Archive | February, 2011

What is Winning? The Next Phase for the Revolutionary Uprisings

24 Feb

Early in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings it seemed that winning was understood by the massed demonstrators to mean getting rid of the hated leader, of Ben Ali in the Tunisian case, and Mubarak in the Egyptian. But as the process deepened it make clear that more was being demanded and expected, and that this had to do with restoring the material and spiritual dignity of life in all its aspects.

Without any assurance as to what ‘winning’ means in the setting of the extraordinary revolutionary uprisings that are continuing to rock the established order throughout the Arab world, it is likely to mean different things in the various countries currently in turmoil. But at the very least winning has so far meant challenging by determined and incredibly brave nonviolence the oppressive established order. This victory over long reigns of fear-induced pacification is itself a great transformative moment in 21st century history no matter what happens in the months ahead.

As Chandra Muzaffar, the widely respected Malaysian scholar who  religion and justice, compelling argues, the replacement of the old order by electoral democracy, while impressive as an accomplishment given the dictatorial rule of the past in these countries, will not be nearly enough to vindicate the sacrifices of the protestors. It is significantly better than those worst case scenarios that insist that the future will bring dismal varieties of ‘Mubarakism without Mubarak,’ which would change the faces and names of the rulers but leave the oppressive and exploitative regimes essentially in tact. This would definitely be a pyrrhic victory, given the hopes and demands that motivated the courageous political challenges embodied in withstanding without weapons the clubs, rubber bullets, live ammunition, and overall brutality, as well as the uncertainty as to what the soldiers in the streets would do when the order to open fire at the demonstrators came from the beleaguered old guard.

What is needed beyond constitutional democracy is the substantive realization of good and equitable governance: this includes, above all, people-oriented economic policies, an end to corruption, and the protection of human rights, including especially economic and social rights.  Such an indispensable agenda recognizes that the primary motivation of many of the demonstrators was related to their totally alienating entrapment in a jobless future combined with the daily struggle to obtain the bare necessities of a tolerable life.

There is present here both questions of domestic political will and governmental capability to redirect the productive resources and distributive policies of the society. How much political space is available to alter the impositions of neoliberal globalization that was responsible for reinforcing, if not inducing, the grossly inequitable and corrupting impact of the world economy on the structuring of domestic privilege and deprivation? Not far in the background is an extended global recession that may be deepened in coming months due to alarming increases in commodity prices, especially food. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization the world Food Price Index reached a record high in December 2010, a level exceeded by another 3% rise in January of this year. Lester Brown, a leading expert on world food and environment, wrote a few days ago that “[t]he world is now one poor harvest away from chaos in world grain markets.” [International Herald Tribune, Feb 23, 2011]

With political turmoil threatening world energy supplies, oil prices are also surging, allegedly further endangering the uneven and fragile economic recovery in the United States and Europe. Global warming adds a further troubling feature to this deteriorating situation, with droughts, floods, fires, and storms making it difficult to maintain crop yields, much increase food production to meet increasing demands of the world’s growing population.

These impinging realities will greatly complicate the already formidable difficulties facing new leaders throughout the Arab world seeking with a sense of urgency to create job opportunities and affordable supplies of food for their citizenries. This challenge is intensified by the widely shared high expectations of improved living circumstances. If the autocratic prior regime was held responsible for mass impoverishment of the many and the scandalously excessive enrichment of the few, is it not reasonable to suppose that the more democratic successor governments should establish without much delay greatly improved living conditions? And further, how could it be claimed that the heroic uprising was worthwhile if the quality of life of ordinary citizens, previously struggling to avert the torments of impoverishment, does not start improving dramatically almost immediately? An understandably impatient public may not give their new leaders the time that need, given these conditions, to make adjustments that will begin to satisfy these long denied hopes and needs. Perhaps, the public will be patient if there are clear signs that the leaders are trying their hardest and even if actual progress is slow, there is some evidence that the material conditions of the populace are, at least, on an ascending slope.

Even if the public is patient beyond reason, and understands better than can be prudently expected, the difficulties of achieving economic justice during a period of transition to a new framework of governance, there may be still little or no capacity to fulfill public expectations due to the impact of these worsening global conditions.  It is quite possible that if the worst food/energy scenarios unfold, famines and food riots could occur, casting dark shadows of despair across memories of these historic victories that made the initial phases of each national uprising such a glowing testament to the human spirit, which seemed miraculously undaunted by decades of oppression and abuse.

It needs also to be kept in mind that often the slogans of the demonstrators highlighted a thirst for freedom and rights. Even though there is little experience of democratic practice throughout the region, there will likely be a serious attempt by new governing institutions to distinguish their practices from those of their hated forebears, and allow for the exercise of all forms of oppositional activity, including freedom of expression, assembly, and party formation. Unlike the problems associated with creating jobs and providing for material needs, the establishment of the atmosphere of a free society is within the physical capacities of a new leadership if the political will exists to assume the unfamiliar risks associated with democratic practices. We must wait and see how each new leadership handles these normative challenges of transition. It remains to be seen as to whether the difficulties of transition are intensified by counterrevolutionary efforts to maintain or restore the old deforming structures and privileges. These efforts are likely to be aided and abetted by a range of covert collaborative undertakings joining external actors with those internal forces threatened by impending political change.

And if this overview was not discouraging enough, there is one further consideration. As soon as the unifying force of getting rid of the old leadership is eroded, if not altogether lost, fissures within the oppositions are certain to emerge. There will be fundamental differences as between radical and liberal approaches to transition, and especially whether to respect the property rights and social hierarchies associated with the old regime, or to seek directly to correct the injustices and irregularities of the past. Some critics of the Mandela approach to reconciliation and transition in South Africa believe that his acceptance of the social and economic dimensions of the repudiated apartheid structure have resulted in a widely felt sense of revolutionary disappointment, if not betrayal, in South Africa.

There will also be tactical and strategic differences about how to deal with the world economy, especially with respect to creating stability and attractive conditions for foreign investment. It is here that tensions emerge as between safeguarding labor rights and making investors feel that their operations will remain profitable in the new political environment.

This recitation of difficulties is not meant to detract attention from or to in any way diminish the glorious achievements of the revolutionary uprisings, but to point to the unfinished business that must be addressed if revolutionary aspirations are going to be able to avoid disillusionment. So often revolutionary gains are blunted or even lost shortly after the old oppressors have been dragged from the stage of history. If ever there exists the need for vigilance it at these times when the old order is dying and the new order is struggling to be born. As Gramsci warned long ago this period of inbetweeness is vulnerable to a wide range of predatory tendencies. It is a time when unscrupulous elements can repress anew even while waving a revolutionary banner and shouting slogans about defending the revolution against its enemies. And a difficulty here is that the enemies may well be real as well as darkly imagined. How many revolutions in the past have been lost due to the machinations of their supposed guardians?

Let us fervently hope that the mysteries of the digital age will somehow summon the creative energy to manage the transition to sustainable and substantive democracy as brilliantly as it earlier staged the revolutionary uprisings.


The United States Stands Alone with Israel in the UN Security Council [or How (Dis)honest is the Honest Broker?]

19 Feb

The United States Stands Alone with Israel in the UN Security Council [or How (Dis)honest is the Honest Broker?]

In what appears to be as close to a consensus as the world community can ever hope to achieve, the United States reluctantly stood its ground on behalf of Israel and on February 18, 2011 vetoed a resolution on the Israeli settlements  in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that was supported by all 14 of the other members of the UN Security Council. The resolution was also sponsored by 130 member countries before being presented to the Council. In the face of such near unanimity the United States might have been expected to some respect for the views of every leading government in the world, including all of its closest European allies, to have had the good grace to at least abstain from the vote. Indeed, such an obstructive use of the veto builds a case for its elimination, or at least the placement of restrictions on its use. Why should an overwhelming majority of member countries be held hostage to the geopolitical whims of Washington, or in some other situation, an outlier member trying to shield itself or its ally from a Security Council decision enjoying overwhelming support. Of course this American veto is not some idiosyncratic whim, but is an expression of the sorry pro-Israeli realities of domestic politics, suggesting that it is Israel that is the real holder of the veto in this situation, and the U.S. Congress and the Israeli Lobby are merely designated as the enforcers.

Susan Rice, the American chief representative in the Security Council, appeared to admit as much when she lamely explained that the casting the veto on this text “should not be misunderstood to mean support for settlement construction,” adding that, on the contrary, the United States “rejects in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.” Why then? The formal answer given is that the United States, agreeing with Israel, believes that only in the context of direct negotiations can the issue of settlements be addressed alongside other unresolved matters such as refugees, borders, and the status of Jerusalem. This seems absurdly arrogant, and geopolitically humiliating. If the 14 other members of the Security Council believe that Israeli should be censured for continuing to build unlawful settlements, and that no negotiations can proceed until it ceases, then it would seem that a united front would be the most effective posture to resumed negotiations. This is especially so here as it is a no brainer to realize that every additional settlement unit authorized and constructed makes it less likely that a truly independent and viable Palestinian state can ever be brought into being, and that there exists the slightest intention on the Israeli side to do so.

In view of this feverish Israeli effort to create still more facts on the ground, for the Israelis to contend that negotiations should resume without preconditions, is to hope that the Palestinian Authority will play the fool forever. After all for more than 43 years the Israelis have been whittling away at the substance of the two state consensus embodied in unanimous Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), contending at every phase of the faux peace process that an agreement must incorporate ‘subsequent developments,’ that is, unlawful settlements, ethnic cleansing. In the end, the Israelis may turn out to have been more clever by half, creating an irresistible momentum toward the establishment of a single secular democratic state of Palestine that upholds human rights for both peoples and brings to an end the Zionist project of an exclusive ‘Jewish state.’ With great historic irony, such an outcome would seem to complete the circle of fire ignited by Lord Balfour’s secret 1917 promise to the Zionist movement of ‘a Jewish homeland’ in historic Palestine, a process that caused a Palestinian catastrophe along the way and brought war and bloodshed to the region.

The disingenuousness of the Israeli position was confirmed by the recent publication of the Palestine Papers that showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that even when the Palestinian Authorities caved in on such crucial issues as Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees, their Israeli counterparts, including the supposedly more moderate predecessors to the Netanyahu leadership, displayed no interest in reaching even an agreement so heavily weighted in Tel Aviv’s favor. What seems inescapable from any careful reading of these negotiating positions behind closed doors during the prior decade is that the public negotiations are a sham designed to buy time for Israel to complete its illegal dirty work of de facto annexation in the West Bank, a position it has long adopted in the form of Israeli de jure annexation of the entire expanded city of Jerusalem in defiance of the will of the international community and the understanding of international law, objectively considered. To contend that stopping the unlawful encroachments of continuing settlement activity on occupied Palestinian territory, an assessment that even the United States does not question substantively, is an inappropriate Palestinian demand seems so excessive as to humiliate any Palestinian representatives that stooped so low as to accept it. Equally so, is the Israeli claim that this demand has not been made in the past, which to the extent accurate, is not an argument against freezing further settlement activity, but a disturbing comment on Palestinian complacency in relation to their failure to insist upon respect for their rights under international law.

