Friday, 27 February 2015

“Welcome to Gaza” – Banksy’s anti-Israel video

A screen-shot of Banksy's anti-Israel video, showing the West Bank security barrier

Banksy, a popular British street-artist, has just issued a new video attacking Israel’s more recent conduct in Gaza. The video, ostensibly presented as a promotional film to attract tourism to Gaza, heavily applies sarcasm from the outset, with statements concerning Gaza’s appeal as a tourist destination, that frame bracketed follow-on points intended to reveal Gaza’s supposed reality.

The video begins by recommending a new destination for tourists: Gaza! It shows Banksy apparently climbing through a tunnel, presumably constructed by Hamas. The video claims that Gaza is…
“Well away from the tourist track (Access is via a network of illegal tunnels)”
“The locals like it so much they never leave (because they’re not allowed to)”
“Nestled in an exclusive setting (surrounded by a wall on three sides and a line of gun boats on the other)”
“Watched over by friendly neighbours” (in 2014 Israel destroyed 18,000 homes)
“Development opportunities are everywhere (No cement has been allowed into Gaza since the bombing)”
“Plenty of scope for refurbishment”
An Arab-Palestinian man discusses a street painting of a cat, presumably by Banksy. He repeatedly asks “what about our children?” The “promotional” video then ends with a message painted on a wall:
“If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful — we don’t remain neutral.”

Point and Counterpoint

Despite the fact that Banksy has attacked Israel intermittently over the years, this short and quite unremarkable Youtube video was deemed to be newsworthy. For example, on February 26th, it was featured cyclically on Irish State broadcaster RTE’s “top stories” section of their News Now channel (“Banksy video takes aim at Gaza destruction”), and given a glowingly uncritical reception devoid of any meaningful analysis.

In 2005, Banksy is believed to have produced a Christmas card that recalls old Christian anti-Semitic imagery concerning Jews rejecting Jesus, with Israel now obstructing the movement of Mary and Joseph via the security fence. Anti-Semitic website “If Americans Knew” has widely used the image to suggest Israel imprisoned the notionally Christian town of Bethlehem.

Banksy's "Christmas card"

Concerning Gaza, Banksy states
“Gaza is often described as ‘the world’s largest open air prison’ because no one is allowed to enter or leave. But that seems a bit unfair to prisons — they don’t have their electricity and drinking water cut off randomly almost every day,”
Banksy’s particularly strong criticism is unwarranted. Israel supplies water and electricity to Gaza, along with foodstuffs, medicine, and other items. It also provides medical assistance to thousands of Gazans each year in Israeli hospitals, regardless of political affiliation to Hamas. Israel is not obliged to supply water and electricity to Gaza since the zone involved is not a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention but it still does so to lessen the impact of the maritime embargo. 

Ultimately, there would be no blockade if Hamas had not engaged in protracted periods of belligerency, which largely impacts the civilian populace in Southern Israel, just a few miles from the Gaza border. Substantive numbers of civilians have been fleeing Hamas’ belligerency since its election in 2006. The Palmer Report has found Israel’s maritime blockade to be a legal act due to Hamas’ sustained hostilities.

Hamas, as the defacto governing body controlling the region, is the authority responsible for supplying water to Gaza’s populace. Israel transferred control of the water supply infrastructure to the Palestinian Authority, with their withdrawal in 2005, and exceeds its OSLO II 31 MCM water supply obligations, by supplying the Palestinian Authority with increasing amounts of water in more recent years: 52 MCM in 2012, constituting 67.75% more water annually.

Unfortunately, Hamas damaged the supply substantively in the intervening period. It has drilled several hundred wells without authorisation from the joint Israeli-Palestinian water authority, thereby harming water quality. In 2013, Israel doubled its water supply to Gaza, with the construction of a new pipeline. During the 2014 war, Israel continued to supply Gazans with water, and repair damage to the infrastructure.

Hamas’ own actions led to frequent power blackouts over the territory, whilst Israel initiated projects to improve and maintain the electricity supply. In June 2014, Hamas rocket fire damaged the power supply. The many media reports claiming Israel had destroyed the plant were fanciful since it would soon come back on line. During the war, COGAT also imported substantial amounts of fuel for domestic use.

In broader terms, Israel has sponsored several hundred projects to improve conditions in Gaza which ill-befits Banksy’s image of evil Israel.

Banksy appears to suggest that Gaza is surrounded on all sides by Israel, and sarcastically refers to its “friendly neighbours”. Odd then that he makes no mention of Egypt, the other nation that shares a border with Gaza. Egypt intermittently allows passage out of Gaza but prevents the entry of water, electricity and foodstuffs into Gaza. It can be suggested Israel is the party at war with Hamas but Egypt has long been keen to prevent Hamas, a military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, from flourishing, and is taking increasingly drastic steps to prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad from infiltrating the Sinai.

It is surely pure invention to claim that “a line of gun boats” surround Gaza by sea. With the maritime blockade, sea access was restricted from the 13th August 2008 after Hamas instigated further acts of belligerency. A six nautical mile limit for Gaza’s fishermen was established, which was temporarily restricted to three miles when hostilities escalated.

Banksy claims 18,000 homes have been destroyed by the 2014 Gaza war. This figure was postulated in August/September 2014 by Arab-Palestinian representatives. Figures are difficult to establish with some estimating as few as 10,000 buildings were destroyed, whilst the UNRWA asserts that 7,000+ homes have been destroyed, doubling its previously held figures during a recent campaign to raise further funds. The UNRWA’s anti-Israel activism is notorious so it is likely that its figures err rather generously. Either way, it is untrue to claim that 18,000 homes have been destroyed by Israel, and particularly disingenuous to reveal such a figure without mention of Hamas’ policy of firing from residential areas and placing their fighters inside family homes.

Banksy claims that tunnels are the only method of access to Gaza. Presumably, this claim is not meant to be taken seriously. However, it does reinforce the imprisonment narrative, whilst presenting to his audience an amusing stance on Hamas’ use of tunnels for black market imports as well as terrorist activities.

It would surely have been intolerable for Banksy’s anti-Israel narrative to have informed his viewers that Hamas use tunnels to conduct terrorist attacks against civilians. The immense amount of cement used in such tunnels has been widely discussed. Hamas diverted thousands of tons of building materials away from the construction of homes and public infrastructure despite apparent supervision by international bodies and aid agencies. The terrorist group continues to do so.


Omitting Hamas from the equation

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Banksy’s video is not so much what it states but the content it leaves out. There is a complete absence of any reference to Hamas, rocket and mortar attacks, Islamist terrorism perpetuated against Israeli civilians etc. In other words, the video provides zero context. There is only space for poignant images of Arabs living in a bomb damaged environment, and apparent instances of Israeli oppression and aggression.

