Will Elections Penetrate Israel’s “Impenetrable, Dangerous, Ideological Shield”?

by James M. Wall

It has been 25 years since Jewish historian, and Israeli critic, Simha Flapan, described the dominant narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his 1987 book, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities.

Even though Israel has the most sophisticated army in the region and possesses an advanced atomic capability, it continues to regard itself in terms of the Holocaust, as the victim of an unconquerable, bloodthirsty enemy. Thus whatever Israelis do, whatever means we employ to guard our gains or to increase them, we justify as last-ditch self-defense. We can, therefore, do no wrong. The myths of Israel forged during the formation of the state have hardened into this impenetrable, and dangerous, ideological shield.

At the time of its publication, Flapan’s book was exhilarating to anyone who by the mid-1980s, was running up against what Flapan termed, Israel’s ” impenetrable, and dangerous, ideological shield”

This summer, that impenetrable wall has begun to show cracks of possible penetrability. Elections are currently moving forward in Egypt and Palestine, two voting publics Israel does not want to see emerge as unpredictable democratic neighbors.

Egypt, a country which borders Israel from the south, has long been a key Israeli ally. President Hosni Mubarak, the last military strongman to run Egypt, was just the partner Israel needed as a close neighbor.

Palestine? Well, elections were most certainly not in Israel’s plans for the population which has refused to accept Israel’s occupation.

Egyptians began voting for a new president this past week to replace the military committee which succeeded the ousted Mubarak. Results are not yet official, but it appears that the runoff in June between the two leading candidates, will involve Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate and Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s last Prime Minister.

Egyptian scholar and greatly respected blogger, Juan Cole, describes Shafiq (shown at right here) as a former Air Force general and aeronautical engineer who wrote a dissertation on the military uses of Outer Space.

Shafiq is also a former Egyptian minister of aviation. He brags, with justification it appears, about “the good job he did with Cairo’s international airport”.

Cole adds that “Shafiq is considered by many Egyptians, especially in the countryside, as the law and order candidate. Many voters dislike him because of his close association with the overthrown Mubarak regime.”

Shafiq’s presumed opponent in the next round of voting, Mohammed Mursi, (at left) is described by the Guardian as the candidate selected by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party. Morsi is seen, according to the Guardian, as an uninspiring figure. He is backed, however, “by the best-organized political force in the country.”

Mursi, 60, is an engineer who has taught in the US as well as at Egyptian universities. An expert on precision metal surfaces, he worked at the US agency, NASA, on the development of space shuttle engines in the early 1980s.

This will be Egypt’s first democratic election. Palestinian elections are scheduled at some point later this year. That election will be the second exercise of democracy by Palestinians in the past decade.

The first was in 2006. (The picture above from Ma’an, is a ballot box from the 2006 election). When the outcome did not suit either Israel or the US, many elected Hamas legislators were promptly jailed by Israel. This was followed by a military conflict, encouraged by the US and Israel. As a result of that conflict, Hamas seized control of Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority became the ruling force in the West Bank.

Six years later, the governments of Gaza and the West Bank are prepared to hold their second legislative and presidential elections, under the watchful eye of the Palestinian Election Commission, which is chaired by retired Bir Zeit University president Hanna Nasser. The process of voter registration began Monday when Nasser met with Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Ma’an, the Palestinian News Agency, reported Monday that Nasser met with Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to discuss final plans for the election.

In an earlier Saturday story, Ma’an provided this background on election plans:

The [Palestinian] Central Elections Commission will begin operating in the Gaza Strip on Monday [May 28], officials said. Yasser al-Wadia, the general coordinator for independent political figures, told Ma’an on Saturday that a delegation from the CEC will add between 250,000-300,000 new Gazan voters to the electoral register. The CEC would undertake its work with impartiality, al-Wadia added.

Hanna Nasser, the head of the Central Elections Committee, told Voice of Palestine radio this week that the CEC would prepare offices and train employees ahead of necessary preparations to register voters.

After the commission starts work in the Gaza Strip, President Mahmoud Abbas will begin consultations on a consensus government as previously agreed.

Members of the new cabinet will be agreed upon within 10 days from the start of consultations. Then the unity government will operate for six months, during which time it will set a date for general elections.

Nasser, it should be noted, held the same position as chair of the CEC,  in January, 2006, when the elections in Gaza and the West Bank were essentially nullified by the US and Israel.

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist who roams the world looking for exciting business developments, paused this past week to offer his report on the current conditions facing Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. He appears either uninterested or, horrors, not even aware, that Palestinian elections are in the final planning stages.

In his column, Friedman stuck to the current Israeli narrative with this overview paragraph:

The Palestinians are divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and both populations are tired. Moreover, economic conditions have improved in the West Bank in recent years, and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces are keeping a tight rein on anti-Israeli violence. Aid from the U.S., Europe and the Arabs pays a lot of the authority’s budget. Israel’s security wall keeps Palestinian suicide bombers out. The U.S. election silences any criticism coming from Washington about Israeli settlements.

