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Israel At 60: An Ongoing Disaster

By Ida Audeh

17 May, 2008

Israel has ruled over the indigenous Palestinian
population for 59 of its 60 years: imposing military
rule on the Palestinians who remained in Israel from
1948 to 1966 and ruling since 1967 over the
Palestinians in the occupied territories(1), who now
number 3.7 million.(2) And in these 60 years, Israel
has demonstrated irrefutably that it is a disaster on
every level that really matters -- for the
Palestinians; for its own citizens; and for its
neighbors. (A credible case can be made that it is a
disaster even for its sponsor and primary ally, the
United States.)

For Palestinians, the birth of Israel was a
cataclysmic event that shattered their national and
political life and continues to destroy the lives of
Palestinians under occupation. By the end of the war
that established Israel, Zionist militias had
ethnically cleansed 418 Palestinian towns, villages,
and hamlets and about 750,000 Palestinians fled or
were forced to flee, never to return. The ethnic
cleansing of the native population was always the
explicit goal of the Zionist militias and later, the
Israeli government; it would be impossible to create a
Jewish state unless world Jewry could be induced to
emigrate and the indigenous population was forced out
and not allowed to return.(3)

Today the natural conclusion of Zionist policy toward
the indigenous Palestinian population is appallingly
apparent. The policy began with ethnic cleansing; its
final act, which has been underway since 1993, is the
containment and immobilization of the Palestinian
population under occupation in a few Bantustans
separated from each other by a massive wall system,
hundreds of Israeli-manned checkpoints, and rings of
Jewish only settlements. It is a policy whose ultimate
aim is elimination of a people by destroying its
social and political fabric, reducing them to the
"drugged cockroaches in a bottle" that then Chief of
Staff Rafael Eitan promised back in 1983. (4)

Israel is remarkable for its ability to deflect
criticism from forms of apartheid it created that
exceed anything seen in apartheid South Africa and the
Jim Crow laws of the American south prior to the
mid-1960s. Israel established a separate and superior
road system in the occupied territories that only
Jewish colonists are allowed to use. Israel now has at
least 121 Jewish-only settlements housing 260,000
Jewish colonizers in Jewish-only colonies (excluding
East Jerusalem) (5) These same colonists consume 5
times as much water per capita as Palestinians. (6)
The West Bank and Gaza Strip constitutes only 22% of
Mandate Palestine, and much of it is off limits to
Palestinians: By the terms of the Oslo accords, Israel
controls 60% of the West Bank directly (area C) and
retains effective control over the remaining 40%
(including area A, which is supposed to be under the
control of the Palestinian Authority).

One look at a map, and the real import of the wall is
immediately apparent: it gives Israel even more
Palestinian land, it denies Palestinians access to
water aquifers, it segments the West Bank; it enables
greater Israeli control of the Palestinians who
remain; and it makes life so unlivable that anyone
with means is likely to start exploring other options.

The seizure of village lands means that villages
cannot grow naturally; the loss of farmlands means
that farmers have been denied the only way they know
to support their families. The wall that surrounds
Qalqilya, a city on the western tip of the West Bank
that at one time had a population of 45,000, is high
enough to block the sunset. People whose family homes
are now behind the wall must apply to the Israeli
military for the right to live in their own homes, a
permit that must be renewed at regular intervals. When
their application is denied, there is no recourse.

When I make an annual trip to visit relatives, I
travel throughout the occupied territories to talk to
Palestinians who live in the shadow of Israel's
massive wall that slices through the West Bank, whose
farmlands are now inaccessible to them.(7) The stories
are all variations of ongoing ruin; I don't ask about
the future because the concrete monstrosity that
Israel built around us, higher and more massive in
many places than the Berlin Wall, seems designed to
preclude any future for us at all.

Israel's occupation has been characterized by mass
arrests, imprisonment without trial, deportation,
assassination of leaders, military trials in which
convictions are made through secret evidence never
shown to defendants or their attorneys, and economic
exploitation. Between September 29, 2000, the
beginning of the second intifada, and November 2007,
more than 5,300 Palestinians have been killed by
Israel, a number that include 982 Palestinian
children; more than 32,000 Palestinians have been
injured. Since 1967, Israel has demolished 18,147
Palestinian homes and arrested more than 650,000
Palestinians (or 20% of the total population); 10,756
Palestinians are currently imprisoned. (8)