In the context of this latest incident in the Security Council, the Palestinian Authority deserves praise for holding firm, and not folding under U.S. pressure, which was strongly applied, including reported warnings from President Obama by phone to President Mahmoud Abbas of adverse ‘repercussions’ if the text calling for an end to illegal settlement building was brought before the Security Council for a vote. Obviously, the United States Government realized its predicament. It did not want to be so isolated and embarrassed in this way, finding itself caught between its international exposure as willing to support even the most unreasonable Israeli defiance of the UN and its domestic vulnerability to a pro-Israeli backlash in the event that it failed to do Israel’s bidding in this matter of largely symbolic importance.

We should not forget that had the Security Council resolution been adopted, there is not the slightest prospect that Israel would have curtailed, let alone frozen, its settlement plans. Israel has defied a near unanimous vote (with, hardly a surprise, the U.S. judge casting the lone negative vote among the 15 judges) of the World Court in 2004 on the unlawfulness of the settlement wall. Here, an American dissent could not bring Israel in from the cold of its refusal to abide by this ruling as thankfully there is no veto power in judicial settings. In that instance of the wall, Israel wasted no time denouncing the advisory opinion of the highest UN judicial body, declaring its refusal to obey this clear finding that the wall built on occupied Palestinian territory should be dismantled forthwith and Palestinians compensated for any harm done.  Instead, despite brave nonviolent Palestinian resistance, work continues to this day on finishing the wall.

With respect to the settlements it is no wonder that American diplomacy wanted to avoid blocking an assertion of unlawfulness that it was on record as agreeing to, a fact awkwardly acknowledged by Ambassador Rice in the debate, knowing that the resolution would not have the slightest behavioral impact on Israel in any event. It should be noticed that as much as Israel defies the UN and international law, it still cashes in its most expensive diplomatic chips to avoid censure whenever possible. I believe that this is an important, although unacknowledged, Israeli recognition of the legitimizing role of international law and the UN.  It is also connected with an increasing Palestinian reliance on soft power, especially its BDS campaign. This partial shift in Palestinian tactics worries Israel. In the last several months Israeli think tanks close to the government refer to as ‘the delegitimation project’ with growing anxiety.  This approach of the Palestinian Global Solidarity Movement is what I have been calling a Legitimacy War. For the last several years it is being waged and won by the Palestinians, joining the struggles of those living under occupation and in exile.

On the PA side there was reported anxiety that withdrawing the resolution in this atmosphere would amount to what was derisively referred to as a possible ‘Goldstone 2,’ a reference to the inexcusable effort by the Palestinian Authority back in October 2009 to have consideration of the Goldstone Report deferred for several months by the Human Rights Council as a prelude to its institutional burial, which has now more or less taken place thanks to American pressures behind the scene. It has even been suggested that had the PA withdrawn the resolution Abbas would have been driven from power by an angry popular backlash among the Palestinian populace. In this sense, the PA was, like the United States, squeezed from both sides: by the Americans and by their own people.

Of course, in the background of this incident at the UN are the tumultuous developments taking place throughout the region, which are all adverse to Israel and all promising in relation to the Palestinian struggle even though many uncertainties exist. It is not only the anti-autocrat upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, the outcome of which is still not clear from the perspective of genuine regime change as distinct from recasting the role of dictatorial leader, but the wider regional developments. These include the political rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Turkish diplomacy that refuses to tow the Washington line, the failure of American interventionary diplomacy in Iraq, and the beleaguered authoritarian governments in the region some of whom are likely to give more active support on behalf of Palestinian goals to shore up their own faltering domestic legitimacy in relation to their own people.

In many ways, the failed Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity is a rather trivial event in the broader setting of the underlying conflict. At the same time it is a significant show of the play of forces that are operative in Washington and Ramallah, and above all, it is an unseemly display of the influence Israel wields with respect to the Obama Administration. Is it not time that the United States revisited its Declaration of Independence or began to treat the 4th of July as a day of mourning?


Revolutionary Prospects After Mubarak

15 Feb

The Egyptian Revolution has already achieved extraordinary results: after only eighteen intense days of dramatic protests. It brought to an abrupt end Mubarak’s cruelly dictatorial and obscenely corrupt regime that had ruled the country for more than thirty years. It also gained a promise from Egyptian military leaders to run the country for no more than six months of transition, the minimum period needed for the establishment of independent political parties, free elections, and some degree of economic restabilization. It is hoped that this transition would serve as the prelude to and first institutional expression of genuine democracy. Some informed observers, most notably Mohamed ElBaradei worry that this may be too short a time to fill the political vacuum that exists in Egypt after the collapse of the authoritarian structures that had used its suppressive energies to keep civil society weak and to disallow governmental institutions, especially parliament and the judiciary, to function with any degree of independence. It is often overlooked that the flip side of authoritarianism is nominal constitutionalism.

In contrast, some of the activist leaders that found their voice in Tahrir Square are concerned that even six months may be too long, giving the military and outside forces sufficient time to restore the essence of the old order, while giving it enough of a new look to satisfy the majority of Egyptians. Such a dismal prospect seems to be reinforced by reported American efforts to offer emergency economic assistance apparently designed to mollify the protesters, encourage popular belief that a rapid return to normalcy will provide this impoverished people (40% living on less than $2 per day; rising food price; high youth unemployment) with material gains.

The bravery, discipline, and creativity of the Egyptian revolutionary movement is nothing short of a political miracle, deserving to be regarded as one of the seven political wonders of the modern world! To have achieved these results without violence, despite a series of bloody provocations, and persisting without an iconic leader, without even the clarifying benefit of a revolutionary manifesto, epitomizes the originality and grandeur of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Such accomplishments shall always remain glories of the highest order that can never be taken away from the Egyptian people, regardless of what the future brings. And these glorious moments belong not just to those who gathered at Tahrir Square and at the other protest sites in Cairo, but belong to all those ignored by the world media who demonstrated at risk and often at the cost of their life or physical wellbeing day after day throughout the entire country in every major city. Both the magnitude and intensity of this spontaneous national mobilization was truly remarkable. The flames of an aroused opposition were fanned by brilliantly innovative, yet somewhat obscure, uses of social networking, while the fires were lit by the acutely discontented youth of Egypt and kept ablaze by people of all class and educational backgrounds coming out into the street. The inspirational spark for all that followed in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, let us not forget, was provided by the Tunisian Revolution. What happened in Tunisia was equally astonishing to the amazing happenings in Egypt, not only for being the initiating tremor, but also for reliance on nonviolent militancy to confront a ruthlessly oppressive regime so effectively that the supposed invincible dictator, Ben Ali, escaped quickly to Saudi Arabia for cover.  The significance of the Tunisian unfolding and its further development should not be neglected or eclipsed during the months ahead. Without the Tunisian spark we might still be awaiting the Egyptian blaze!

As is widely understood, after the fireworks and the impressive cleanup of the piles of debris and garbage by the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square, itself a brilliantly creative footnote to their main revolutionary message, there remains the extraordinarily difficult task of generating ex nihil a new governing process based on human rights, the will of the Egyptian people, and a mighty resolve to guard sovereign rights against the undoubted plots of canny external actors scared by and unhappy with the revolution, seeking to rollback the outcome, and seeking above all by any means the restoration of Mubarakism without Mubarak.  The plight of the Egyptian poor must also be placed on the top of the new political agenda, which will require not only control of food and fuel prices, but the construction of an equitable economy that gives as much attention to the distribution of the benefits of growth as to GNP aggregate figures. Unless the people benefit, economic growth is a subsidy for the rich, whether Egyptian or foreign.

Short of catastrophic imaginings, if interpreted as warnings may forestall their actual occurrence, there are immediate concerns: it seemed necessary to accept the primacy of the Egyptian military with the crucial task of overseeing the transition, but is it a trustworthy custodian of the hopes and aspirations of the revolution? Its leadership was deeply implicated in the corruption and the brutality of the Mubarak regime, kept in line over the decades by being willing accomplices of oppressive rule and major beneficiaries of its corrupting largess. How much of this privileged role is the military elite ready to renounce voluntarily out of its claimed respect for and deference to the popular demand for an end to exploitative governance in a society languishing in mass poverty? Will the Egyptian military act responsibly to avoid the destructive effects of a second uprising against the established order? It should also not be forgotten that the Egyptian officer corps was mainly trained in the United States, and that coordination at the highest level between American military commanders and their Egyptian counterparts has already been resumed at the highest levels, especially with an eye toward maintaining ‘the cold peace’ with Israel.  These nefarious connections help explain why Mubarak was viewed for so long as a loyal ally and friend in Washington, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh, and why the inner counsels of these governments are reacting with concealed panic at the outburst of emancipatory politics throughout the region. I would suppose that these old relationships are being approached with emergency zeal to ensure that however goes the transition to Egyptian democracy it somehow exempts wider controversial regional issues from review and change that would reflect the values that animated the revolutionary risings in Tunisia and Egypt. These values would suggest solidarity with movements throughout the Middle East to end autocratic governance, oppose interventions and the military presence of the United States, solve the Israel/Palestine conflict in accordance with international law rather than ‘facts on the ground,’ and seek to make the region a nuclear free zone (including Israel) reinforced by a treaty framework establishing peaceful relations and procedures of mutual security.  It does not require an expert to realize that such changes consistent with the revolutionary perspectives that prevailed in Egypt and Tunisia would send shivers down the collective spines of autocratic leaderships throughout the region, as well as being deeply threatening to Israel and to the grand strategy of the United States and, to a lesser extent, the European Union, that has been determined to safeguard vital economic and political interests in the region by reliance on the military and paramilitary instruments of hard power.

At stake if the revolutionary process continues, is Western access to Gulf oil reserves at prices and amounts that will not roil global markets, as well as the loss of lucrative markets for arms sales. Also at risk is the security of Israel so long as its government refuses to allow the Palestinians to have an independent and viable state within 1967 borders that accords with the two state solution long favored by the international community, and long opposed by Israel. Such a Palestinian state existing with full sovereign rights on all territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 War would mean an immediate lifting of the Gaza blockade, withdrawal of occupying Israeli forces from the West Bank, dismantling of the settlements (including in East Jerusalem), allowing Palestinian refugees to exercise some right of return, and agreeing to either the joint administration of Jerusalem or a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. It should be understood that such a peace was already implicit in Security Council Resolution 242 that was unanimously adopted in 1967, proposed again by Arab governments in 2002 with a side offer to normalize relations with Israel, and already accepted by the Palestinian National Council back in 1988 and reaffirmed a few years ago by Hamas as the basis for long-term peaceful coexistence. It should be understood that this Palestinian state claims only 22% of historic Palestine, and is a minimal redress of justice for an occupation that has lasted almost 44 years (recall that the UN partition plan gave the Palestinians 45% in 1947, and that seemed unfair at the time), and an expulsion that has resulted in an outrageously prolonged refugee status for millions of Palestinians that derives from the nakba of 1948. But until now, even this minimal recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination has been unacceptable to Israel as most recently evidenced in the Palestine Papers that provide evidence that even when the Palestine Authority agreed to extravagant Israeli demands for retention of most settlements, including in East Jerusalem, and abandonment of any provision for the return of Palestinian refugees, the Israelis were not interested, and walked away. The question now is whether the revolutionary challenges posed by the outcome in Egypt will lead to a new realism in Tel Aviv, or more of the same, which would mean a maximal effort to rollback the revolutionary gains of the Egyptian people, or if that proves impossible, then at least do whatever possible to contain the regional enactment of revolutionary values.