The video’s absolutist dichotomy is reinforced by a total absence of images or footage that includes Hamas. The viewer is not any wiser about Gaza’s governance. In fact, without explanation, the video features a scene of heavily armed IDF soldiers, with the words “The locals like it so much they never leave (because they’re not allowed to)”. However, the video footage of the soldiers appears to have been shot in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), because the security barrier is shown in the background. The inclusion of such content may lead to the viewer to believe that Gaza is still occupied by Israel.

By implication, Banksy casts Hamas as powerless, when he wrote “of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless…” This is a normative claim by anti-Israel activists, who excuse Hamas’ belligerency, incitement, and terrorism against a civilian populace which it desires to see exterminated.

Perhaps Banksy should ask which party truly tyrannises the Gazan populace? Could it be an Islamist regime that no longer constitutes the territory’s legitimately elected representatives, that puts its people in harms way to continue its belligerency at all costs, to be used as fodder in intensive anti-Israel propaganda?

Other than shady motivations, what could possibly prompt omissions of Hamas from this narrative?


“Art” versus reality

Over the years, Banksy has become an integral part of the British cultural landscape, endeared to many by the left-wing themes of his work which are arguably compatible with Britain’s more recent cultural patterns. His critiques of Israel are in keeping with this paradigm, where there is little space afforded to pro-Israel perspectives.

Any promotional tourist video will of course be expected to present the location being advertised in the most attractive fashion possible. Such videos are expected to be economical with the truth. Banksy’s rather artless faux-tourist video is presented as an opposite. It is presented as the unpleasant truth confronting the viewer. Unfortunately however, a rich unintended irony occurs since the video features is a string of normative and propagandistic pro-Palestinian falsehoods.

Perhaps the most meaningful scene in Banksy’s video occurs where an Arab-Palestinian man asks “what about our children?” This is a question that can cut both ways. It has a particular resonance for anyone with a passing familiarity with Hamas’ policy of radicalising the children of Gaza.

It can be argued with justification that, despite all its profound falsehoods, this Banksy reveals a deeper truth – how disingenuously the anti-Israel movement present this complex conflict. Viewers might ask if the echoing of conflict propaganda clarifies ethical matters or merely thickens the fog of war.





Also published at Crethi Plethi.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Problematic Media Coverage of Operation Protective Edge

(Updated final section 12th July 2014)

Israeli children sheltering from a rocket attack originating in Gaza
(source: algemeiner.com)

Faced with an asymmetrically powerful opponent, Arab-Palestinian terrorist groups have no realistic hope of winning conflicts militarily. However, they can use conflict to strengthen their hand in a number of ways. By bringing violence to Israel's door, in assaults where they have no hope of overwhelming their foe, their political esteem in the Islamic world is nonetheless raised substantially. The Arab-Palestinian populace, radicalised from youth, also finds favour in such conflicts, despite the hardship it often brings.
With the onset of any protracted conflict between Israel and the various Arab-Palestinian military factions, so much of the substance of a given fracas comes to be waged on television screens across the world. The fight, as per Hamas’ stated strategy, should be taken into civilian Arab-Palestinian areas, to use the people it purports to represent as human shields. Fittingly, its operational headquarters, during the 2009 Cast Lead war, was located in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

With every war comes graphic images of Arab-Palestinian suffering, ending in a public relations disaster for Israel. Some of this imagery is faked as has so often been the case in the past, or it can be stripped of context by elements in the media. Some journalists also follow far-fetched pro-Palestinian narratives without critique. Some reports featured subtle justification for the recent widespread Arab rioting. Some lay blame at Israel’s door for any act of self-defence, and interpret motives in a fashion wholly disconnected from obvious facts.

The prejudicial narration of one RTE report

A July 8th news report by Niamh Nolan (or see from 7:48 found here) featured on Irish public service broadcaster RTE’s Lunchtime News (frequently repeated on RTE’s news channel), can be justifiably seen as one of the many recent examples of the mainstream media’s close observance of the pro-Palestinian narrative. The report shares a number of common features with that of the prejudicial coverage in other mainstream and international news sources. Below is a full transcript of Ms. Nolan’s two-minute report.
“The air-strikes hit before dawn. The injured were rushed to hospitals in Gaza City. Palestinians say the rocket attacks injured as many as fifteen, including two women and a child.
At one scene residents used the light from their mobile phones to search the rubble for their belongings.
Sunrise over Gaza, and the full scale of the damage is visible. This house, one of two flattened by the Israeli’s, was evacuated in time. This was Selem Selemi’s home, where he lived with his ten children. He says [English translation] “the army called after three AM and asked us to leave. Ten minutes after evacuating they attacked. The house is totally destroyed.”/”
It’s hard to see past the destruction.
Israel have stepped up their offensive against the Hamas militants in a campaign named Operation Protective Edge. Dozens of tanks and bulldozers have amassed along the border with Gaza, lined up in fields in a true show of force and determination.

[Statement by Israeli official Mark Regev:] “Israel defence forces are currently acting to put an end to this once and for all. Our goal is to free the people of Israel from the threat of these incoming rockets.”

Those rockets were fired into Southern Israel by militants in Gaza, enraged by the reported death of five of its forces in Sunday’s strikes.

Hamas warns it will continue to hit targets in Israel unless the air-strikes stop. But the Israeli position has now moved into one of escalation rather than de-escalation.

Niamh Nolan, RTE News.”

A distorted sequence of events

Niamh Nolan’s report fails to mention Hamas’ rocket attacks, until the brief statement made by Mark Regev, more than half-way through the report. This is a substantive omission that skews the sequence of events, to present Israel as acting in a wholly aggressive fashion, without any provocation.

The reporter worsens this inaccuracy by then claiming that Hamas had fired the aforementioned rockets at Israel after the Jewish State killed five of its terrorists, two days previously. This statement is misleading for two reasons. The group of five or six Hamas members likely died handling explosives in a tunnel designed to attack Israel. This incident was used by Hamas to justify stepping up attacks on Israel.

Secondly, Israel had targeted Gaza due to persistent rocket barrages, which had gathered pace since the kidnap of three Jewish Israeli teens on June 12th, who were subsequently murdered, in all likelihood by Hamas operatives. None of this context is provided, despite the opportunity to do so in what was a relatively slow-moving report, which lingered on the damage Israel’s bombing raids caused in Gaza.

The inaccuracy is further compounded by failing to mention the dramatic upturn in rocket attacks, to an almost unprecedented level. An 80 rocket barrage hit Israel within the space of a few hours, with no mention of the chaos it caused to the populaces of Israeli towns nearest the Gaza border, where it effectively paralysed life.

Notably, other popular news outlets have presented the same lopsided narrative. For example, the BBC and the New York Times have both suggested Hamas is responding to Israeli attacks, rather than the other way around.


Escalation or proportionality?