Two Palestinian areas merit mention because they
succinctly depict the ongoing disaster that Israeli
occupation has meant for Palestinians. The Palestinian
city of Hebron is home to some 160,000 Palestinian
residents and 600-700 Jewish colonizers. Armed and
dangerous, the colonists take possession of
Palestinians homes when they feel like it, forcing
families outdoors; they dump their garbage on the
property of Palestinians; they threaten Palestinian
children on their way to school. Settler children
bully elderly Palestinians as their parents watch
approvingly from a distance. On Jewish holidays,
Palestinians are confined to their homes so that a few
hundred colonizer-brownshirts can strut in the
streets. The Israeli army stands by passively, afraid
to oppose them; the settlers hate the army almost as
much as they hate Palestinians. (9)

The Gaza Strip has been called the world's largest
open-air prison, one that is home to 1.5 million
Palestinians who cannot leave. Unlike most inmates,
however, they are periodically shelled by Israeli
helicopters, naval ships, and ground troops. The Gaza
Strip has also been turned into a killing field; the
Israeli army admits that in Gaza it can act
unrestrained, and indeed it recognizes no restraints
as it wipes out families. Who can forget the iconic
picture of 10-year-old Huda Ghalia, half-crazed with
grief, stumbling amid the bodies of her family members
who had been picnicking on a Gaza beach just moments
before an Israeli shell put an end to the moment and
the family? The family photo of the Abu Me'teq family
published by the Electronic Intifada shows the
cloth-draped remains of Miyasar Abu Me'teq and four of
her children prepared for burial; all had been killed
one morning in late April as they were having

The Gaza Strip is a prison and firing range, but it
must certainly also rank as the world's largest human
laboratory, where 1.5 million Palestinians are
contained and manipulated and where the effects of
prolonged siege can be studied. Like scientists,
Israel's politicians and military establishment
manipulate various experimental conditions - food
quantities, electricity levels, lack of heating in the
winter, medicine supplies - and they note how Gazans
respond. The research question they are trying to
answer is this: How hungry do people have to get, how
cold, how sick, before their spirit is broken?

Israel's vision of the future appears to be one in
which it confines the indigenous population to a small
area to facilitate their control and surveillance. If
the natives complain too much, their food supply and
electricity is suspended until they are made to heel.
This cruel control is not sustainable in the long run,
and it only makes more difficult the ultimate
resolution that must take place between two peoples
residing on the same bit of real estate.

Within Israel

Israel is a self-defined Jewish state with a growing
Palestinian (non-Jewish) minority within its as of yet
undeclared and undefined borders. Israel's founders
consciously and deliberately put in place a system
that privileges Jewish citizens over Muslim and
Palestinian citizens, no less obscenely as the Jim
Crow laws designed to keep African Americans in their

Israel distinguishes between citizenship rights, such
as the right to vote, which is available to non-Jewish
citizens of the state, and nationality rights, which
are reserved for Jews.(11)

Several laws have been enacted in Israel whose
intention is clearly to maintain Jewish numerical
superiority and to reinforce the Jewish character of
the state, all of which belie the claim that Israel is
a democracy. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab
Minority Rights in Israel, has identified more than 20
laws in Israel that discriminate against Palestinian
citizens of Israel by working the Jewish character of
the state into the text of the law. The Law of Return
(1950) and The Citizenshp Law (1952) gives world Jewry
the right to emigrate to Israel and to claim instant
political and national rights; this privileges world
Jewry not only over Palestinians refugees who have a
right sanctioned by international law to return to the
homes they fled or were forced to leave during the war
of 1948, but also over Israel's non-Jewish citizens --
the indigenous Palestinian population who did not
leave in 1948 and have Israeli citizenship. Israel
defines "public good" in ethno-religious terms; lands
expropriated from Palestinians for the "public good"
benefit Jewish citizens only.

Laws such as The Chief Rabbinate of Israel Law (1980),
The Flag and Emblem Law (1949), and The State
Education Law (1953) and its 2000 amendment recognize
Jewish educational, religious, and cultural practices
and institutions, and define their aims and objectives
strictly in Jewish terms. (12)

The Nationality and Entry into Israel Law in effect
prohibits marriage of Palestinians in the occupied
territories and Israeli citizens. They can marry, of
course, but the Israeli citizen might be unable to get
residency rights for a Palestinian spouse, which means
that both would have to leave the country. In
practice, the law targets Palestinian citizens who
might want to marry Palestinians from the occupied
territories. This strikes at the very heart of what is
generally considered to be a private matter: the right
to marry a person of one's choice and to live with
that person as a family. (13)

Despite these crudely discriminatory measures, Israel
will not be able to retain a Jewish majority for much
longer. In 2007, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot
reported the number of people leaving Israel exceeds
the number immigrating to Israel.(14) One can
reasonably conclude that Jews are settled in their
host countries and do not feel a compelling need to
live in a Jewish state. Then there is the demographic
factor: In 2006, Jews constituted about 76% of
Israel's population, and Palestinian Muslims and
Christians were about 20%. Demographer and Hebrew
University professor Sergio DellaPergola estimates
that Arab citizens will account for 30% of the
population by 2050.(15) This demographic breakdown
will make Israel a de facto binational state. How will
Israel claim that it is a democracy when it insists on
a narrow religious-ethnic basis for full citizenship
that disqualifies 30% of the population?

