A GARRISON STATE
– Israel wants recognition from the very people it ethnically cleansed
The author is professor of international relations and global politics, Delhi University
My visit to Israel (Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and the occupied territories) coincided with the
announcement of the formation of the National Unity government of Hamas and Fatah. The
immediate response of Israel and the United States of America is breathtaking in its arrogance.
They took refuge behind the shameful demands initially drawn up in the US state department of
the quartet of the European Union, US, United Nations and Russia: the new government must
renounce violence, abide by previous Israel-Palestine agreements, and recognize Israels right
Israel has been accused of violating the Oslo Accords by repeatedly and illegally expanding its
settlements in the occupied territories, as well as violating innumerable UN resolutions. This
includes Resolution 194 about the return of Palestinian refugees, which it had to accept in order
to become a member of the UN in the first place. Yet Israel seeks to shift blame for the failure of
the Oslo agreements onto the Palestinian leadership and portray it as unreasonable. It should
now be obvious to anyone that those accords were basically Israels way of partially
subcontracting the occupation to the Fatah-controlled Palestinian National Authority, and for
giving itself time to carry out more land grabs in the OT, that is, create new facts on the ground.
Israel demands recognition from the very people whom it ethnically cleansed in 1948 in order to
come into existence, but will itself never apologize for having carried out that ethnic cleansing.
That apology, in fact, is the crucial symbolic-political meaning of the Palestinian demand for
Israel to recognize the right of return of refugees. The demographic issue of where Palestinians
will actually return is by contrast a minor and easily negotiable one. The irony is that the PLO in
the Oslo Accords did recognize Israels right to exist, but only got recognition for itself as the
legitimate representative authority for Palestinians. It never got formal recognition of the
Palestinian right to a genuinely independent and truly viable territorial state on the basis of the
1967 borders. This is a prospect, which the illegal Apartheid Wall is now in the process of
permanently destroying. Recognition of Israel by the PLO gave away its most important
diplomatic asset in return for what has turned out to be a total disaster for Palestinians.
Hamas, very sensibly, is not about to make the same mistake, reserving such recognition for
final-status talks when proper justice is done to Palestinians. It has rightly asked which Israel is
it being asked to recognize? One that will territorially confine itself to the 1967 borders, or the
one today demanding much more than that, but still not specifying the limits of its territorial
greed? The ugly political-diplomatic game today being orchestrated by the Israel-US axis, and
being implicitly or explicitly endorsed by a host of countries from Europe to Russia to China to
India, is to squeeze ever more concessions from a suffering Palestinian people whose plight is
now of little consequence to most of the world. Nevertheless, Israel, the most powerful military
force in the region, and backed by the most militarily powerful country in the world, goes on and
on about how its existence is threatened.
What has always intrigued me was how and why Israelis from top to bottom (with the exception
of a small minority) could be so brutal, uncaring and unashamed about what their country was
doing? My visit gave me the answer. Israel is a garrison state with a garrison mentality. Israelis
see themselves as victims because there are powerful forces (mainly internal but also
external) that help create, sustain and embellish the myth about the perpetual victimhood of
Israel and of the Jews. A state constructed on the principle that it alone provides a safe haven
for Jews can only justify its brutality and oppression of resident non-Jews that is, the
Palestinians in the OT and those having Israeli citizenship on the grounds that they are actually
or potentially the dangerous enemy who must be controlled, subordinated and monitored.
This psychological inversion of the positions of victimizers and victims is founded on various
structures. Compulsory military conscription of Israeli youth (so evident on weekend trains) and
the presence of armed guards at malls and railway stations in Tel Aviv and other cities is not a
vital security necessity. But it is absolutely vital for sustaining the belief that Israel is constantly
under siege. Nearly every Israeli Jew will have or will know some family whose relatives, distant
or near, have been injured or killed in wars and military action.
Any possibility that the co-existence of Jews and Palestinians in the same small territory might
lead to the kind of human interaction that could counter this myth is eliminated by the
establishment of structures that essentially segregate ordinary life between Jews and
Palestinians. Jimmy Carter has belatedly recognized that Israel is an apartheid state and has
drawn huge flak for this accurate characterization. But he is referring to what Israel is doing in
the OT. Less known is how it makes Israeli Arabs second-class citizens.
Israel, unlike South Africa, does not practise petty apartheid that is, segregation in public places
such as restaurants, toilets, buses, benches, and so on. It does so in the areas of life that really
count. Over 90 per cent of the land is state-owned and although historically stolen from the
Palestinians, cannot even be leased to them. There are all kinds of statutes giving preferential
treatment to Jews in health, education, public housing and employment. There can be no
political participation by any party that rejects the Zionist character (its Jewish identity) and
wishes to change Israel into a secular state. No party, if it wants to exist, can dare accuse such
a religiously exclusivist state of being anti-democratic.
In the government education system, Palestinians and Jews go to separate primary and
secondary schools with separate curricula and separate languages of instruction (Arabic and
Hebrew), but with overall government control over what is taught. Palestinian teachers teach
Hebrew, but few Jews learn or teach Arabic. Indeed, although over 40 per cent of Jews may be
Arabs, most of them seek to de-Arabize themselves (deny, demean, decry their cultural
heritage) in order to fit properly into Israeli society. But the history course in schools is the
same and reflects the desperate need to deny or greatly dilute its pre-Zionist past, just as
Pakistani education must dilute or deny its pre-Islamic past. And like Pakistan and its negligent
treatment of historical heritage sites like Mohenjodaro and Harappa, Israeli authorities at the
municipal (e.g. in Haifa) and central levels have neglected, even decimated, beautiful and
historic Ottoman and Arab buildings and sites in order to judaize the country. It is only the
enormously strong oral tradition that still enables Palestinian families to hand down their
history of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and of the pre-1948 reality to succeeding generations.