This is a narrative paragraph which begs for closer analysis:

Yes, the Palestinians are separated in Gaza and the West Bank, with power held by Hamas, in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. But tired? Well, yes, about as tired as you would expect from prisoners locked up for what threatens to become a permanent incarceration.

Friedman writes that PA forces are keeping tight rein on anti-Israeli violence. He should have said Israeli occupation forces are attempting to maintain their oppressive control over non-violent demonstrations by Palestinians, jailing those who are too effective.

And he actually says, in print, that “Moreover, economic conditions have improved in the West Bank in recent years.”  Economic conditions are better in Cell Block C?  Not likely,

Is this where all that talk in religious circles about “invest, not divest” started? Living conditions for a few Palestinian millionaires have, no doubt, improved. Maybe Friedman has been reading too many Romney speeches where one learns that the rich want the rest of us to benefit from the market economy.

Finally, all you Friedman fans out there in the American peace camp (you know who you are), take careful notice of this casual, but revealing, sentence tossed into the middle of Friedman’s column:

“Israel’s security wall keeps Palestinian suicide bombers out.”

Security wall, suicide bombers? Friedman accepts that old Israeli narrative trope, a “security wall”, which is not for security, but is a land-grab of monstrous proportions, well beyond the original Green Line. He also continues to cling to the belief that the wall prevents “suicide bombers” from entering Israel.

That shows us that Friedman does not understand political tactics of the oppressed.  When something doesn’t work, stop doing it.

For Friedman and Israel, if something “works” it is always due to something Israel has done, an echo of Israeli-born scholar and critic, Simha Flapan’s phrase from 1987, “We [meaning Israel] can, therefore, do no wrong.”

Further into his column Friedman cites an April 23 New York Times op-ed which repeats the “security wall” canard in a discussion of peace, using the familiar “Peace Without Partners” theme. Lest we forget, this one surfaced in the 1980s with the mantra, “there are no partners for peace on the Palestinian side”.

The authors of the piece cited by Friedman are Ami Ayalon, Orni Petruschka and Gilead Sher, who are, respectively, a former commander of the Israeli Navy and head of the Israeli domestic security agency (Ayalon), an Israeli entrepreneur (Petruschka) and a peace negotiator and chief of staff to the Israeli prime minister from 1999 to 2001 (Sher).

Here is the revealing (for those willing to take notice) paragraph by these Israeli would-be peace-makers. Highlighted emphasis added:

Israel should first declare that it is willing to return to negotiations anytime and that it has no claims of sovereignty on areas east of the existing security barrier. It should then end all settlement construction east of the security barrier and in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. And it should create a plan to help 100,000 settlers who live east of the barrier to relocate within Israel’s recognized borders.

The security barrier has become Israel’s latest Big Lie, replacing the “Green Line” because Israel did not draw the “Green Line”. It did draw the “security barrier” by building a concrete wall on and through Palestinian land. This wall is designed to secure Israel’s latest “facts on the ground”. What it does is cut off villagers from farmlands, workers from work sites and medical personnel from hospitals. That is not security for Israelis.

The problem for Thomas Friedman, the New York Times, Israel, and Israel’s friends in the US ruling classes, is that, in Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s memorable phrase, “stuff happens” when you don’t see the stuff coming.

This summer, elections are the stuff which are breaking out all around Israel. Ironically, Israel was planning its own election this fall, but Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed his elections until after November with some cabinet adjustments. In November, US voters will either return President Barack Obama to the White House or replace him with Mitt Romney.

It is hard to measure which candidate will bring Netanyahu the most joy.  But it is a good guess that a second term president would be more stubborn in dealing with the Israel Lobby than a first term president.

What should worry Netanyahu is that election “stuff” could happen in ways not  his liking in the US, Egypt, and in Palestine.

What should worry the rest of the world is if elections that Netanyahu cannot nullify, do not go his way, there is always Israeli’s threat to attack Iran.

The picture above, left, of the two Egyptian candidates, is a Getty photograph by Khaled Desouki/Agence France-Presse.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Media, Middle East, Middle East Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Will Elections Penetrate Israel’s “Impenetrable, Dangerous, Ideological Shield”?

  1. judy neunuebel says:

    Thank you, Mr. Wall, for your typically thorough and refreshingly accurate assessment of the situation in Israel. Always good to read a few encouraging words.
    Judy Neunuebel

  2. William Gepford says:

    Jim, if the Palestiinian elections do turn out to provide an honest, democratic reflection of what the Palestinian peole want, and this is very likely to happen, it will be an embarrasment for Israel, and America. It would not look good for the US to reject yet another “democratic” election. The ME has yet to recover from our rejection of the democratically elected Mosadag, replacing him with the Shah of Iran in 1953. And look where that took us.
    Also, it is anyone’s guess what the outcome of conflict in Syria is going to be. That is another unknown, at this writing, in the whole Middle Easr mess. Again, thanks for your sharing Flapan’s writings.