Does this seemingly amateur (in the best sense of the word) movement in Egypt have the sustaining energy, historical knowledge, and political sophistication to ensure that the transition process fulfills revolutionary expectations? So many past revolutions, fulsome with promise, have faltered precisely at this moment of apparent victory. Will the political and moral imagination of Egyptian militancy retain enough energy, perseverance, and vision to fulfill these requirements of exceptional vigilance to keep the circling vultures at bay? In one sense, these revolutions must spread beyond Tunisia and Egypt or these countries will be surrounded and existing in a hostile political neighborhood. Some have spoken of the Turkish domestic model as helpfully providing an image of a democratizing Egypt and Tunisia, but its foreign policy under AKP leadership is equally, if not more so, suggestive of a foreign policy worthy of these revolutions and their aftermath, and essential for a post-colonial Middle East that finally achieves its ‘second liberation.’  The first liberation was to end colonial rule. The second liberation, initiated by the Iranian Revolution in its first phase, seeks the end of geopolitical hegemony, and this struggle has barely begun.

How dangerous is the prospect of intervention by the United States, Gulf countries, and Israel, probably not in visible forms, but in all likelihood in the form of maneuvers carried out from beneath the surface? The foreign policy interests of these governments and allied corporate and financial forces are definitely at serious risk. If the Egyptian revolutionary process unfolds successfully in Egypt during the months ahead it will have profound regional effects that will certainly shake the foundations of the old post-colonial regional setup, not necessarily producing revolutions elsewhere but changing the balance in ways that enhance the wellbeing of the peoples and diminish the role of outsiders. These effects are foreseeable by the adversely affected old elites, creating a strong, if not desperate, array of external incentives to derail the Egyptian Revolution by relying on many varieties of counterrevolutionary obstructionism. It is already evident that these elites with help from their many friends in the mainstream media are already spreading falsehoods about the supposed extremism and ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood that seem intended to distract public attention, discredit the revolution, and build the basis for future interventionary moves, undertaken in the name of combating extremism, if not  justified as counter-terrorism.

It is correct that historically revolutions have swerved off course by succumbing to extremist takeovers. In different ways this happened to both the French and Russian Revolutions, and more recently to the Iranian Revolution. Extremism won out, disappointing the democratic hopes of the people, leading to either the restoration of the old elites or to new forms of violence, oppression, and exploitation. Why? Each situation is unique and original, but there are recurrent patterns. During the revolutionary struggle opposition to the old regime is deceptively unifying, obscuring real and hidden tensions that emerge later to fracture the spirit and substance of solidarity. Soon after the old order collapses, or as here partially collapses, the spirit of unity is increasingly difficult to maintain. Some fear a betrayal of revolutionary goals by the untrustworthy managers of transition. Others fear that reactionary and unscrupulous elements from within the ranks of the revolution will come to dominate the democratizing process. Still others fear that all will be lost unless an all out struggle against internal and external counterrevolutionary plots, real and imagined, is launched immediately. And often in the confusing and contradictory aftermath of revolution, some or all of these concerns have a foundation in fact.

The revolution does need to be defended against its real enemies, which as here, definitely exist, as well to avoid imagined enemies that produce tragic implosions of revolutionary processes. It is in this atmosphere of seeking to consolidate revolutionary gains that the purity of the movement is at risk, and is tested in a different manner than when masses of people were in the streets defying a violent crackdown. The danger in Egypt is that the inspirational nonviolence that mobilized the opposition can in the months ahead either be superseded by a violent mentality or succumb to outside and inside pressures by being too passive or overly trusting in misleading reassurances. Perhaps, this post-revolutionary interval between collapse of the old and consolidation of the new poses the greatest challenge that has yet faced this exciting movement led by young leaders who are just now beginning to emerge from the shadows of anonymity. All persons of good will should bless their efforts to safeguard all that has been so far gained, and to move forward in solidarity toward a sustainably humane and just future for their society, their region, and their world.


Report of Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council on Occupied Palestinian Territories

14 Feb

I am posting the official text of my most recent report to the UN Human Rights Council on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The period covered ends in December 2010, and the report will be formally presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 21, 2011. Of course, the impact of recent events, especially in Egypt, is not considered. Of primary interest will be the approach taken by the new Egyptian leadership to the Rafah Crossing, especially whether humanitarian goods will be permitted to enter freely and whether Gazans will be allowed to leave and return without difficulty. Also, important will be whether there will be continued cooperation with the Israeli authorities with respect to maintaining the unlawful blockade. These issues will be one litmus test with respect to the depth of democratization in Egypt. We can only hope that the ordeal endured for so long by the Gazan people will be ended as a collateral benefit of the great Egyptian Revolution, but it will not happen automatically. The time for vigilance and solidarity is now!

I apologize for the awkward formatting of this UN document, which reflects my low level of digital literacy. The official UN citation is given below, and document can be obtained from HRC website.


United Nations

General Assembly

Human Rights Council Sixteenth session Agenda item 7 Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories


Distr.: General 10 January 2011

Original: English

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk


The report addresses Israel’s compliance with its obligations under international law, in relation to the situation in the Palestinian territories that it has occupied since 1967. Israel’s persistent lack of cooperation with the fulfilment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, as well as other United Nations human rights mechanisms, is highlighted. The Special Rapporteur focuses attention on concerns regarding the expansion of Israeli settlements, in particular in East Jerusalem, the consequences of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the treatment of Palestinian children detained by Israeli authorities.





I. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………. II. Reviving the direct peace talks…………………………………………………………………….. III. Continuing expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories ………. A. The de facto annexation of East Jerusalem…………………………………………….. B. Expulsions from East Jerusalem as a means to annexation ………………………. IV. West Bank roads and international complicity in perpetuating the occupation……. V. Continuation of the Gaza blockade ………………………………………………………………. VI. Abuse of children by Israeli authorities in the occupied territories……………………. VII. Recommendations ………………………………………………………………………………………

Paragraphs Page

1–9 3 10–13 6 14–19 8 15–16 9 17–19 10 20–22 11 23–25 13 26–31 14

32 17

I. Introduction

1. Unfortunately, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 needs to again call to the attention of the membership of the Human Rights Council the continuing refusal of the Government of Israel to allow the Rapporteur to visit the occupied Palestinian territories. Repeated attempts have been made to engage the Government of Israel in discussion with the hope of reversing the policies that led to the detention and expulsion of the Special Rapporteur from Ben-Gurion Airport on 14 December 2008, but so far without any response. Efforts will be made to seek the necessary cooperation of the Government of Israel in relation to the obligation of the Special Rapporteur to discharge official undertakings of the United Nations. Such cooperation should be understood as a fundamental legal obligation incident to membership in the Organization.

2. As repeated efforts to call this situation to the attention of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have to date produced no positive results, the Special Rapporteur appeals on the occasion of this report for a more robust attempt to secure the cooperation of the Government of Israel. It should be recalled that Article 104 of the Charter of the United Nations declares that the Organization “shall enjoy in the territory of each of its Members such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfilment of its purposes”. Article 105, paragraph 2, specifies that those who represent the United Nations shall enjoy in the territory of State Members: “such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their function in connexion with the Organization”. These provisions were elaborated in the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, adopted by the General Assembly on 13 February 1946, and then implemented via the Agreement between the Swiss Federal Council and the Secretary General of the United Nations, dated 19 April 1946. Article VI, Section 22, thereof, entitled “Experts on Missions for the United Nations”, is particularly relevant, setting forth the rather extensive duties of Members to cooperate with such representatives as special rapporteurs and to avoid interfering with their independence.

3. It should be pointed out that the Government of Israel has also not cooperated with other recent important initiatives of the Human Rights Council relating to the occupied Palestinian territories, including the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (A/HRC/12/48) and the report of the independent international fact- finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance (A/HRC/15/21). This pattern of non-cooperation with official undertakings of the Human Rights Council should produce a concerted attempt by this organ and the Office of the Secretary-General to do what can be done to obtain the future cooperation of the Government of Israel.

4. Closely related to issues associated with non-cooperation are several outstanding matters bearing on non-implementation. The report of the International Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict on the basis of its findings of severe and systematic violations of international humanitarian law recommended that several steps be taken to assess the accountability of the perpetrators of criminal acts committed during the Gaza conflict (2008/09). There is currently no sign of any attempt to mobilize effective support for the implementation of these recommendations. Moreover, evidence of an Israeli willingness to impose credible levels of accountability for criminal acts of its soldiers and leaders in accordance with international standards remains absent. These conclusions were reaffirmed by the report of the Committee of independent experts that assessed investigations by Israel and the Palestinian sides into the Gaza conflict (A/HRC/15/50). In addition, the same





conclusions seem to pertain to the report of the independent international fact-finding mission on the incident of the humanitarian flotilla of 31 May 2010.1 Thus, a strong impression is being formed within the international community that a lack of political will exists with which to implement recommendations based on authoritative findings that Israel has been guilty of flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law. This impression of unwillingness to push forward with implementation fosters widespread perceptions of impunity with respect to the conduct of Israel, and in the case of flotilla incident limits and delays the opportunity of flotilla passengers to pursue remedies for harms unlawfully inflicted. This dynamic of evasion and delay weakens overall respect for international law, as well as the credibility of the Human Rights Council in relation to its own initiatives. More substantively, it deprives the Palestinian people living under occupation of their rights to receive the benefits of protection conferred in circumstances of occupation by international law and, specifically, the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention) and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

5. Given the long duration, the severity and continuing nature of the violations of many fundamental legal obligations of Israel as the occupying Power, these failures of implementation of international humanitarian law are experienced on the ground through various acute forms of abuse and suffering endured on a frequent, often on a daily, basis by the civilian population of the occupied Palestinian territories. Many political leaders have confirmed this assessment in recent months, and yet the organized international community remains silent. For instance, the Foreign Minister of Germany, Guido Westerville, after a recent visit to Gaza declared that the persistence of the blockade was “not acceptable”.2

6. Furthermore, the report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the incident of the humanitarian flotilla found that the violence used by the Israel Defence Forces when the flotilla was attacked was “not only disproportionate but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence” as well involving “an unacceptable level of brutality”.3 The report concludes that the Israeli attack resulted in “grave violations” of international human right and humanitarian law, as specified in article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.4 It also solicits cooperation from the Government of Israel to identify the perpetrators of this violence, whose identity was hidden by masks worn during the attack on the flotilla. Such information was being sought “with a view to prosecuting the culpable”.5 As a result of these findings, the Government of Israel is obliged to end the blockade in all its aspects with a sense of urgency, to cooperate in the identification of perpetrators of the violence and of the leaders responsible for the underlying policies so that effective procedures of accountability can be employed and finally to compensate individuals and surviving family members in appropriate amounts for the unlawful harm suffered. Moreover, civil society actors that engage in such missions for genuine humanitarian purposes should be allowed to carry out their work without interference.