At the end of the report, after presenting Israel as the true aggressor, Nolan states that Israel is set on a course of “escalation rather than de-escalation”. Whilst Israel is stepping up its Gaza strikes, this view is not in keeping with the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been open to compromise.

Netanyahu has acted with relative restraint to the protracted rocket fire, for which he was strongly criticised. Israeli forces conducted a modest number of reprisals, until the dramatic increase of rocket attacks on Sunday last.

Before the increase in military strikes, Netanyahu gave Hamas repeated opportunities to scale back their assault on Israel:
“Amidst increased rocket fire at the Israeli south and threats from Hamas to expand the range of rockets, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that if Gaza rocket fire stopped then Israel would also halt its actions.”
Last week, Netanyahu is also rumoured to have given Hamas a 48 hour deadline to stop the attacks, via an Egyptian intermediary. Netanyahu’s reaction, prior to military actions on Sunday, was one of relative restraint, until it became clear Hamas’ rocket barrages would not desist.

By contrast, Hamas rejected a de-escalation. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum stated:
“This is not the time for quiet. We have a bank of various targets. An Iron Dome [Israeli missile defence system] will be needed in every Israeli home.”

The importance of images

The report featured lingering images of the destruction of Gaza. The image-led narrative may possibly suggest that Nolan's narration followed a video sequence constructed by RTE's news production team.

Tellingly, the report's imagery presents a rather overt dichotomy: for the Arab-Palestinian side, it is one of innocent suffering; for Israeli’s, it is intense militaristic aggression. The report focused on the destruction of Selem Selemi’s Gazan house — an appropriate human interest story, but there was no question of the reasons for Israel’s targeted attack, in which they chose to forewarn the residents.

There have been a number of reported instances of Israel specifically targeting the homes of Hamas operatives. Often, residents claim to be civilian but some of these stories can be discounted, along with the suggestion the homes did not store weapons or munitions. The Washington Post recounts one such incident in the present conflict:
“Ahmed Kawarea said he ran home when he heard about the first rocket. The second missile hit when he was in the stairwell on his way to the roof.
“We are civilians,” he said. “We don’t have anyone who lives in the house who works in the resistance.”
But neighbors suggested that one of the occupants was a member of the military wing of Hamas. Soon after the house was hit, a man pulled a sidearm out of his waistband and scurried into the gutted building, saying he had been sent to retrieve a laptop computer from the debris.”

Presentation of sympathetic imagery of Arab-Palestinian circumstance
- Screen-grab of RTE lunchtime news and sports programme, 8th July 2014.

The RTE report presents the viewer with emotive images of a young girl looking past barbed wire, with the narrative line “it’s hard to see past the destruction”. Realistically, news reports that display some level of artistic licence, which draw the viewer into the story, are not necessarily a bad thing. However, with contentious news stories, an appropriate level of care is required.

Recurring presentation of unsympathetic imagery of Israeli circumstance -
Screen-grab of RTE lunchtime news and sports programme, 8th July 2014

In this instance, there was no corresponding footage of attacks in Israel, except a few seconds of ambiguous footage of a field on fire, shown after video of a regimented line of IDF bulldozers.

Despite many applicable examples, there was no corresponding human interest angle presented of the Israeli side.

The report’s references to non-specific Israeli “targets” that Hamas wish to hit, further emphasises its divergent treatment of both populaces, since these targets are solely civilian – Israeli towns and cities. The report’s oddly depersonalised treatment of this issue is particularly noteworthy since the terrorist group has recently stepped up its rhetoric, with boasts of targeting civilians, in a further effort to intimidate.



Broader ethical issues in RTE coverage (12th July update)

Other RTE reports have been more balanced in their coverage but a variety of their reports nonetheless downplay the impact of rocket fire despite Hamas’ long range rockets reaching as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel’s Iron Dome defence system at times limited in its capacity to intercept the large number of projectiles.

Hamas use both involuntary and voluntary human shields, as evident in footage from recent air strikes, and reports from Gaza itself. The resultant effect of voluntarily taking part in a conflict, by assisting one side’s objectives, represents the most fundamental feature of belligerency as distinct from that of civilian categories. However, such individuals tend to be classified as civilian by media institutions generally, with RTE failing to ever mention that there have been numerous reports of the application of such strategies, on the part of Hamas, whilst omitting from coverage the fact that Israel forewarns civilian areas of impending strikes.

Problems of methodology arise with the reportage of casualties. RTE’s news programmes frequently repeat headlines throughout an allotted time-slot. With the present conflict, these segments habitually refer to death tolls. Such references are appropriate but they do not distinguish between the death of militants and those of other groupings. This form of reportage is politically leading for several reasons. Palestinian narratives markedly conflate such categories in missives concerning death tolls, and have used misleading imagery of civilian suffering in a persistent fashion. The present conflict is proving to be no exception in this regard. It constitutes conflict propaganda.

Similarly, RTE tends to lead in its reports with figures of overall Arab-Palestinian casualties. Its recent reports assert that no casualties on the Israeli side have been reported. For example, Joan O’Sullivan’s Lunchtime News report (July 9th) stated:
“No injuries have so far been reported as a result of the rocket attacks.”
O’Sullivan, in an otherwise quite balanced report, may be making this assertion with respect to the given day of the report but it is unclear, as on other occasions (Carole Coleman, 6.1 News report, July 10th). Such assertions, without clear contextualisation, will inadvertently reinforce notions that Israel’s response is disproportionate, even though their stated aim is to simply silence rocket attacks on their towns and cities. There have been a modest number of reports of injury, both physical and Mental, as a consequence of the rocket barrages. For example, on the 7th it was reported that a woman and child from the town of Askelon were being treated for shrapnel injuries, with others suffering mental distress.

Screen-grab of RTE 'News with Signing' programme, 10th July 2014.

RTE’s July 10th News with Signing (AKA ‘News for the Deaf’) text-based bulletin (see at 9:30) stated:
“The UN Secretary General has warned that the situation in the Middle East is on a knife edge. He said that the region cannot afford another full blown war and has urged Israeli and Palestinian militants to end hostilities.”
As with many other news outlets, it is problematic for RTE to consistently describe Hamas as “militants”, when the EU, of which Ireland is a full member state, recognises the group as a terrorist entity. However, the phrase “Israeli and Palestinian militants”, wording that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon does not appear to have used personally in the statement so described in the News with Signing report, negates not only the Israeli Defense Forces’ sovereign status, it also represents a rather extraordinary degree of moral relativism, in view of Hamas’ “dead baby strategy”, which was publicly reaffirmed by Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri this week.






“Obsession, Exclusion and Double Standards – the Points of Prejudice in the Coverage of an Emergent Third Intifada” discusses another example of RTE’s coverage of the conflict.




Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Obsession, Exclusion and Double Standards – the points of prejudice in the Coverage of an emergent Third Intifada

Screen-grab of RTE lunchtime news and sports bulletin, 6th July 2014

RTE’s obsession and exclusion

On July 6th 2014, Ireland’s public service broadcaster, RTÉ, broadcast a Sunday lunchtime news programme (repeated cyclically on the RTE News Channel) featuring a report on the alleged beating of an Arab-Palestinian teenager, Tariq Khdeir, who possesses US nationality.

At two minutes, the length of the report was unusual because the entire Sunday lunchtime news and sports bulletin lasts only five minutes by convention. Indeed, the story of the beating came after the 45 second opening report on an exclusive interview with Richard Bruton, an Irish government minister. The story of the alleged beating was then followed by a 15 to 20 second slot on the murder of twenty-nine Kenyans in two terrorist incidents, and a shorter mention of a major parachuting accident in Poland that led to eleven deaths! The bizarre length of the feature represents a not-uncommon media obsessiveness with negative stories coming out of Israel, which trump far more significant stories from other parts of the globe, both near and far.

In RTE’s favour, the news report did acknowledge that Hamas neither confirmed nor denied that they were responsible for the kidnapping of three Jewish Israeli teens on June 12th 2014, after the state broadcaster had falsely stated in the previous reports that Hamas denied any involvement in the kidnapping.

However, RTE failed to include any response from Israel, after featuring a lengthy comment from the son’s mother. Whilst displaying the video of the beating, it failed to give anything but passing reference to the days of violence visited by masked “protesters”, upon Israeli citizens, of which Tariq Khdeir was likely one such rioter.

RTE consistently favours Arab-Palestinian narratives in its news reports. Regrettably, there seems little prospect of improvement.

Masked Arab-Palestinian rioters with catapult

Double standards

With RTE, and other news outlets, there has been a very notable trend in featuring almost generic reports of Arab rioting, since it gathered pace with the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir on July 2nd.

The conflict is presented, by the media, as constituting “running battles” between Israeli security forces and Arab rioters. Absent is any proper mention of Israeli civilian casualties, further attempted Jewish kidnappings, and attacks on numerous religious sites. Even the United Nations has not escaped the ire of rioters, despite its long-standing support for Palestinianism.

Remarkably, the murder of Arab-Palestinian youth, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, has been baselessly blamed on the Israeli state by some elements in the mainstream media. It perhaps stands as an implicit justification for the missile attacks from Gaza, and remorseless rioting directed against the Israeli security services.

The mainstream media has comprehensively ignored mass Arab-Palestinian support for the kidnapping of the three Jewish teens: Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel. The overt racial motifs of Palestinian Authority support was also ignored. Likewise, the media minimised Hamas’ praise of the abduction, after falsely reporting that Hamas had denied involvement in the kidnapping.

Further subtle justification could be found in the not infrequent media claims that the kidnap victims were all settlers when in fact only one lived in a Jewish settlement.

As news emerges of the arrest of six Jewish youths for the murder of Abu Khdeir, news has simultaneously surfaced that an Arab-Palestinian taxi driver has confessed to the murder of a 19 year old woman, Jewish Israeli national Shelly Dadon, for what is believed to be nationalistic reasons. This confession has received little or no coverage outside of Israel itself.

Similarly, there has been no noticeable mainstream media coverage of the murder of a 60 year old Jewish woman. Her body was found in a parking lot in Pisgat Ze’ev, a Jerusalem neighbourhood, after a violent Arab riot occurred in the area, where chants of “kill the Jews” were reported.


With friends like these…

Unfortunately, Israel’s ally, the United States has also contributed to this double standard. When reports of the alleged beating of US national Tariq Khdeir emerged, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated:
“We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force. We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force.”
The statement stands in rather stark contrast to the United States’ oddly weak response to the kidnapping one of the three Israeli’ teens, Naftali Frenkel, who also happened to be a US citizen. Rather than speak up clearly and loudly for this victim, who faced a considerably graver circumstance than Tariq Khdeir, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki instead chose to call for “restraint” on both sides:
“We recognize this is an incredibly sensitive and difficult circumstance on the ground, and we feel all sides should exercise restraint”
Such commentary echoes the attempts by news outlets, such as the New York Times, to place blame on Israel for attempting to rescue the kidnapped teens, since efforts to do so might destabilise relations with the Palestinian Authority and worsen conflict with Hamas.


Endemic racism

The mother of one of the prime suspects, in the kidnapping and murder of the three Jewish teens, denied her son was involved, but nonetheless expressed pride should he have committed the act:
“If he did the kidnapping I’ll be proud of him,” she said. “I raised my children on the knees of the (Islamic) religion, they are religious guys, honest and clean-handed, and their goal is to bring the victory of Islam”
Her statement is redolent of the praise lavished upon the Nazi SS — cleanliness, obedience and duty. It stands as further evidence that the Arab-Israel conflict concerns religion rather than the supposed deprivation of land, constituting the reason Yasser Arafat walked out of the Camp David talks. A peace plan including shared sovereignty of Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount with the Jewish State could not be tolerated, despite the favourable concessions to almost all Arab-Palestinian territorial demands.

Ultimately, the stark dichotomy, whereby Arab-Palestinians celebrate the kidnap and murder of three Jewish teenagers, whilst using the tragic murder of an Arab-Palestinian youth as an excuse to initiate a Third Intifada, demonstrates starkly the abiding racism of Arab-Palestinian society.

Humanity is by definition a universal concept, but to Arab-Palestinian society that humanity would seem to exclude the Jewish people. Many within Jewish-Israeli society rightly protested the probable revenge killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir whilst Mohammad Zoabi, an Arab-Israeli teen, one of the few to express solidarity with the kidnap victims, was gravely threatened by his adult relatives, and mother. Meanwhile, his relative, Knesset member of parliament Hanin Zoabi, sympathised with the kidnappers, and Hamas.

Regrettably, prejudicial diplomacy, and wholly biased media coverage, continues to reinforce this appalling double-standard. It fuels an ancient genocidal hatred, rather than helping to confront it.




Published at Crethi Pleth.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Betrayal of Both Christians and Jews: Pope Francis’ Visit to the “State of Palestine”

Pope Francis at the security barrier in Bethlehem, 25th May 2014 (MaanImages).

During Pope Francis’ May 25th/26th visit to Israel, and the territory administered by the Palestinian Authority (PA), he called for a “state of Palestine” to be fully established.


A diplomatic shift

In contrast to his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John-Paul II, the current pontiff displayed a notable degree of support for the Arab-Palestinian cause, with a number of significant gestures.

Last month, Pope Francis broke with tradition by announcing the decision to hold the principle prayer service of the visit in the PA administered town of Bethlehem, rather than that of Jerusalem, and, notably, in the presence of President Mahmoud Abbas. Likewise, travelling to Bethlehem from Jordan was deemed a diplomatic coup for the PA.