This nightmare (for Israel) scenario is no doubt what
prompts the hints dropped by some officials that
Israel may have to "make concessions" for peace. This
is double-speak for a plan to annex the illegal Jewish
settlements in the occupied territories in exchange
for which they will cede to the Palestinian Authority
the densely populated (with non-Jews) triangle in the
Galilee. Israel and the West have already established
the principle that vital foreign aid will be withheld
unless the Palestinian Authority complies with Israeli
diktats, and the Palestinian Authority has
demonstrated, much to the chagrin of Palestinians
everywhere, that securing a steady cash flow trumps
every other consideration. If Israel is able to pull
off this exchange, it would be yet another illegal
maneuver in a long line of transparent attempts to
manipulate demography so that a Jewish majority can be

Within the Middle East

Palestinian refugees, defined as the Palestinians who
have been unable to return to Mandate Palestine
following the 1948 and 1967 wars, and their
descendants are estimated at 4-6 million. Just over
82% are estimated to live in Palestine or in
surrounding Arab countries.(16) Their right to return
to their homes is "clearly and unambiguously
guaranteed by international law under the Geneva
Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights." (17) For as long as their rights
are denied, the nakba of 1948 is an ongoing act of
ethnic cleansing.

Israel's relations with its neighbors are as toxic as
its relations with its second class Palestinian
citizens and those it rules through a constellation of
control mechanism policed by the Palestinian
Authority. In the 60 years since its founding, Israel
has invaded its neighbors 5 times: attacking Egypt in
1956 (together with France and England), Egypt and
Syria in 1967, Iraq in 1980, Lebanon in 1982, and
Lebanon again in 2006. It has occupied the Syrian
Golan Heights since 1967; it occupied the Egyptian
Sinai from 1967 until the Camp David Accords were
signed in 1978. Its reasons have ranged from a desire
for more territory (1956, 1967), natural resources
like water (1982), to establish regional dominance
(all of the above), and to secure political gains

Consider Israel's most recent invasion of its northern
neighbor, Lebanon. In the summer of 2006, at least
1,000 Lebanese were killed and 4,409 were wounded, of
them 15% were permanently disabled. Direct economic
damage to Lebanon was estimated at $3.6 billion.
Nearly one million people - that is, more than 25% of
the population of the entire country -- were displaced
at the height of the conflict - the vast majority of
them within Lebanon. (A comparable dislocation in the
United States would involve the populations of
California, New York, and Texas.) By the Israeli
army's own admission, it fired "around 1,800 cluster
bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets"
and used phosphorous shells in civilian areas.(18)
Most of the casualties of the bomblets since the end
of the war have been children.

Israel's supporters in the US justify the war on the
grounds that Hizballah is an Islamic movement and it
captured an Israeli soldier. They do not acknowledge
(a) how nonsensical such arguments sound coming from
individuals who defend the Jewishness of Israel and
(b) how much more cost-effective it would have been to
conclude a prisoner exchange, since Hizballah was more
than willing to exchange the captured Israelis for
Lebanese civilians who had been kidnapped by the
Israeli army years earlier. These arguments
notwithstanding, the fact remains that invasions and
preemptive attacks against neighboring countries, no
matter how verbally hostile they are and how much one
dislikes their leaders and legitimately elected
political parties, are illegal acts. Israel's 60-year
record of failure to obey international law and to
resolve differences with its neighbors through
mediation have made it an international pariah, with
the citizens of most countries naming it (together
with the US) as the biggest threats to world peace.

In summary, Israel is seen internationally as a rogue
state, attacking its neighbors at will, flaunting
international law in pursuit of self-declared
political goals, and killing a largely unarmed
Palestinian population without restraint. It is hard
to imagine it living at peace with its neighbors, and
its strident insistence that it is a Western nation
and an ally in the war against Muslims puts it even
more at odds with its neighbors.

What does the future hold?