7. The Rapporteur believes that there are important issues of language that arise from the cumulative effects of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, human rights law and criminal law. It becomes misleading to treat these violations as distinct behavioural

1 At the time of the submission of this report, there is still outstanding the report and recommendations of the Panel of Inquiry into the flotilla incident established by the Secretary-General and the Turkel Commission formed by the Government of Israel.

2 Ma’an News Agency, German minister calls on Israel to lift Gaza blockade,” 8 November 2010. 3 A/HRC/15/21, para. 264. 4 Ibid., para. 265. 5 Ibid., para. 267.

instances disconnected from broader consequences that are either designed by intention or the natural outcome of accumulating circumstances (so-called “facts on the ground”). These concerns about language are accentuated because Israel is the stronger party in diplomatic settings and generally enjoys the unconditional support of the United States of America. Indeed, unlawful Israeli behaviour that starts out as “facts” have over time been transformed into “conditions”, or in the words of the American Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, “subsequent developments” that are treated as essentially irreversible. Such transformation is true of several aspects of the occupation, including at a minimum the settlement blocs and accompanying infrastructure of roads and security zones, as well as the separation wall. To call appropriate attention to the effects and implications of these unambiguously unlawful patterns, and their somewhat perverse ex post facto attempted “legalization” and “normalization” requires stronger expository language to better understand the unbridled assault upon Palestinian rights and prospects for meaningful self- determination. It is against this background that this report has decided to employ such terms as “annexation”, “ethnic cleansing”, “apartheid”, “colonialist” and “criminality” as more adequately expressing the actual nature of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. Such labels can be perceived as emotive, and admittedly require a finding by a court of law to be legally conclusive. However, such language, in the Special Rapporteur’s view, more accurately describes the realities of the occupation as of the end of 2010 than the more neutral-seeming description of factual developments that disguises the structures of this occupation which has undermined the rights under international law of the Palestinian people for 43 years.

8. Against this background, the Rapporteur deems it appropriate at this time to renew the call of the former Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, John Dugard, for a referral of the situation to the International Court of Justice for an authoritative decision as to whether, “elements of the [Israeli] occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid”.6 It should be emphasized that the crime of apartheid is no longer attached to the racist policies of the South African regime that generated the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. It is now a crime associated with an “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression … by one racial group over any other racial group … committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”.7 The crime of apartheid is also treated as “a grave breach” of article 85, paragraph 4 (c), of the First Geneva Protocol, an international treaty with 169 parties, and widely regarded as universally binding because it is declaratory of customary international law. As will be illustrated in the present report, the dual discriminatory structure of settler administration, security, mobility, and law as compared to the Palestinian subjugation seems to qualify the long Israeli occupation of the West Bank as an instance of apartheid. The referral to the International Court of Justice should also seek clarification as to whether the pattern of continuing unlawful settlement, manipulation of residence credentials, expulsions in East Jerusalem qualify as “ethnic cleansing” and, if so, how this behaviour should be viewed from the perspective of the international law of belligerent occupation.

9. It is also important to underscore what should be self-evident, namely, that Israel has State responsibility for all violations of international humanitarian law in the territories under occupation, above all, for the settlements. State responsibility cannot be evaded by delegation or failure to deal with violations of Palestinian rights in the occupied territories arising from the behaviour of municipal or private sector actors, as in connection especially with claims of unlawful settlement building and ethnic cleansing allegations in East Jerusalem.

6 A/HRC/4/17, summary, tenth paragraph. 7 See Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, article 7, para. 2 (h).





II. Reviving the direct peace talks

10. At present, there has been a pause in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and feverish diplomatic efforts are being made to continue discussions between the parties. These efforts are relevant to the Rapporteur, as the generally accepted route to the fulfilment of the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people living under occupation has been to achieve an Israeli withdrawal in accordance with Security Council resolution 242 (1967) or on the basis of an agreement between the parties. Whether such negotiations can be effective and legitimate is itself a much contested question that will not be considered here, nor will the presumed outcome of establishing an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories be assessed from the perspective as to whether the accumulation of facts on the ground has made such an outcome unattainable as a practical matter. In a recent report to the General Assembly (A/65/331), the Special Rapporteur put forth the argument that the developments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have transformed a de jure framework of occupation into a de facto condition of annexation. The Rapporteur remains convinced that Israeli settlements, including related infrastructure roads, buffer zones and the separation wall, continue to be the single most important obstacle to resuming the peace talks, assuming that such talks can make constructive contributions to the realization of Palestinian rights, which is far from self-evident. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly said that it would not resume negotiations without an unqualified freeze on settlement expansion, including East Jerusalem. President Mahmoud Abbas stated: “We want a complete cessation of settlement construction. We don’t want to be deceived with another moratorium or a half moratorium or a quarter moratorium. If they want us to talk to the direct talks, the settlements must stop completely”.8 The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, made the same avowal: “There are no compromises over settlement construction … The Israeli government must choose between peace and settlements, because it can’t combine the two together”.9

11. Further, the Rapporteur believes that there are grounds for concern with respect to maintaining the rights of the Palestinian people in relation to the inducements offered to Israel to extend the partial moratorium on settlement expansion. Since this question is one of principle, it remains relevant despite the announcement of the Government of the United States that it will no longer press the Government of Israel to freeze settlement expansion. It is important to bear in mind that the unlawfulness of the settlements has been confirmed over and over again by reference to the textual language of article 49(6), of the Fourth Geneva Convention, by decisions and resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council and by numerous statements on the part of respected world leaders. Therefore, providing Israel with substantive benefits for temporarily and partially halting an unlawful activity that infringes on Palestinian prospects for self-determination raises disturbing issues of principle and precedent. The former American Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, has referred to such an effort by the United States to renew the negotiations as designed “to reward Israel for its bad behavior” in the past and present.10 It is also widely reported that, if Israel accepts the offer, it will never again be asked to impose a moratorium on settlement expansion in either the West Bank or East Jerusalem. What is most relevant

8 Khaled Abu Toameh, “Abbas: Israel seeking to ‘close door to right of return’”, The Jerusalem Post, 8 November 2011.

9 Ibid. 10 “With settlement deal, U.S. will be rewarding Israel’s bad behavior”, Washington Post, 21 November

2010. Robert Fisk has phrased an objection in even harsher language: “The current American bribe to Israel, and the latter’s reluctance to accept it, in return for even a temporary end to the theft of somebody else’s property would be [normally] regarded as preposterous”. “An American bribe that stinks of appeasement”, The Independent, 20 November 2010.

here is the disregard of the legal rights of the Palestinians living under occupation. If a pattern of repeated violation of rights, as here, is to be treated as a new platform of legality, then a terrible precedent is being established for these parties and generally. There can be no positive significance to a negotiating process that incorporates an acceptance and legitimization of Israeli settlements and their infrastructure of roads, which constitute a fundamentally unlawful dimension of the prolonged Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In this respect, only a permanent commitment to freeze settlement growth would signal the minimal good faith required to support the belief that peace talks are a viable path at this stage to reach the essential goals of Palestinian self-determination and a sustainable peace with security for both peoples.

12. On the matter of Palestinian self-determination, the most basic right whose exercise is precluded by the continuation of the occupation, Palestinian Authority has stated that if the talks fail it will establish a Palestinian state on its own even in the face of the occupation. President Abbas expressed this view as follows: “If we fail in [the negotiations], we want to go to the United Nations Security Council to ask the world to recognize the Palestinian state”.11 This is consistent with the frequently discussed plans for Palestinian statehood articulated by the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad. Mr. Fayyad has announced plans for constructing in the West Bank the institutional components of Palestinian statehood, and his efforts have been viewed as credible and impressive in many independent quarters.12 In Mr. Fayyad’s recent words, “I firmly believe [Palestinian statehood] can happen. We need to build up a sense of inevitability about this. I think it will happen next year”.13 A report issued by the World Bank in October 2010 also encouraged these expectations, suggesting that if the Palestinian Authority maintains “its performance in institution-building and delivery of public services …, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a Palestinian state at any point in the near future”.14 Nevertheless, it needs to be understood that such a Palestinian state could be viewed as falling far short of realizing the minimum content of an acceptable enactment of self-determination, lacking in resolution of outstanding core issues such as refugees, Jerusalem, borders, water and settlements. In a notable recent development, with many legal and political implications, Brazil and Argentina formally recognized Palestine as a state within its 1967 borders, which in effect, seems to be the territorial vision of Palestinian self-determination contained in Security Council resolution 242 (1967)(subject to minor border adjustments, but not sufficient to allow annexation of the settlement blocs in “exchange” for largely arid land abutting Gaza, or to transfer Arab villages currently behind the green line) and encompassing the crucial non-territorial issue of refugees.

13. Another matter of concern for the Rapporteur during the reporting period is the passage of an Israeli law that would subject any agreement reached in intergovernmental negotiations to be made subject to a national referendum unless approved by 80 or more members of the Knesset.15 If an agreement were to be reached that embodied the rights and duties of the respective governmental actors, adding internal requirements of approval by either a parliamentary super-majority or a national referendum would only unnecessarily burden that process. Saeb Erekat has gone a step further and stated that the new legislation

11 “Abbas: Israel seeking to ‘close door to right of return’”. 12 See e.g. Robert Serry, “Is the two-state solution fading?”, 27 April 2010, speech at Truman Institute,

Hebrew University. 13 Reuters, “Palestinians demand immediate statehood to counter Israeli “unilateralism’” 9 November

2010. 14 World Bank, “A Palestinian State in Two Years: Institutions for Economic Revival” (September

2009), para. 3. 15 See Chaim Levinson, “Knesset mandates referendum to withdraw from annexed land”, Haaretz, 23

November 2010.






“is making a mockery of international law”.16 States do customarily require some form of legislative endorsement of international treaty obligations. In this instance, the public validation by Israel of any agreement reached might add to its political legitimacy and the likelihood of future respect and, if it failed to gain sufficient Israeli support, could signal the unsustainability of the agreement. Thus, this new constraint on the finality of a negotiated settlement can at best be viewed as ambivalent, and not itself unlawful, although it might be imprudent, if the objective is to end the conflict through a negotiated agreement, a position that is increasingly confronted by doubts.