Pope Francis addressed Mahmoud Abbas, in his speech at the Palestinian Authority’s ‘presidential palace’ in Bethlehem:
"Mr President, you are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker. Our recent meeting in the Vatican and my presence today in Palestine attest to the good relations existing between the Holy See and the State of Palestine. I trust that these relations can further develop for the good of all."
Pope Francis’ description of Abbas as a “man of peace” was notable, in view of the Palestinian Authority’s problematic role in the peace-process, in which they appear to have planned a series of unilateral moves, with the intention of undermining the negotiation frameworks, and having reconciled with Hamas, an entity still dedicated to Israel’s annihilation by means of terrorism.

If the pontiff’s speech can be interpreted in diplomatic terms, his use of conciliatory language toward the Palestinian Authority, contrasts with a degree of criticism aimed at Israel. He may lay blame at the door of Israel for the failure of the recent US-sponsored peace process. He repeated his support for “the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland,” when he met Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, during the subsequent Israeli leg of his journey.

Pope Francis did not direct demands of a similar nature at Mahmoud Abbas. For example, an equivalent request for Arab-Palestinians to afford recognition of Israel as a principally Jewish state, as per the established approach of "two states for two peoples," was not forthcoming.

Whilst Pope Francis acknowledged the need for Israel to live in security, he described this desirable condition as necessarily being “within internationally recognised borders,” a diplomatic code for a call on Israel to retreat to its 1949-67 Armistice Lines, known as the “Auschwitz Borders,” a term coined by Abba Eban, due to their near-indefensibly.

Pope Francis went further by inviting both Abbas and Shimon Peres to the Vatican for a meeting. Such a move was surprising, since Peres’ role as president is largely ceremonial, having little to do with the peace process. It would have been more meaningful to invite Netanyahu but Abbas would have likely refused, given his notable reluctance to talk peace. In view of Peres’ softer stance on Palestinianism, extending an invite to this politician could possibly serve as a useful propaganda initiative for Abbas.

In what was a carefully choreographed visit, an invite excluding Netanyahu may also be construed as a sharp diplomatic snub to both the politician himself and the government that he leads.

Pope Francis’ diplomatic moves lend substantive credence to a report from December 2013, in which it was stated that Abbas requested the Pope show diplomatic favour to the Arab-Palestinian cause during his visit. Clearly the Vatican’s promise of a religious politically non-partisan visit was never a realistic prospect.


A soft stance on terrorism

Pope Francis’ reputedly unscheduled visit to the walled area of the barrier fence in Bethlehem, which divides much of Judea and Samaria (AKA the ‘West Bank’) from the rest of Israel, drew substantive international attention. To quote the Bloomberg news agency:
"The pontiff leaned his head against a section of the barrier, which had “Free Palestine” and “Apartheid Wall” spray-painted on it and was located near an Israeli military watchtower."
In a carefully planned visit, this prayer at such a politically photogenic location was a surprisingly strong signal of the Vatican’s support for the Arab-Palestinian cause. The Security Barrier is a widely used anti-Israel propaganda motif, one that is commonly directed at Christian audiences.

Arutz Sheva reported:
'The pope also paused for several moments in front of a graffiti on the security wall in Bethlehem, bowing his head in prayer in front of a message proclaiming, "Pope we need to see someone to speak about justice. Bethlehem look like Warsaw ghetto. Free Palestine."'
Although one representative claimed the Pope’s prayer at the wall was an unplanned “personal decision,” the move was very much in keeping with the intentionally strong pro-Palestinian tone of the visit. The charged political significance of the act was likely known to both the Pope and the Vatican.

Despite the Pope’s subsequent criticism of the Holocaust, during his visit to the Yad Vashem Museum, his willingness to pray beside a propagandistically lucrative message, equivocating Bethlehem with the Warsaw Ghetto, is deeply troubling.

Israel's security barrier was largely responsible for stopping the Second Intifada, in which terrorists used areas, such as Bethlehem, to cross into Israel. The Intifada led to the death of 1,148 Israelis the great majority of which were Jewish civilians, along with many thousands of other less fatal casualties, including 6,000 wounded in nearby Jerusalem. The rate of killing decreased dramatically after the erection of the security barrier – a fact even terrorists themselves conceded.

Thus, such a gesture was particularly insensitive, coming just a day after two Israeli civilians were gunned down in an anti-Semitic terrorist incident in Belgium.

In retrospect, the portents leading to the Pope’s gesture were significant. Ahead of the Papal visit, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, argued that:
"On the one hand, Israel's right to exist in peace and security within internationally recognized boundaries. And the Palestinian people's right to have a homeland, sovereign and independent, the right to move around freely, the right to live in dignity."
The strength of this stance, with its emphasis on Arab-Palestinian rights, is notable. Parolin criticised Israel even within his assertion of the Jewish State’s right to a secure existence. It would seem Israel only has a right to a peaceful existence within some normative concept of “internationally recognized boundaries.” This can be construed as an indirect legitimisation of terrorism, both past and present.

Thus, the Vatican’s position was not one of balance, as presented, but rather a hierarchy of rights. One right (Palestinian statehood) is more important than that of the opposing need (safety of Jewish civilians). Ahead of the visit, the Vatican’s programme described Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the “State of Palestine,” thereby demonstrating what little regard the Vatican has toward the negotiation of statehood in exchange for an authentic peace.

During his visit, the Pope condemned vandalism reputedly caused by Jewish settlers, while making no reference to the more lethal violence visited upon these people. A close friend of the Pontiff asserted that he wished to cast himself as the “Che Guevera of the Palestinians,” and would support their “struggle” during his visit. Che Guevera was a noted terrorist, who sought a nuclear confrontation at the Bay of Pigs.


Opportunities for incitement

Notably, the papal visit was used to illicit very familiar hate motifs. According to Arutz Sheva, Abbas accused Israel of:
"… systematically acting to change [Jerusalem's] identity and character, and strangling the Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, with the aim of pushing them out."
Such a charge constitutes incitement, its theme associated with common allegations that Israel is trying to take over the Temple Mount, an accusation which is often met with lethal violence.

The Pope was also presented with reproductions of great European works of art, largely with Christian themes, albeit crassly modified for the purposes of Arab-Palestinian propaganda. Christian themed incitement featured, with Jesus yet again being presented as an Arab-Palestinian Shahid or martyr, with its overt terrorist connotations. One of the works at the exhibit, based upon Raphael’s The Deposition (1507), evoked the old Christian belief that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, a notion that was used historically to justify genocidal anti-Semitic violence. However, the dead Jesus being carried to his tomb was substituted with that of the corpse of an Arab-Palestinian.

Likewise, Abbas asserted, in the Pontiff’s presence, that the murder of Israeli citizens by Arab-Palestinians should not be deemed a punishable crime, a remarkable statement that he has made on previous occasions.