Sixty years is not a long time span in a country's
history, but it is long enough to draw some
conclusions about the direction in which a country is

Israel was established and consolidated through
sustained ethnic cleansing of the indigenous
Palestinian population. As long as it insists on
defining itself narrowly as a Jewish state, its goal
of maintaining a Jewish majority will always
necessitate engaging in acts that are illegal and
unjustifiable. These acts target primarily
Palestinians, obviously, but they also have long-term
damaging effects on Jewish Israelis by encouraging
them to believe that a strong military and
unconditional superpower patronage place them above
the law. A state operating on such premises is
unlikely to be integrated in a region that shares
ethnicity, religion, culture, and most importantly
language with a group that is targeted for perpetual
subjugation. If it cannot be integrated in the region,
how sustainable is it in the long run? If it isn't
transformed into a state for all citizens, does it
merit anyone's support?

Israel's supporters in this country are increasingly
being asked to explain why they oppose the rule of
law, why the thought of equal rights for all residents
of Mandate Palestine is unacceptable. The mental
gymnastics required to refute such commonsensical
demands are dishonest and indefensible.

Ida Audeh is a Palestinian from the West Bank who
works as a technical editor in Boulder, CO. She is the
author of the five-part series, "Living in the Shadow
of the Wall," published by Electronic Intifada on 16
November 2003; "Narratives of Siege: Eyewitness
Testimonies from Jenin, Bethlehem, and Nablus,"
Journal of Palestine Studies, no. 124 (Summer 2002);
and guest editorials published in Colorado newspapers.
She can be reached at

1. Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights
in Israel, "Historical Background," accessed at;

2. Paltrade, "Palestine: General Information,"
accessed at

3. Walid Khalidi, All that Remains (Washington, DC:
Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992).

4. Steven Erlanger, "Rafael Eitan, 75, Ex-General and
Chief of Staff in Israel, Dies,"
New York Times, November 24, 2004; accessed at

5. Peace Now web site, accessed at

6. Btselem Web site, accessed at

7. Ida Audeh, "Living in the Shadow of the Wall
(Introduction)," a 5-part series, 16 November 2003,
Electronic Intifada. Accessed at

8. Casualty figures are from Quarterly Update on
Conflict and Diplomacy, 16 November 2007-15 February
2008," compiled by Michele K. Esposito, Journal of Palestine Studies, no. 147 (Spring 2008) forthcoming. Numbers of Palestinians imprisoned and Palestinian homes destroyed are taken from the Web site If American Knew
which cited The Mandela Institute for Human Rights -
Palestine (last updated March 31, 2007) and Reuters as

9. Some of the atrocities committed in Hebron are
captured in soldier testimonials collected by the group Breaking
the Silence, reported in Ilene R. Prusher, "Israeli ex-soldiers
expose abuse of Palestinians," Christian Science Monitor, 25 April 2008.

10. Chris McGreal, "The battle of Huda Ghalia - who
really killed girl's family on Gaza beach?" The Guardian, June 17 2006, accessed at;
Associated Press,
"Four Palestinian children and their mother killed in
Israeli attack in Gaza," International Herald Tribune,
April 28, 2008; accessed at

11. Max Elbaum, "For Jews Only: Racism Inside Israel:
An Interview with Phyllis Bennis,"
ColorLines, 15 December 2000, accessed at


13. Adalah, report issued August/September 2001 and
entitled "Institutionalized Discrimination Against Palestinian
Citizens of Israel," cited at


14. Yediot Ahronot, cited in "Emigration from Israel
exceeds immigration, report,", 20
April 2007,


15. See Shelly Paz, "Israel's population numbers 7.2
million," Jerusalem Post Internet Edition, 10
September 2007, at

16. International Crisis Group, "Palestinian Refugees
and the Politics of Peacemaking," Middle East Report
no. 22, 5 February 2004; accessed at
For distribution of Palestinian refugees, see Hasan
Abu-Libdeh, "Statistical Data on Palestinian Refugees;
Prospects for Contribution to Final Settlement," a
2003 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics report,
accessed at

17. Global Policy Forum, "Israel, Palestine and the
Occupied Territories: The Right of Return of
Palestinian Refugees," accessed at

18. Figures for Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon are
drawn from these sources: Robert Siegel and Ivan
Watson, "Lebanon Begins Post-War Recovery Effort," All
Things Considered, National Public Radio, 18 August
"2006 Lebanon War" Wikipedia,;

"Displaced return amidst growing political tension,"
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 15 December

and Meron Rappaport, "IDF commander: We fired more
than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon," Haaretz,


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