Continuing expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories

14. Given the centrality that has been accorded by both sides to the settlement phenomenon, the Rapporteur believes that more detailed attention to the facts and legal implications of recent settlement expansion seems appropriate. The Israeli 10-month self- delimited “moratorium” on settlement expansion in the West Bank expired on 26 September 2010, leading to the breakdown of the briefly resumed peace process and giving rise to lengthy negotiations aimed at re-establishing the moratorium that have now been abandoned. However, several points must be noted. First, the 10-month moratorium did not stop settlement construction but only slowed the pace of expansion in some parts of the West Bank;17 it did not purport to freeze settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem, contending, contrary to the international legal and political consensus, that the whole of Jerusalem, as expanded by Israeli law since 1967, is unoccupied, and that the whole city is the capital of Israel, leaving no part of the city to be available as the capital of a future Palestinian state. In the West Bank, settler construction of public facilities such as schools and community centres as well as thousands of housing units already under construction continued unabated during the moratorium. Second, according to the movement Peace Now, a surge of settlement building took place in the first six weeks following the end of the moratorium on 26 September.18 Further, the settlers managed to start to build 1,629 housing units, and to dig the foundations for 1,116 of them. Work started in 63 settlements, 46 of them east of the separation wall and 17 on the western side of it. In all of 2009, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics data, work on 1,888 new housing units have started. Had the construction continued at the same speed without the moratorium, there would have been 1,574 units during the 10-month period. In the six weeks following the end of the freeze, the settlers managed to start a similar number of units attesting to the reality that the settlement freeze was no more than a 10-month delay in the construction.19 In fact, the rate of settlement construction quadrupled compared to what it had been during the two years before the moratorium.20 Third, and perhaps most importantly, the underlying premises of the moratorium were never drawn into question, namely, that it was a matter of Israeli discretion to initiate or terminate a settlement freeze. Official diplomacy never considered the relevance of the continuing violation arising from the presence of the settlements or the questionable status of the 500,000 Israeli settlers who

“Erekat on referendum: Israel making a mockery of int’l law”, The Jerusalem Post, 23 November 2010. See Peace Now, “Eight Months into the Settlement Freeze”, 2 August 2010. See Peace Now, “In 6 weeks the settlers almost made up for the 10 months Settlement Free,” 13 November 2010.

Ibid. See International Middle East Media Center, “Rate Of Israeli Settlement Construction Quadrupled In Last Month”, 21 October 2010.


17 18

19 20


now reside in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and benefit from a preferential legal and administrative structure, which contributes to the impression of apartheid (as a result of its discriminatory, coercive and ethnically specified characteristics). In this respect, the magnitude of the settlement phenomenon, combined with its persistence and character, also warrant concern that the occupation is a form of colonialist annexation that has been established with a clear intention of permanence.

The de facto annexation of East Jerusalem

15. The Israeli insistence on excluding East Jerusalem from the partial moratorium and its overall attitude toward its status is of further concern to the Rapporteur. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, along with other Israeli leaders, has repeatedly confirmed continuing rejection by Israel of United Nations resolutions and other relevant aspects of international law recognizing that the occupied Palestinian territory includes East Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu dramatized this point when he recently stated that “Jerusalem is not a settlement – Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. Israel has never restricted itself regarding any kind of building in the city, which is home to some 800,000 people – including during the 10-month construction moratorium in the West Bank. Israel sees no connection between the peace process and the planning and building policy in Jerusalem, something that hasn’t changed for the past 40 years”.21 Although such an assertion amounts to defiance of international law, it is a significant expression of Israeli diplomatic posture, casting further doubt on what could be expected to emerge from a negotiating process that attempts to foreclose a fundamental Palestinian right to have the part of historic Jerusalem occupied by Israeli in 1967 as its national capital. Again, it is disturbing to note the absence of formal objection by the international community and interested Governments to such an Israeli posture taken in advance of negotiations.

16. The Rapporteur finds that by December 2010, the pace of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem had in fact escalated. On 4 November 2010, the Government of Israel issued tenders for 238 new housing units in the East Jerusalem settlements of Pisgat Zeev and Ramot22 and the following day announced plans for construction of 1,352 new housing units elsewhere in East Jerusalem. Continued construction in addition to settlers’ forcibly taking over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem has resulted in the expulsion of Palestinian residents from their homes. Palestinian families, some of whom have lived in their homes for generations, have been expelled by Israeli police and settlers. In July 2010, a large Palestinian family that had lived in their home in the Old City for more than 70 years was expelled by police-backed settlers who then took over the house.23 In November 2010, settler organizations took control of two houses in Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jabal al- Mukkaber and al-Tur in East Jerusalem resulting in forcible eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes.24 The Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood has also been the subject of persistent attempts by Israeli settler groups to take over land and property in order to establish new settlements in the area. As a result, over 60 Palestinians have lost their homes and another 500 remain at risk of forced eviction, dispossession and displacement in the

Attila Somfalvi, “PM responds to Obama: Jerusalem not a settlement”, Yediot Aharanot, 10 November 2010. Amnesty International UK, “East Jerusalem: Israel’s 238 housing units plan threatens Palestinian human rights”, 15 October 2010.

Harriet Sherwood, “Israeli settlers evict Palestinian family from their home of 70 years”, The Guardian, 29 July 2010. B’Tselem, “New settler enclaves in East Jerusalem”, 2 December 2010.

21 22 23 24






near future.25 In Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, Israeli families have forcibly taken over Palestinian homes, turning them into guarded settlement compounds flying Israeli flags.26 Many of the settler organizations are backed by private donors from abroad,27 raising the issue of international complicity, as well as Israeli State responsibility, with these continuing violations of international law. Moreover, The Government of Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality support the settlers’ actions in Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem and the Old City by allocating private security guards, paid for by taxes, to protect the compounds; sending security forces to accompany takeover of Palestinian houses; funding and promoting building and development projects in the compounds; and transferring Government assets to the control of the organizations.28 This support further illustrates the institutional and systematic discrimination against the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem by Israel, as well as ongoing Israeli efforts to create what are euphemistically called “facts on the ground” for the annexation of East Jerusalem.

Expulsions from East Jerusalem as a means to annexation

17. The Special Rapporteur believes that the expulsions from East Jerusalem go beyond those linked to house seizures or demolitions – and beyond the immediate dire consequences to individuals and families facing the loss of their homes – and form part of the broader picture of annexation, not as an Israeli legal claim but enacted increasingly as evidence of an Israeli political project. Israel carries out new punishments against Palestinians in Jerusalem, including threats of the revocation of Jerusalem residency rights of Palestinians living legally in Jerusalem.

18. In one of the most egregious examples, in July 2010, four Palestinian citizens of Israel, who were elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including one former Council minister, were given notice that their right to Jerusalem residency was being revoked, after the four politicians refused to renounce their ties to Hamas.29 Efforts to expel these parliamentarians were resumed in the summer of 2010 and finally, on 8 December 2010, one of these individuals was deported from Jerusalem.30 The expulsion of the Council’s members from Jerusalem is a violation of the article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly prohibits the forcible transfer of protected persons. It also sets a particularly dangerous precedent for the removal of more than 270,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.31 As the Special Rapporteur has noted before, it is particularly worrying that Israel appears ready to forcibly transfer these individuals based on their supposed lack of allegiance to the state of Israel.32 Israel, as an occupying Power, is prohibited from transferring civilian persons from East Jerusalem and from forcing Palestinians to swear allegiance or otherwise affirm their loyalty to the State of Israel. The revocation of residency permits, home demolitions and evictions, settlement construction, the separation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and its annexation to Israel,

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – occupied Palestinian territory (OCHA-OPT), “Fact sheet: The Case of Sheikh Jarrah”, October 2010. See e.g. Wadi Hilweh Information Center Silwan, “Settlers took over a house in Al-Farouq neighborhood in Silwan”, 23 November 2010.

See “New settler enclaves in East Jerusalem”. Ibid. See B’Tselem, “In dangerous precedent, Israel revokes residency of four Palestinians affiliated with Hamas from East Jerusalem and acts to forcibly transfer them”, 18 July 2010. Associated Press, “Israel expels Hamas MP jailed over Jerusalem status”, 9 December 2010. “In dangerous precedent, Israel revokes residency”. Statement of the Special Rapporteur, “Israel must avoid further violations of international law in East Jerusalem,” 29 June 2010.

25 26

27 28 29

30 31 32

and other Israeli measures to push Palestinian residents out of the city will cumulatively make the creation of a viable Palestinian state, with its capital as East Jerusalem, impossible.33

19. The evidence mounts that from a longer vantage point, the overall pattern combining forced expulsions of Palestinians outwards and of Government-supported voluntary transfers of Israeli settlers inwards reflects a systematic policy of Israel to set the stage for an overall dispossession of Palestinians and the establishment of permanent control over territories occupied since 1967. According to a United Nations report, forced population transfer, or ethnic cleansing, is defined as the “systematic, coercive and deliberate … movement of population into or out of an area … with the effect or purpose of altering the demographic composition of a territory … particularly when that ideology or policy asserts the dominance of a certain group over another”.34 There is no question that, with its policy of Palestinian expulsion and dispossession in Jerusalem, Israel continues to be responsible for a gradual, incremental, yet cumulatively devastating policy designed to achieve the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

IV. West Bank roads and international complicity in perpetuating the occupation

20. The Rapporteur strongly believes that the wider infrastructure of occupation and in particular the dual system of roads represents a growing violation by Israel, the occupying Power, of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and, more pertinently, of apartheid as an instance of a crime against humanity as specified in the statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court. The dual system of roads, as correlated with legal regimes, creates two domains in the West Bank: one for privileged Israeli settlers and the other for subjugated Palestinians living under an occupation. This is particularly visible in the Government and international funding of a network of alternative roads designed to facilitate Palestinian travel, while institutionalizing Israeli military control over the existing main roads, which are then accessible only to Israeli settlers. Many of these roads are also being constructed or upgraded in Area C – the approximately 62 per cent of the West Bank, which according to the 1995 Oslo agreement remains under Israeli administrative and military control, and where the material conditions of the Palestinians living in Area C compares extremely unfavorably with conditions in areas A and B, and even with the wretched conditions under blockade in Gaza. In those cases, the roads remain under control of the occupying Power and thus largely inaccessible to Palestinians (except those very few who obtain a permit), while the international aid and money used to pay for the roads is money – diverted from funding streams ostensibly aimed at improving the lives of Palestinians living under occupation – instead benefits the occupying Power.

21. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported that Israeli authorities continue to implement measures to restrict Palestinian movement and access and, at the same time, to facilitate the movement of Israeli settlers.35 These measures include, namely, the expansion of the alternative (“fabric of life”) road network;

33 Carter Center, “Carter Center Calls for End to East Jerusalem Deportations, Respect for International Law” (22 July 2010). Available from

34 The Human Rights Dimensions of Population Transfer, including the Implantation of Settlers, Preliminary Report prepared by A. S. al-Khawasneh and R. Hatano (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1993/17), paras. 15 and 17.