In such a context, the Pope’s vocal support for Abbas at the very same platform, and his dramatic, and potentially historic, gesture at the security barrier, could well develop into a deep diplomatic wedge between Israel and the Vatican, after the improvements brought about with Pope John-Paul II’s historic visit in 2000. The following day, an unscheduled visit at amemorial for Israeli civilians murdered by terrorists, was seen as a placatory gesture aimed at the Israeli government.

However, the final day of the Pontiff’s visit was also tainted by his meeting with Grand Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, on the Temple Mount. Two years ago, the Mufti preached that Muslims are destined to kill Jews. He also said that the souls of suicide bombers “tell us to follow in their path.”


Arab-Palestinian Christians

President Mahmoud Abbas took the opportunity to use the visit to criticise Israel for the plight of Arab-Palestinian Christians, blaming the Jewish State for their emigration from the area in more recent times.

As would be expected, Abbas made no mention of religious persecution being a substantive cause for the exodus of Christians from Bethlehem, and other areas administered by the Palestinian Authority. Conditions for Christians worsened soon after the PA gained control of the region, under the 1995 Oslo II Accords. In 1997 the PLO evicted monks and nuns from a noted monastery in Hebron, intimidated Christian converts, and opened fire on a group in the Christian town of Beit Sahur. Most recently, on the 6th of May 2014, a Muslim mob stoned Christians at a church in Bethlehem, during their annual celebration of the feast of St. George, their patron saint.

Perhaps the violent occupation and desecration of Bethlehem’s famous Church of the Nativity, by over a hundred PLO/PA terrorists during the Second Intifada, represents the most infamous incident to date, for these aggressors used the site to defame Israel internationally. Up to sixty monks, nuns and priests were held hostage by the PLO but Yasser Arafat, the then leader of the PA and PLO, successfully presented the Jewish State as an aggressor against the Christian community, when the IDF made efforts to extract the terrorists from the site. It was an example of the PLO’s use of Christian areas to aggress against Israeli civilians, full in the knowledge that IDF military operations would have to be conducted in these areas to suppress insurgent activity.

The security barrier put an end to the use of Bethlehem as a base for terrorist strikes. Beit Jalla, a neighbouring Christian enclave, was also used for sniper attacks upon civilian residents of the Jewish neighbourhood of Gilo. Yet Pope Francis attacked the very presence of a structure that played a vital role in creating a safer environment for Christians. Thus, his move was a betrayal of Christian interests.

Pope Francis, not only remained silent about the persecution of Christians, he inverted reality by stating their contribution was “significant and valued” despite being a religious minority in the region. The statement may be deemed troublingly uninformed, in view of substantive Christian oppression in the Islamic Middle East today.

Pope Francis’ Bethlehem wall of prayer conduct sharply counteracts the controversial widely discussed views of Christy Anastas, a Christian native of Bethlehem, who spoke out strongly in favour of Israel’s security barrier. Her expressed opinions led to an intensive campaign of intimidation and boycott against her family, who are still living in the area. The irony of this intimidation is stark, in view of the fact that her parents have long campaigned against Israel at international forums.

The treatment of the Anastas family is representative of the deteriorating conditions for Christians in the region, where there is considerable pressure for them to toe-the-line politically, against Zionism. Such discriminatory pressure is often exerted by officials within the Palestinian Authority itself.

If the plight of the Christians of the region has a substantive moral lesson, it would likely be that they cannot appease their present-day Islamist neighbours sufficiently. Attacking Israel, whilst staying silent on their own ill-treatment, is ultimately not enough to obtain peaceable co-existence in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Pope Francis’ actions will likely serve to undermine the importance of independent voices, like Anastas and other Arab-Palestinian Christians. It stands as a double-wrong to not only maintain silence on an issue that needs to be addressed desperately, but to actively assist those who are involved in perpetuating an almost universally accepted narrative that fabricates the major cause of the deteriorating conditions of the people he represents, in spirit if not always in actuality due to the great diversity of Christian denominations. Moreover, the very actors he assists are also substantively responsible for directly causing the very conditions of intolerance that so harms those the Pontiff purports to represent. These actions serve the propagandistic efforts of those that not only care little for the welfare of this struggling community, they benefit greatly from a news black-out on its oppression.





Also published at the New English Review.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Revisiting Jewish and Islamic Oppression during the Spanish Inquisition

Spanish Inquisition, source: Jewishcurrents.com

The Spanish Inquisition was a time when considerable horror was visited upon the Jewish people of Spain, which subsequently spread to Portugal, one for which the authorities of both nations wish to make amends, even if in a belatedly tokenistic fashion.

Commentators, such as Robert Fisk, have taken issue with this offer of citizenship. Rather than welcoming the development, and using it to recommend that this legislation be extended to Muslims, it is framed as a pretext to suggest that lack of inclusion for Muslims is in some respect Islamophobic.

Likewise, when word of the plan spread a decade ago, Islamic groups began to demand Spanish citizenship for millions of the Muslim descendants, of the 325,000 expelled by the Spanish authorities in the early 17th Century, despite the fact that expulsion played a central role in the rapid expansion of the Islamic world itself.


"Fisking" history

Notably, Fisk white-washes the Moorish “Golden Age”, in which Jews, Muslims and Christians supposedly lived in a tolerant environment. Fisk states:
“The year of darkness, of course, was 1492, when the Moorish kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. Christian power was restored to the lands in which Muslims and Jews had lived together for hundreds of years and had rescued some of the great works of classical literature — by way of Baghdad — for us to study. Save for those who converted to Christianity or died at the stake — at least 1,000 Jews, perhaps as many as 10,000, among them — the entire Muslim and Jewish communities were thrown out of Spain and Portugal by the early 17th century. They scattered, to Morocco, Algeria, Bosnia, Greece and Turkey.”
Such an astoundingly simplistic account of the history of the region usefully presents religious persecution as being instigated purely by Christian elements, and conflates the divergent treatment of the Jewish and Muslim communities. Whilst Christians were responsible for the acts of religious intolerance leading up to 1492, what, for example, of the straight-forward murder of four thousand Jews, in the 1066 Granada massacre, by Islamic hordes?

There are two narratives on the treatment of Christians and Jews under Moorish Spain. The stronger, and more popular, narrative praises the Moorish era as an exemplar of religious tolerance, whilst damning the successive Christian leaderships as barbaric. The opposing narrative criticises such a stance as a politically motivated whitewash, motivated by a propensity to apologise for Islamic extremism. In reality, there were some times of reasonable tolerance, by the relatively basic standards of the day, and some very bad times indeed.

Some of this tolerance continued well into the early Christian kingdoms, as Henry Kamen noted, when he forcefully argued that the Christian Spanish of the era were far from a group of uniformly fanatical Bible thumpers, but views rigidified latterly. Moreover, most Moorish territory was re-conquered over very long periods before the final defeat of the Moors in 1492.


