israeli occupation policy is as follows: push Abbas to rely on a hardline no-compromise approach towards Hamas, highlighted by the appointment of an unelected 'emergency government' to replace the elected 2006 leadership. The emergency designated prime minister, Salam Fayyad, selected to replace the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, as head of the Palestinian Authority, has only a scant popular following. It is revealing to recall that when Fayyad's party was on the 2006 election list its candidates won only 2% of the vote. Israel is also reportedly ready to ease some West Bank restrictions on movement in such a way as to convince Palestinians that they can have a better future if they repudiate Hamas and place their bets on Abbas, by now a most discredited political figure who has substantially sold out the Palestinian cause to gain favour and support from Israel/United States, as well as to help Fatah prevail in the internal Palestinian power struggle. To promote these goals it is conceivable, although unlikely, that Israel might release Marwan Barghouti, the only credible Fatah leader, from prison provided Barghouti would be willing to accept the Israeli approach of Sharon/Olmert to the establishment of a Palestinian state. This latter step is doubtful, as Barghouti is a far cry from Abbas, and would be highly unlikely to agree to anything less than a full withdrawal of Israel to the 1967 borders, including the elimination of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements.
This latest turn in policy needs to be understood in the wider context of the Israeli refusal to reach a reasonable compromise with the Palestinian people since 1967. There is widespread recognition among both Israelis and Palestinians, and on the part of informed world opinion, that a real peace process would require Israeli withdrawal, the establishment of a Palestinian state with full sovereignty on the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as capital, and assurances of sufficient external financial assistance to give the Palestinians the prospect of economic viability. Unfortunately, there is no Israeli leadership in sight that has the political backing needed to pursue this vision and no grassroots Israeli push to negotiate such a solution, which would result in an ugly encounter with the settler community. Without consensus on the contours of a solution, the conflict languishes in the closet of unavailable diplomatic options. And so we must expect that the struggle will continue indefinitely with likely spurts of violence on both sides, but with the Palestinians, as they have throughout, bearing the brunt of the burden.
The Israeli approach to the Palestinian challenge is based on isolating Gaza and canonizing the West Bank, leaving the settlement blocs intact, and appropriating the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. For years this sidestepping of diplomacy has dominated Israeli behaviour, including during the Oslo peace process that was initiated on the White House lawn in 1993 by the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat. While talking about peace during the Oslo years, the number of Israeli settlers doubled, huge sums were invested in settlement roads linked directly to Israel, and the process of Israeli settlement and Palestinian displacement from East Jerusalem was moving ahead at a steady pace.
Significantly, also, the 'moderate' Arafat was totally discredited as a Palestinian leader capable of negotiating with Israel, being treated as dangerous precisely because he was willing to accept a reasonable compromise. Interestingly, until recently, when he became useful in the effort to reverse the Hamas electoral victory, Abbas was treated by Israel as too weak, too lacking in authority, to act on behalf of the Palestinian people in a negotiating process, one more excuse for persisting with its preferred unilateralist course. These considerations also make it highly unlikely that Barghouti will be released from prison unless there is some dramatic change of heart on the Israeli side.
Instead of working towards some kind of political resolution, Israel has built an elaborate and illegal security wall on Palestinian territory, continuously expanded the settlements and made life intolerable for the 1.5 million people crammed into Gaza, while pretending that such unlawful 'facts on the ground' are somehow a path leading towards security and peace.
On 25 June 2007 leaders from Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority met in Sharm El Sheikh on the Red Sea to move ahead with their anti-Hamas diplomacy. Israel proposes to release 250 Fatah prisoners (of 9,000 Palestinians currently held) and to hand over Palestinian revenues to Abbas on an instalment basis, provided none of the funds is used in Gaza, where a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds day by day. These leaders agreed to cooperate in this effort to break Hamas and to impose a Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on an unwilling Palestinian population. Remember that Hamas prevailed in the 2006 elections, not only in Gaza but in the West Bank as well. To deny Palestinians their right of self-determination is almost certain to backfire in a manner similar to earlier hardline efforts, producing a radicalised version of what is being opposed. As some commentators have suggested, getting rid of Hamas could mean establishing al Qaeda!
Israel is currently stiffening the boycott on economic relations that has brought the people of Gaza to the brink of collective starvation and desolation. The latest figures suggest an 80% poverty level, with more than 60% of Gazans unemployed or under-employed. This set of policies, carried on for four decades, has imposed a sub-human existence on a people that have been repeatedly and systematically made the target of a variety of severe forms of collective punishment. The entire population of Gaza is treated as the 'enemy' of Israel, and little pretext is made in Tel Aviv of acknowledging the innocence of this long-victimised, yet still stubbornly resisting, civilian society. To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of the Palestinian ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of 'never again.'
Richard Falk is Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice at Princeton University and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. An earlier version of this article was published on 10 and 11 July 2007 in the Turkish newspaper Zaman.
Eén simpele vraag aan jou: hoe is het te verklaren dat inzake Gaza en de ruim 12.000 vermoorde Palestijnse burgers, onder wie meer dan 4000 kinderen, jouw 'moreel kompas' zo 'gebrekkig' is 'afgesteld'? Heb je dan niets van de oorlog geleerd? Of ben je nog steeds blind van verdriet? In de verwachting dat jij antwoord kunt geven op het bovenstaande, teken ik,
Stan van Houcke,