35 OCHA-OPT, “West Bank Movement and Access Update” (June 2010).





checkpoints (including partial checkpoints); and the unstaffed obstacles, including roadblocks, earthmounds, earth walls, road gates, road barriers and trenches.36 These measures exact a price from Palestinians. For example, the “fabric of life” roads, which often require the seizure of private Palestinian lands, reconnect a few of the Palestinian communities that were disconnected due to the restricted access of Palestinians to a main road or due to the obstruction of a road by the separation wall. They, however, continue to reinforce the exclusion of Palestinians from the primary road network and undermine the territorial contiguity between different areas.37

22. Whether inadvertently or not, the role of the international donor community has led to a consolidation of Israeli control in the West Bank through the two-tiered system of roads. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has acknowledged that all its West Bank projects in Area C, including road construction, must be carried out through prior coordination with the Government of Israel.38 In other words, USAID and American taxpayers are financing, and thereby further entrenching, the Israeli de facto annexation of the West Bank.39 In one specific example, USAID announced in June 2010 that United States taxpayers had paid for road construction in the West Bank, boasting that “after completion of a road project in the southern West Bank, trade between Dahriyeh and the neighboring city of Beer Sheva (approximately 100,000 residents total) increased dramatically”.40 The West Bank area between Dahriyeh and Beer Sheva lies largely within Area C, thus aid funds designated for Palestinian residents is instead helping Israel finance the occupation. In another example in a nearby area, Nidal Hatim, a resident of Battir village near Bethlehem, described his inability to use Route 60, the main road from Bethlehem to his home village and the principal north-south traffic artery through the West Bank; “To go on the highway, we have to go through the checkpoint and turn around. I have a West Bank Palestinian ID, so I can’t go through the checkpoint”.41 Instead, he takes a side road that is currently being built by the Palestinian Authority with USAID support. The side road, still under construction, weaves around and under the four-lane Route 60, which is now used mostly by Israeli settlers. Upon completion, this “fabric of life” road is expected to be the sole access point connecting the villages in the western section of Bethlehem governorate with the urban area of Bethlehem.42 According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, “the dual road system in the West Bank will in the long run cement Israeli control. The tunnel that connects with Battir can be controlled by one army jeep”.43 The Palestinian Authority grants approval for some of the roads. However, that does not change the legal consequence of an outside-Government funding infrastructure that consolidates the process of de facto annexation already under way in the

36 Ibid. 37 Ibid. 38 Letter from USAID dated 9 June 2010. Available from 39 See further Akiva Eldar, “US taxpayers are paying for Israel’s West Bank occupation”, Haaretz, 16

November 2010: “The roads are one of the initiatives of the United States Agency for International Development for building infrastructure in underdeveloped countries. Israel has already proudly left the club of developing countries and is not among the clients of USAID. Nevertheless, it appears the Smith family of Illinois is making the occupation a little less expensive for the Cohen family of Petah Tikva.”

40 USAID, “Fact Sheet: Water Resources and Infrastructure”, (June 2010). Available from

41 Nadia Hijab and Jesse Rosenfeld, “Palestinian Roads: Cementing Statehood, or Israeli Annexation?”, The Nation, 30 April 2010.

42 “West Bank Movement and Access Update”. 43 “Palestinian Roads”. See also Badil, “The implications of losing access to route 60”. Available from


occupied Palestinian territory. Such funding could arguably result in the outside Government supplying the funds being deemed complicit in the illegal occupation.

Continuation of the Gaza blockade

23. It is important to underscore at the outset the conclusions drawn by the report of the independent international fact-finding mission on the incident of the humanitarian flotilla. The report reached a series of conclusions that are likely to become authoritative so far as the international assessment is concerned and have some wider policy implications with regard to the continuing blockade and occupation of Gaza. Perhaps, the most important of these implications, as of 31 May 2010, is “the firm conclusion that a humanitarian crisis existed” at the time in Gaza on the basis of a “preponderance of evidence from impeccable sources” that “is too overwhelming to come to a contrary opinion”.44 The report of the Mission further concludes that the existence of a humanitarian crisis is enough by itself to make the blockade “unlawful”45 and, by extension, to regard the interception of the flotilla in international waters as a violation of international law.46 It should be noted that the core unlawfulness of the blockade, quite independent of its overall humanitarian effects, is that it constitutes a clear, systematic and sustained instance of collective punishment imposed on an entire civilian population in direct violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. One dramatic further finding is “that a deplorable situation exists in Gaza”, such that action by humanitarian organizations to break an unlawful and cruel blockade of this sort is fully justified.47 This is especially so when, as here, “the international community is unwilling for whatever reason to take positive action”.48 Such an interpretation of the situation confronting the people of Gaza, and having persisted and worsened ever since Israeli sanctions were imposed in 2006 and dramatically escalated by the blockade established in 2007, is a powerful vindication of the humanitarian rationale for the flotilla offered by its organizers and denied by Israeli officials, who repeatedly refute that any humanitarian crisis exists in Gaza.

24. The Rapporteur has found that the situation of the civilian population in Gaza continues to be of critical concern. In 2010, Israeli uses of force resulted in 58 Palestinians killed in Gaza (including 22 civilians) plus 233 Palestinians injured (including 208 civilians).49 Israel has declared a buffer zone that extends for 1,500 metres into Gaza from the border fence (comprising 17 per cent of Gaza), and Israeli military personnel fire at farmers and children who are pursuing normal peaceful activities close to the border.50 Israeli naval forces also restrict Gaza fishing boats to three nautical miles from shore and fire warning shots should these boats go beyond this limit.51 These characteristics of the ongoing Israeli relationship to Gaza are strongly confirmatory of the legal and factual assessment that Gaza remains an occupied territory.

A/HRC/15/21, paras. 261 and 263. Ibid., para. 261. Ibid., para. 262. Ibid., para. 275.

Ibid., para. 276. OCHA-OPT, “Protection of Civilians Weekly Report”, 10–23 November 2010. See OCHA-OPT, Between the Fence and a Hard Place, (2010). See the next chapter for further on this topic. Ibid.

44 45 46 47 48 49 50







25. Despite the announced easing of the blockade after the flotilla incident of 31 May 2010, the dire humanitarian situation persists in Gaza.52 Unfortunately, despite some selective easing of the blockade, its essential features persist with continuing hardship and hazard for the entire civilian population of Gaza.53 The most recent statistics available, for instance, suggest that an average of 780 truckloads per week of humanitarian goods had entered Gaza in late November 2010 (as compared to 944 truckloads after the reported easing of the blockade on 20 June 2010) and this total was only 28 per cent of the weekly average before the blockade was imposed in June 2007.54 According to a recent report by 25 non-governmental organizations, Gaza requires 670,000 truckloads of construction material to rebuild after the Israeli assault in January 2009. However, the Israeli authorities have only permitted an average of 715 truckloads per month since the “easing” of restrictions in June 2010.55 At this rate it will take 78 years to rebuild Gaza, with a completion date in 2088. It is also notable that 53 per cent of the total import was for food items as compared to 20 per cent prior to the blockade, suggesting the decline of the non- food requirement for civilian normalcy. There has also been no increase in industrial fuel since the beginning of 2010. As a result, total available electricity is 40 per cent below the estimated daily demand of 280 MW.56 Daily power cuts of up to 12 hours negatively affect such essential services as water supply, sewage treatment and removal, and health facilities.57 Twenty per cent of Gazans have access to water only for one day out of five (and then for 6–8 hours), fifty per cent have access only one day in four; and a further thirty per cent every second day.58 In September 2010, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that, owing to the continuing blockade, it cannot meet the enrolment needs of 40,000 Gazan school children.59 These facts demonstrate the persistence and unlawful character of the blockade, being both a form of unlawful collective punishment amounting to a crime against humanity and a denial of material necessities to a civilian population living under occupation in violation of international humanitarian law.

Abuse of children by Israeli authorities in the occupied territories

26. In 2010, there were several reports of the abuse of Palestinian children in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. It is recalled that children are treated as entitled to high

See Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Office’s statement following the Israeli Security Cabinet meeting, 20 June 2010. Available from 2010.htm.

See generally Amnesty International UK et al, “Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza blockade”, 30 November 2010. See also Gisha, “Unraveling the closure of Gaza: what has changed and what hasn’t since the Cabinet decision and what are the implications?”, July 2010. Available from For further update, see also Gisha, “Facts Behind MFA Report on ‘Easing’ of Gaza Closure”. Available from

“Protection of Civilians”. “Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza blockade”. Ibid. Ibid. See also OCHA-OPT, “Gaza’s electricity crisis: the impact of electricity cuts on humanitarian situation”, May 2010. Ibid. UNRWA, “40,000 students turned away from UNRWA schools due to Gaza closure”, 15 September 2010.



54 55 56 57

58 59

standards of protection in situations of arrest or when enduring occupation. Article 37(b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides: “The arrest or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”. Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifies that “Proper regard shall be paid to the special treatment due to minors”. Further, Article 77, paragraph 1, of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions reinforces this legal obligation as follows: “Children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault. The Parties to the conflict shall provide them with the care and aid they require, whether because of age or for any other reason”. The treatment by Israeli authorities of Palestinian children living under occupation does not at all comply with these provisions.

27. The Rapporteur utterly deplores and strongly condemns the fact that, since 2000, 1,335 Palestinian children (including 6 children in 2010) have been killed as a result of Israeli military and settler presence in the occupied Palestinian territories.60 The arbitrary opening of fire by Israeli military against Palestinian children is particularly appalling. Since March 2010, Israeli soldiers along the border with Gaza have shot 17 children while they collected building gravel in the Gaza buffer zone to support their families. The children were shot whilst working between 50 and 800 metres from the border. Adults and children continue to do this dangerous work as Israeli authorities refuse to allow the entry of construction material into the Gaza Strip and there are few job opportunities available.61

28. The Rapporteur is further dismayed at the continual arrests and detention of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities. In 2010, Israeli authorities arrested children at checkpoints, off the street or, most commonly, from the family home. In the case of house arrests, large numbers of Israeli soldiers typically surrounded the family home in the middle of the night. Children were beaten or kicked at the time of arrest and put at the back of a military vehicle where they were subject to further physical and psychological abuse on the way to the interrogation and detention centre. Upon arrest, children and their families were seldom informed of the charges against them.62 Children were often subject to abuse during interrogation.63 At the end of October 2010, 256 children remained in Israeli detention, including 34 between the ages of 12–15 years.64 As of August 2010, 42.5 per cent of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons were not held in facilities separate from adults.65

29. The continued reports of inhumane and degrading treatment, including sexual assault, of children in detention is further deplorable. In Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, at least 81 minors from Silwan have been arrested or detained for questioning (mostly in the middle of the night), the vast majority on suspicion of stone-throwing following confrontations between Palestinians and settlers in the neighbourhood, where

60 See Defence for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI-Palestine), “Detention Bulletin: November 2010”.