Apologies and motivations

Fisk asserts that Spain has not made an apology for the Inquisition. Although far from sufficient, there was an apology by an official in 2011, and more recently Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón stated:
“In Spain, a clear majority realize we have committed a historical error and have an opportunity to repair it”
Fisk goes on to suggest that the Jewish citizenship law was passed for financial reasons, to inflate the weakened Spanish and Portuguese economies, even though he accepts few Jewish people are likely to take Spain and Portugal up on the offer. Does Fisk really believe that economies suffering from severe debt burdens, accrued over decades, could wheel in some Jewish folks, to generate the sort of cash that could reverse their immense fiscal problems? Perhaps Fisk believes the ‘Jews are good with money’ caricature is acceptable when he is speaking (from his perspective) in their favour. This is a startlingly absurd notion, even if he is only ascribing the belief to the Spanish and Portuguese authorities.

It is more likely that the Spanish announcement of the citizenship law, in 2012, was designed to deflect Israeli criticism, at a time when Spain had been upgrading its ties with the Palestinian Authority.

A historic representation of the Spanish Inquisition


The focus of the Spanish Inquisition

On the lack of a citizenship law for Muslims that equates with the provision for Jewish people, Jose Ribeiro e Castro, who drafted similar Portuguese legislation, notes
“Persecution of Jews was just that, while what happened with the Arabs was part of a conflict. There’s no basis for comparison.”
Some commentators ask why the treatment of Spanish Jews is highlighted more so than that of Spanish Muslims, since the Spanish Moriscos (Moorish Christian converts) were also tried by the Inquisition and expelled from Spain. The treatment of the Moriscos is indeed problematic but there would appear to be less interest in this issue for several reasons. The animus directed at the Moriscos evolved out of the savagery of several hundred years of barbaric warring, between the Moors and the Christians. Christians were persecuted to a notable extent, even by the poor standards of Medieval Europe.

Nonetheless, a historic oddity emerged. One would think the Moors would be the focus of hostility in emerging Spanish nationalism. Yet the violence and oppression visited by the Inquisition upon Jews was more substantive, and cruel in its torturous punishments. Jewish–Christian converts or 'conversos' were the focal point of these “investigations” from 1481/2, this being a time when the Christian re-conquest of Spain, from the Moors, was nearing the end of a lengthy process.

These Jewish conversos had been forced to convert to Christianity in the aftermath of numerous anti-Jewish massacres from the previous two centuries. In 1321, the Jews of Castile were forced to wear identifying yellow badges. In 1348 a large number of Jews were burned alive. Six years later thousands were slaughtered in Castille. More was to come in 1358, 1370, 1377 etc. ‘1391’, however, stands out in the historical record. 4,000 of Seville’s Jews were murdered and tens of thousands were sold as slaves. The rest of Spain rose up, leading to estimates of between fifty and one hundred thousand Jews being killed, one to two hundred thousand being forced to covert, and similar figures to have fled Spain.

This violence was driven by a multitude of uniquely Spanish anti-Semitic blood libels, such as the Martyr Boy, supposedly murdered ritualistically by Jews, who drank his blood. Some Church leaders still appear to advance this libel today.

1411 brought highly oppressive legislation against Jews. In 1435 there was the massacre, and forced conversion of Jews in Majorca. In 1449, Jewish Conversos were executed for defending themselves from mobs, and leading up to the Inquisition, there were a succession of pogroms and massacres, also largely aimed at Jewish Conversos, in 1467, 1468, 1474 and especially 1473. These violent uprisings suggest not only a growing climate of anti-Semitism, but a connection with the Inquisition’s near-exclusive focus on Jewish Conversos, just a few years later.

The Inquisition would be at its most active between 1480 and 1530. Between 91.6% and 99.3% of its victims were Jewish in the Spanish regions, whilst the number of brutal executions in this period is thought to be at least 2,000, with some estimates suggesting up to 10,000. These figures attest that the greatest harm was not visited upon the Jews by a political elite leading the Inquisition, but an endemic religiously themed anti-Semitism so savage that massacre was welcomed, one of its most nototious proponents, the Archdeacon of Ecija, being commended for his piety, and subsequently sanctified by the Church.

Sometimes the Jewish populace was caught in the middle of the wars between Christians and Muslims. Many Christians would subsequently justify their oppression of the Jewish populace by suggesting the Jews played a treacherous role in the defeat of Christian forces. However, many Jewish people fought on the side of the Christians, for example in the 1086 battle of Zalaca, and in such situations the Jews of the defeated side paid dearly.

Fisk references the year of 1492. However, he neglects to mention that some 200,000 Jews were ordered to leave Spain within a few months. The Battle of Grenada brought the defeat of the last Islamic kingdom in Spain. The 1491 Treaty of Granada, guaranteed the religious freedoms of Muslims and Jews. However, the Edict of Alhambra would soon rescind this ruling for Jews, compelling them to convert or be expelled. There followed a second Inquisitional wave from 1530, which targeted later Jewish Conversos, those who had subsequently opted to convert to Christianity.

By contrast, the Spanish authorities in some regions put a more unofficial pressure on the Muslims of the defeated Moorish kingdoms to convert. It led to an Islamic revolt from 1499 to 1501, causing the authorities to issue a decree demanding their conversion or expulsion. This policy was not uniform however, as the Kingdom of Aragon showed a greater degree of tolerance toward its Muslim subjects.

When the genuine nature of these conversions was suspected, some decades later, the Spanish authorities typically did not contend with the Moriscos in a fashion akin to the violence visited upon the Jewish victims of the Inquisition. Initially, Moriscos suspected of not being Christian, in their stated beliefs, were to be evangelised in a non-violent fashion. However, several events led to a worsening of the political climate.

The Moriscos were suspected of aiding the frequent raids by North African Islamic Barbary pirates, which led to the enslavement of a very considerable number of Spanish Christians. These acts of piracy appear to have been assisted by Spain’s great foe of the era, the Ottoman Empire.

A variety of intrigues, suspected by the Spanish Authorities, including the notion of Morisco involvement in the Ottoman Siege of Malta, at a time when there were considerable fears that Islamic combatants would return to Spain, would lead to the claim by some historians that expulsion was motivated by a desire to decolonise the region.

From a more domestic perspective, the Moriscos were behind two major revolts, particularly the Arabist 1568-71 Rebellion, the “Alpujarras Uprising”, which was the source of widespread violence against the Christian populace. The rebellion was driven by the banning of the Arabic language, due to fears over the veracity of Morisco conversions. The revolt was severely suppressed, and would lead to increasing prosecution under the Inquisition, and the eventual expulsion of the Moriscos, in waves, from 1609 to 1614.