  3. Pingback: WILL ELECTIONS PENETRATE ISRAEL’S “IMPENETRABLE, DANGEROUS, IDEOLOGICAL SHIELD”? « Middle East atemporal

  4. Fred says:

    Tom Friedman’s views, like many other NY Times op eds and editorials, have for decades dished out the Israeli propagands line. It is, after all heavily staffed and owned by zionists, and have subtely and not so subtely, always pushed for Israel’s interests. So has many other arms of mainstream journalism.

    With those putting Israel’s interests first, and giving false and censored information about the conflict, and with the US Congress bought and paid for by AIPAC regarding it’s mideast policy, the US is in dangerous position.

    The power and the influence of Israeli Firsters in our mainstream media and in our government needs to be challenged and stopped, but because our government is run by corporate and wealthy individuals, who buy our elected officials, it is a huge challenge to change this corrupt system. Until that’s changed, our govt. will continue to support the oppression and apartheid policies of Israel, towards the Palestinian people, because they are not Jewish. It is yet another US crime to support such policies.

  5. Colleen Jersild says:

    One of your best- gteat to explain Friedman’s understanding or lack of understanding of the situation.

  6. Peter J Nagle says:

    “It would not look good for the US to reject yet another democratic election”? Since when has that ever stopped us? Believe me, it will make no difference at all – if we/Israel don’t like the results, we’ll figure out a way to nullify them. and we’ll keep doing that, and everything else we cn to maintain the status quo until we are forcibly stopped.

  7. Don Wagner says:

    Jim, good work once again and do continue to critique T. Friedman and the assumptions behind the mainstream media and our political leaders. Two observations that I’d add, mainly to underscore your points, having recently returned from two weeks in the West Bank.

    It is more clear to me now than it was a month ago that the “invest” instead of divest strategy (encouraged by some of our church leadership in opposition to divestment proposals in the Methodist and Presbyterian national conventions), conveniently play into Israel’s strategy of denying a viable Palestinian state at any cost. Israel does allow limited investment in the Palestinian ghettos (which is what we should call Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, etc.) As these population centers are walled in and travel and commerce are denied from one area to the other), the “Bantustandization” of Palestine is acceleration.

    Investment in these few districts may benefit a handful of Palestinians within each ghetto, the investments benefit a few (usually the well-off) while it also accelerations the Apartheid/Bantustan strategy, and provides Israel with a convenient “fig-leaf.” A few church officials will fall for this, and some church assemblies buy into these deceptive arguments, but this should only redouble our efforts. Meanwhile,boycotts, divestment, and sanctions more effectively challenge the Apartheid system now well developed in occupied Palestine. These are the strategies that eventually challenged brought down the pro-Apartheid regime in S. Africa.

    Second, concerning the so-called “security wall” that Friedman calls it, and you rightly challenge, Palestinians can easily circumvent it as many do on a daily basis to get to their jobs or visit friends and relatives. If they want to choose violence they can easily reach multiple targets, whether inside Israel or on the settlements that are illegally expanding daily. More relevant to the decline in Palestinian violence were a series of “hudnas” or agreements by Palestinian organizations to shift their strategies toward non-violent resistance, which unfortunately fails to draw coverage in the mainstream media.

    The non-violent campaigns are often met with live ammunition, brutal force, and arrests. Israel knows how to crush opposition with violence, but non-violence exposes the injustices of the occupation and those that enforce it. What we usually end up with are media pundits that adopt Israel’s long successful strategy of “always play the victim card,” even when you are the aggressor and dominant military power in the Middle East. How the mainstream media and church leaders keep falling for this mantra continues to defy logic and the realities on the ground. We have a long journey ahead—a marathon, not a spring, as they say.

    Don Wagner.

  8. Martin Bailey says:

    Jim, You cover a lot of gound in this piece. Thank you for the careful research and lucid writing. Especially important is your description of Israel’s purpose for the Apartheid Wall. It has been a couple of years since we drove along that wall on both sides; one point of great interest is the way it was built on Palestinian territory–not infrequently cutting farmers off from their fields and olive groves. This not only makes it next to impossible for farmers to get to their crops but sets up a situation of “vacant land” that Israeli courts recognize as a valid reason for land confiscation.

    The wall is not only a towering barrier but includes a military roadway on both sides that is patroled by the IDF, altogether literally carving out as much as a quarter of a mile of often valuable land. This is one time I yearn for the voice of Ronald Reagan who famously called on “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down Your Wall,” in Berlin.

    Thanks again for your cogent writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s