61 Ibid. 62 DCI-Palestine, “Submission to European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights: Hearing on

Situation in Prisons in Israel and Palestine”, 25 October 2010. Available from http://www.dci- 63 Ibid.

64 DCI-Palestine, “Detention Bulletin: October 2010”. 65 “Submission to European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights” (citing figures provided by

the Israeli Prison Service). See also B’Tselem and Hamoked, “Kept in the Dark: Treatment of Palestinian Detainees in the Petah Tikva Interrogation Facility of the Israel Security Agency”, October 2010, p. 33.





there is tension resulting from settlers’ taking control of houses and archeological sites.66 Some of those arrested were under the age of 12. An increasing number of testimonies by children and their families pointed to gross violations of the rights of children during interrogation.67 In the Ariel settlement in the occupied West Bank, children reported that they had been given electric shocks by Israeli interrogators in the settlement.68 The children, one as young as 14 years of age, were each accused of throwing stones at a settler bypass road in the occupied West Bank. Following the electric shocks, the boys provided their interrogators with confessions, although they maintained their innocence.69 In May 2010, a 14-year-old boy reported that his interrogator in the Israeli settlement block of Gush Etzion, in the occupied West Bank, attached car battery jump leads to the boy’s genitals and threatened to electrify the cable. After further abuse, the boy confessed to throwing stones, although he maintains his innocence.70

30. Each year, approximately 700 Palestinian children (under 18) from the West Bank are prosecuted in Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army.71 Observers have been shocked by the disparities between the special regard for children imposed by international legal norms and the actual practices of Israeli military and security forces. A recent visit by a British Parliamentary group is illustrative: Sandra Osborne, after visiting a military court used to prosecute children at Camp Ofer, near Ramallah, remarked during a Parliamentary debate on the subject, “it was a visit to a military court that shocked us to the core”.72 Among the shocking features were the following: the child defendants – 13 and 14 years of age – were brought into the courtroom with their legs shackled in changes and handcuffed, usually behind their backs; their jail sentences were lengthened by as much as three times unless they pleaded guilty; the judge had no interaction with the child defendants and was reported never even to look at them; proceedings and signed confessions were in Hebrew, a language most of these children did not know.73 The scene being described resembles the administration of justice in the South Africa of apartheid that the Special Rapporteur visited on a formal mission on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists in 1968.

31. The apartheid dimension of this abusive atmosphere is also accentuated by the dual legal system that is operative in the occupied territories, with settler children – who are rarely apprehended in any event for their violent act – being prosecuted in Israeli civilian courts, while Palestinian children are brought before the military court system. Among the discriminatory features of the two systems is the imposition of higher degrees of accountability at lower ages, Palestinians being held responsible as adults at the age of 16, while the Israeli age is 18. The failure to uphold minimum standards in relation to the treatment of Palestinian children detained and imprisoned is an extreme violation of Israeli

66 See generally B’Tselem, “Caution: Children Ahead – The Illegal Behavior of the Police toward Minors in Silwan Suspected of Stone Throwing”, December 2010. See also, Wadi Hilweh Information Center, “Silwanian Children at the Frontline”, 12 May 2010. Available from

67 See, “Child protection laws broken during Silwan interrogations”, The Jerusalem Post, 25 November 2010.

68 DCI-Palestine, “Detention Bulletin, September 2010”. 69 Ibid. 70 Ibid. DCI-Palestine and PCATI have submitted complaints against the Israeli army and police

interrogators and demanded an investigation into reports that an Israeli interrogator in the settlement of Gush Etzion attached car battery jump lead to the genitals of a 14-year-old boy in order to obtain a confession to stone throwing.

71 “Submission to European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights”. 72 Haaretz, “Otherwise Occupied/Labour is concerned”, 13 December 2010. 73 Ibid.

obligation to do all that is possible, subject to reasonable security measures, to respect the status of protected persons as mandated by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Such an assessment is rendered more disturbing when account is taken that almost all of these arrests of children are generated by their resistance to unlawful patterns of Israeli settlement building and expansion, along with related ethnic-cleansing measures being applied at an accelerating rate in East Jerusalem.

VII. Recommendations

32. The Special Rapporteur recommends that:

(a) Intensified efforts be made to induce Israel to cooperate with the proper discharge of this mandate, including allowing access to the occupied Palestinian territories by the Special Rapporteur;

(b) Efforts be undertaken to have the International Court of Justice assess allegations that the prolonged occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem possess elements of “colonialism”, “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” inconsistent with international humanitarian law in circumstances of belligerent occupation and unlawful abridgements of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people;

(c) Intensified efforts be made to attach legal consequences to the failure by Israel to end the blockade of the Gaza Strip in all of its dimensions;

(d) The Human Rights Council organize an inquiry, possibly jointly with the International Committee of the Red Cross or the Government of Switzerland, into the legal, moral and political consequences of prolonged occupation, including prolonged refugee status, with an eye toward convening Governments to negotiating further protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1949;

(e) Steps be taken by the Human Rights Council to implement the recommendations of the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict in the light of the failure of Israel to address allegations in a manner that accords with international standards as well as the conclusions of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission into the incident of the humanitarian flotilla;

(f) Measures are taken to ensure that no Palestinian child is detained inside Israel or in the occupied Palestinian territories in contravention of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; children are not brought before military courts; cases of mistreatment and abuse of children are thoroughly and impartially investigated; and all evidence against children obtained through ill-treatment or torture be rejected by the courts.



The Toxic Residue of Colonialism: Protecting Interests, Disregarding Rights

8 Feb

At least, overtly, there has been no talk from either Washington or Tel Aviv, the governments with most to lose as the Egyptian Revolution unfolds, of military intervention. Such restraint is more expressive of geopolitical sanity than postcolonial morality, but still it enables some measure of change to take place that unsettles, temporarily at least, the established political order. And yet, by means seen and unseen, external actors, especially the United States, with a distinct American blend of presumed imperial and paternal prerogatives are seeking to shape and limits the outcome of this extraordinary uprising  of the Egyptian people long held in subsidized bondage by the cruel and corrupt Mubarak dictatorship. What is the most defining feature of this American-led diplomacy-from-without is the seeming propriety of managing the turmoil so that the regime survives and the demonstrators return to what is perversely being called ‘normalcy.’ I find most astonishing that President Obama so openly claims the authority to instruct the Mubarak regime about how it is supposed to respond to the revolutionary uprising. I am not surprised at the effort, and would be surprised by its absence, but merely by the lack of any signs of imperial shyness in a world order that is supposedly built around the legitimacy of self-determination, national sovereignty, and democracy. And almost as surprising, is the failure of Mubarak to pretend in public that such interference in the guise of guidance is unacceptable, even if behind closed doors he listens submissively and acts accordingly. This geopolitical theater performance of master and servant suggests the persistence of the colonial mentality on the part of both colonizer and their national collaborators.

The only genuine post-colonial message would be one of deference: ‘stand aside, and applaud.’ The great transformative struggles of the last century involved a series of challenges throughout the global south to get rid of the European colonial empires. But political independence did not bring an end to the more indirect, but still insidious, methods of indirect control designed to protect economic and strategic interests. Such a dynamic meant reliance on political leaders that would sacrifice the wellbeing of their own people to serve the wishes of their unacknowledged former colonial masters, or their Western successors (the United States largely displacing France and the United Kingdom in the Middle East after the Suez Crisis of 1956). And these post-colonial servants of the West would be well-paid autocrats vested with virtual ownership rights in relation to the indigenous wealth of their country provided they remained receptive to foreign capital.  In this regard the Mubarak regime was (and remains) a poster child of post-colonial success. Western liberal eyes were long accustomed not to notice the internal patterns of abuse that were integral to this foreign policy success, and if occasionally noticed by some intrepid journalist, who would then be ignored or if necessary discredited as some sort of ‘leftist,’ and if this failed to deflect criticism than point out, usually with an accompanying condescending smile, that torture and the like came with Arab cultural territory, a reality that savvy outsiders adapted to without any discomfort. Actually, in this instance, such practices were quite convenient, Egypt serving as one of the interrogation sites for the insidious practice of ‘extreme rendition,’ by which the CIA transports terrorist suspects to accommodating foreign countries that willingly provide torture tools and facilities. Is this what is meant by ‘a human rights presidency’? The irony should not be overlooked that President Obama’s special envoy to the Mubarak government in the crisis was none other than Frank Wisner, an American with a most notable CIA lineage.

There should be clarity about the relationship between this kind of post-colonial state, serving American regional interests (oil, Israel, containment of Islam, avoidance of unwanted proliferation of nuclear weapons) in exchange for power, privilege, and wealth vested in a tiny corrupt national elite that sacrifices the wellbeing and dignity of the national populace in the process. Such a structure in the post-colonial era where national sovereignty and human rights infuse popular consciousness can only be maintained by erecting high barriers of fear reinforced by state terror that are designed to intimidate the populace from pursuing their goals and values. When these barriers are breached, as recently in Tunisia and Egypt, then the fragility of the oppressive regime glows in the dark. The dictator either runs for the nearest exit, as did Tunisia’s Ben Ali, or is dumped by his entourage and foreign friends so that the revolutionary challenge can be tricked into a premature accommodation. This latter process seems to represent the latest maneuvering of the palace elite in Cairo and their backers in the White House. Only time will tell whether the furies of counterrevolution will win the day, possibly by gunfire and whip, and possibly through mollifying gestures of reform that become unfulfillable promises in due course if the old regime is not totally reconstructed. Unfulfillable because corruption and gross disparities of wealth amid mass impoverishment can only be sustained, post-Tahrir Square, through the reimposition of oppressive rule. And if it is not oppressive, then it will not be able for very long to withstand demands for rights, for social and economic justice, and due course for solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

Here is the crux of the ethical irony. Washington is respectful of the logic of self-determination so long as it converges with American grand strategy, and oblivious to the will of the people whenever its expression is seen as posing a threat to the neoliberal overlords of the globalized world economy or to strategic alignments that seem so dear to State Department or Pentagon planners. As a result there is an inevitable to-ing and fro-ing as the United States tries to bob and weave, celebrating the advent of democracy in Egypt, complaining about the violence and torture of the tottering regime, while doing what it can to manage the process from outside, which means preventing genuine change, much less a democratic transformation of the Egyptian state. Anointing the main CIA contact person and a Mubarak loyalist, Omar Suleiman, to preside over the transition process on behalf of Egypt seems a thinly disguised plan to throw Mubarak to the crowd while stabilizing the regime he presided over for more than 30 years.  I would expected more subtlety on the part of the geopolitical managers, but perhaps its absence is one more sign of imperial myopia that so often accompanies the decline of great empires.

It is notable that most protesters when asked by the media about their reasons for risking death and violence by being in the Egyptian streets respond with variations on the phrases “We want our rights” or “We want freedom and dignity.”  Of course, joblessness, poverty, food security, anger at the corruption, abuses, and dynastic pretensions of the Mubarak regime offer an understandable infrastructure of rage that undoubtedly fuels the revolutionary fires, but it is rights and dignity that seems to float on the surface of this awakened political consciousness. These ideas, to a large extent nurtured in the hothouse of Western consciousness and then innocently exported as a sign of good will, like ‘nationalism’ a century earlier, might originally be intended only as public relations moves, but over time such ideas gave rise to the dreams of the oppressed and victimized, and when the unexpected historical moment finally arrived, burst into flame. I remember talking a decade or so ago to Indonesian radicals in Jakarta who talked of the extent to which their initial involvement in anti-colonial struggle was stimulated to what they had learned from their Dutch colonial teachers about the rise of nationalism as a political ideology in the West.

Ideas may be disseminated with conservative intent, but if they later become appropriated on behalf of the struggles of oppressed peoples such ideas are reborn, and serve as the underpinnings of a new emancipatory politics. Nothing better illustrates this Hegelian journey than the idea of ‘self-determination,’ initially proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson after World War I. Wilson was a leader who sought above all to maintain order, believed in satisfying the aims of foreign investors and corporations,  and had no complaints about the European colonial empires. For him, self-determination was merely a convenient means to arrange the permanent breakup of the Ottoman Empire through the formation of a series of ethnic states. Little did Wilson imagine, despite warnings from his Secretary of State, that self-determination could serve other gods, and become a powerful mobilizing tool to overthrow colonial rule. In our time, human rights has followed a similarly winding path, sometimes being no more than a propaganda banner used to taunt enemies during the Cold War, sometimes as a convenient hedge against imperial identity, and sometimes as the foundations of revolutionary zeal as seems to be the case in the unfinished and ongoing struggles for rights and dignity taking place throughout the Arab world in a variety of forms.

It is impossible to predict how this future will play out. There are too many forces at play in circumstances of radical uncertainty. In Egypt, for instance, it is widely believed that the army holds most of the cards, and that where it finally decides to put its weight will determine the outcome. But is such conventional wisdom not just one more sign that hard power realism dominates our imagination, and that historical agency belongs in the end to the generals and their weapons, and not to the people in the streets. Of course, there is blurring of pressures as the army could be merely trying to go with the flow, siding with the winner once the outcome seems clear. Is there any reason to rely on the wisdom, judgment, and good will of armies, not just in Egypt whose commanders owe their positions to Mubarak, but throughout the world? In Iran the army did stand aside, and a revolutionary process transformed the Shah’s edifice of corrupt and brutal governance, the people momentarily prevailed, only to have their extraordinary nonviolent victory snatch away in a subsequent counterrevolutionary move that substituted theocracy for democracy.  There are few instances of revolutionary victory, and in those few instances, it is rarer still to carry forward the revolutionary mission without disruption. The challenge is to sustain the revolution in the face of almost inevitable counterrevolutionary projects, some launched by those who were part of the earlier movement unified against the old order but now determined to hijack the victory for its own ends. The complexities of the revolutionary moment require utmost vigilance on the part of those who view emancipation, justice, and democracy as their animating ideals because there will be enemies who seek to seize power at the expense of humane politics. One of the most impressive features of the Egyptian Revolution up to this point has been the extraordinary ethos of nonviolence and solidarity exhibited by the massed demonstrators even in the face of repeated bloody provocations of the baltagiyya dispatched by the regime. This ethos has so far refused to be diverted by these provocations, and we can only hope against hope that the provocations will cease, and that counterrevolutionary tides will subside, sensing either the futility of assaulting history or imploding at long last from the build up of corrosive effects from a long embrace of an encompassing illegitimacy.

Egypt’s Transformative Moment: Revolution, Counterrevolution, or Reform

4 Feb

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 there have been two further transformative events that have reshaped in enduring ways the global setting. When the Soviet empire collapsed two years later, the way was opened for the triumphalist pursuit of the American Imperial Project, seizing the opportunity for geopolitical expansion provided by its self-anointed global leadership as ‘the sole surviving superpower.’ This first rupture in the character of world order produced a decade of ascendant neoliberal globalization in which state power was temporarily and partially eclipsed by a passing the torch of lead global policymaker to the oligarchs of Davos who met annually under the banner of the World Economic Forum. In that sense, the U.S. Government was the well-subsidized sheriff of predatory globalization while the policy agenda was being set by lead bankers and global corporate executives. Although not often identified as such, the 1990s was the first evidence of the rise of non-state actors, and the decline of state-centric geopolitics.

The second rupture came with the 9/11 attacks, however those events are construed. The impact of the attacks transferred the locus of policymaking authority back to the United States, as state actor, under the rubrics of ‘the war on terror,’ ‘global security,’ and ‘the long war.’ This counter-terrorist response to 9/11 produced claims to engage in preemptive warfare (‘The Bush Doctrine’). This militarist foreign policy was put into practice by initiating a ‘shock and awe’ war against Iraq in March 2003 despite the refusal of the UN Security Council to back American war plans. This second rupture has turned the entire world into a potential battlefield, with a variety of overt and covert military and paramilitary operations launched by the United States without appropriate authorization from either the UN or by deference to international law. Aside from this disruption of the liberal international order, the continuing pattern of responses to 9/11 involve disregard for the sovereign rights of states in the global South as well as complicity of many states in Europe and the Middle East in violation of basic human rights through engaging in torture in response to ‘extreme rendition’ of terrorist suspects and providing ‘black sites’ where persons deemed hostile to the United States are detained and routinely abused. The response to 9/11 also was seized upon by the neoconservative ideologues that rose to power in the Bush presidency to enact their pre-attack grand strategy accentuating ‘regime change’ in the Middle East, starting with Iraq, which was portrayed as ‘low-lying fruit’ that would have multiple benefits once picked:

military bases, lower energy prices, oil supplies, regional hegemony, promoting Israeli regional goals.

The third rupture involving the continuing worldwide deep economic recession that started in 2008, and has produced widespread rise in unemployment, declining living standards, and rising costs for basic necessities, especially food and fuel. These developments have exhibited the inequities, gross abuses, and deficiencies of neoliberal globalization, but have not led to the imposition of regulations designed to lessen such widely uneven gains from economic growth, to avoid market abuses, or even to guard against periodic market collapses. This deepening crisis of world capitalism is not being currently addressed, and alternative visions, even the revival of a Keynesian approach, have little political backing. This crisis has also exposed the vulnerabilities of the European Union to the uneven stresses exerted by varying national capabilities to deal with the challenges posed. All of these economic concerns are complicated and intensified by the advent of global warming, and its dramatically uneven impacts.

A fourth rupture in global governance is associated with the unresolved turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. The mass popular uprisings that started in Tunisia have provided the spark that set off fires elsewhere in the region, especially Egypt. These extraordinary challenges to the established order have vividly inscribed on the global political consciousness the courage and determination of ordinary people living in these Arab countries, especially youth, who have been enduring for their entire lives intolerable conditions of material deprivation, despair, alienation, elite corruption, and merciless oppression. The outcomes of these movements for change in the Arab world is not yet knowable, and will not be for months, if not years to come. It is crucial for supporters on the scene and around the world not to become complacent as it is certain that those with entrenched interests in the old oppressive and exploitative order are seeking to restore former conditions to the extent possible, or at least salvage what they can. In this regard, it would be a naïve mistake to think that transformative and emancipatory results can come from the elimination of a single hated figure such as Ben Ali in Tunisia or Mubarak in Egypt, even if including their immediate entourage. Sustainable significant change requires a new political structure, as well as a new process that ensures free and fair elections and adequate opportunities for popular participation. Real democracy must be substantive as well as procedural, bringing human security to the people, including basic needs, decent work, and a police that protects rather than harasses. Otherwise, the changes wrought merely defer the revolutionary moment to a later day, and an ordeal of mass suffering will resume until that time comes.

To simplify, what remains unresolved is the fundamental nature of the outcome of these confrontations between the aroused populace of the region and state power with its autocratic and neoliberal orientations. Will this outcome be transformative bringing into being authentic democracy based on human rights and an economic order that puts the needs of people ahead of the ambitions of capital? If it is then it will be appropriate to speak of the Egyptian Revolution, the Tunisian Revolution, and maybe others in the region and elsewhere to come, as it was appropriate to describe the Iranian outcome in 1979 as the Iranian Revolution. From this perspective a revolutionary result may not necessarily be a benevolent outcome beyond ridding the society of the old order. In Iran a newly oppressive regime resting on a different ideological foundation emerged, itself being challenged after the 2009 elections by a popular movement calling itself the Green Revolution. So far this use of the word ‘revolution’ expressed hopes rather than referred to realities.

What has actually taken place in Iran, and what seemed to flow from the onslaught unleashed by the Chinese state in Tiananmen Square in 1989 was ‘counterrevolution,’ that is the restoration of the old order and the systematic repression of those identified as participants in the challenge. Actually, the words deployed can be misleading. What most followers of the Green Revolution seemed to seek in Iran was reform not revolution, that is, changes in personnel and policies, protection of human rights, but no challenge to the structure or the constitution of the Islamic Republic.

It is unclear whether the movement in Egypt is at present sufficiently unified or reflective to have a coherent vision of its goals beyond getting rid of Mubarak. The response of the state, besides trying to crush the uprising and even banish media coverage, offers at most promises of reform: fairer and freer elections, respect for human rights. It is rather obscure about what is meant and even more so, what will happen, in the course of an ‘orderly transition’ under the auspices of temporary leaders closely tied to the old regime, and likely enjoying enthusiastic backing in Washington. Will a cosmetic agenda of reform hide the actuality of a politics of counterrevolution? Or will revolutionary expectations come to the fore from an aroused populace to overwhelm the pacifying efforts of ‘the reformers’? Or might there be a genuine mandate of reform, supported by elites and bureaucrats, enacting sufficiently ambitious changes in the direction of democracy and social justice to satisfy the publics? Of course, there is no assurance, or likelihood, that the outcomes will be the same, or even similar, in the various countries undergoing these dynamics of change, and some will see ‘revolution’ where ‘reform’ has taken place, and few will acknowledge the extent to which ‘counterrevolution’ can lead to the breaking of even modest promises of reform.

At stake, as never since the collapse of the colonial order in the Middle East and North Africa, is the unfolding and shaping of self-determination in the entire Arab world, and possibly beyond.

How these dynamics will affect the broader regional agenda is not apparent at this stage, but there is every reason to suppose that the Israel/Palestine conflict will never be quite the same. It is also uncertain how such important regional actors as Turkey or Iran will deploy or not their influence. And, of course, the behavior of the elephant not formally in the room is likely to be a crucial element in the mix for some time to come, for better or worse.