Morisco prosecutions became a predominant feature of the Inquisition from 1570. However, according to Henry Kamen, the most renowned historian on the Spanish Inquisition, relatively fewer were tried by the Inquisition, and they did not have an equivalent harshness of punishment visited upon them, compared to that of Jewish populace, and the few Protestants living in Spain at that time. Thus, the level of Islamic persecution, under the Inquisition, would seem to have been rather limited. The reluctance on the part of the authorities to prosecute the Moors lay with their value in the trades.

Today there seems to be a consensus that Islamic conversions to Christianity were in name only, whilst in a supremely sad irony there appears to be little evidence that Jewish Conversos were typically insincere in their stated beliefs.

Both groups suffered significantly, during the phases of expulsion, but many Jews when fleeing were murdered in particularly barbaric circumstances, by Christians driven by a bizarre belief that fleeing Jews swallowed their most valuable possessions. This feature paralleled the conduct toward Jewish people during the Holocaust, where bodies were disembowelled in search of swallowed jewellery.


Sephardic = Spanish

From whence the Jews were expelled, a great number were persecuted elsewhere, including Italy, and especially Portugal. Some Jews went back to Spain, only to be subjected to further persecution. By contrast, the Muslim expulsions were sent to North Africa (sometimes by way of France) where they would settle with considerably less molestation by the surrounding populaces.

Spanish Jews, termed Sephardic, which translates as “Spanish”, are said to have emerged as a presence in Spain going back to the era of Christ, although other accounts argue that there was a Jewish presence in Spain going back some three thousand years. Sephardic culture emerged as a very distinctive cultural ethnicity, with its own language, a derivation of Old Spanish called Ladino.

Remarkably, the great majority of European Jewish people lived in Spain, estimated as being as high as 800,000, until the expulsions. For many of the less fortunate, this event would only herald a long history of further bloody persecution, and expulsion, in various parts of Europe and the Middle-East. Sephardic culture went into a long decline, a rehabilitation of which is only emerging. Yet, despite the bitterness of the past, Sephardic culture still possesses very distinctive Spanish aspects.

It is also worth noting that Spain has experienced a very substantive influx of Muslims of Moroccan origin, while its Jewish populace remains a shadow of its former scale. The Islamic population of Spain exceeds 1.3 million whilst the Jewish populace, continuing to be subject to anti-Semitism during more recent eras, remains very small. It is often described as being under 50,000 but it may be little as 12,000 according to a 2007 American Jewish Committee report.


Conclusion

Political commentators, such as Robert Fisk, appears unable to muster any genuine understanding for the plight of Jewish people in Medieval Spain, in which the widely divergent treatment of the Islamic and Jewish populaces are unduly conflated. In Fisk's case, he also uses the occasion to attack his pet hates: any hostility toward Islam, the Jewish State etc. Many ordinary Christians also suffered under the Inquisition but are not deserving of mention, let alone query as to why they don't deserve inclusion as well. Little wonder since Fisk has gone out of his way to demonise the much-persecuted Christians of the Middle East today.

The persecution of the Jewish populace, not only during the Inquisition, but especially during the events preceding it, stands out in European history, because these people were not belligerents against Spanish Christianity. In fact, they often suffered under the Moors as much as Christians. Yet, from a Christian perspective, this did not lead to a sense of solidarity. The treatment of Spanish Muslims was indeed punitive but the principle focus of the Inquisition was driven by a deep abiding hatred of the Jewish populace, which persisted long after all were killed or driven from Spain. Under Franco, Spain would continue to tolerate open anti-Semitism — a link which clearly informs Spanish elements hostile to Israel’s existence today.

There were many horrors visited on peoples during the European Dark Age and Medieval Era. Is this particular Spanish period remembered due to expulsions, or the behaviour of the Inquisition? Both are of course linked but infamy stems from the intolerance of the Inquisition, since expulsions were not uncommon in that era. This oppression was unprovoked, and manifestly harsher than equivalent treatment of Spanish Muslims, until they too were expelled, in part due to a level of subsequent belligerent activity, a not uncommon prospect in the Medieval Europe, when any groups took up arms against a given ruler.

Nonetheless, the treatment of the Moriscos should be regarded as one of the darkest episodes of predatory Christian proselytization, where the Spanish authorities soon reneged upon their promises.

On one hand there was a very aggressive intolerant intent to proselytize, which, when unsuccessful, led to expulsions, while on the other hand, there was a demented manifestly genocidal blood lust, where it is easy to envisage the entire Jewish populace being wiped out in a century, if it was not first expelled.

Thus, the Spanish Inquisition should ultimately be viewed as in essence an officious state-sanctioned expression of the very sentiments that motivated prior anti-Jewish pogroms, its stark depravity rightly constituting the very reason Spain’s treatment of her Jewish subjects stands out in the annals of infamy.




Robert Fisk’s article is analysed in more depth, and reproduced in part, by AnneinPT.



Article also published by Crethi Plethi.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Jewish Settlements Do Not Impede Peace


Many Western narratives on the Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict, assert that Arab-Palestinian grievances are fundamentally based upon a supposed dispossession of territory, and so peace would be obtained by returning lands gained by Israel in the defensive Six Day War.

Today this argument relates principally to Judea and Samaria, more widely known as the ‘West Bank’, a recent moniker the Jordanians applied to the area, after the Arab State’s invasion of Israel in 1948.

The existence of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and formerly Gaza prior to the unilateral 2005 Israeli withdrawal, are central to the claim that the Jewish State has instituted a 'land grab' since 1967. Settlements are the focal point of boycott campaigns, and other efforts to deligitimise Israel.

However, commentators less hostile to Israel also assert Jewish settlements are a deeply problematic phenomenon. Whilst accepting Israel is surrounded, in a hostile Arab-Islamic neighbourhood, they nonetheless advance a somewhat similar stance to anti-Israel critics, by portraying the settlement issue as one of the great obstacles of the peace process. Indeed, some act as if it is the greatest challenge, as per John Kerry’s intensive criticism of Israeli settlement policy, suggesting it will undermine a two-state solution.


Inconvenient facts

Whilst Jewish settlements are seen across the world as the bottleneck that stops any peace process in its tracks, a cursory glance at some fundamental facts will suggest that that this claim is a propagandistic red-herring of monumental proportions.

Israel is regularly demonised, with the very worst of motives ascribed to its behaviour. For example, many in the Arab world suggest the Jewish State seeks to territorially dominate the Middle East. Thus, one might ask to what extent has Israel held onto the territory it gained during the Six-Day War, which constitutes the Nation’s greatest victory? Startlingly, 90% of these gains have been returned to Israel’s Arab neighbours: the Sinai, and part of the Golan Heights, with Gaza becoming a de facto independent state.


More particularly, what of Judea and Samaria itself? To what extent has Israel 'grabbed' or 'thieved' the 'West Bank'? A survey, commissioned by anti-Israel NGO B’Tselem, found that 0.99% of the territory features constructed settlements, with applicable roads taking further space. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) prime negotiator, similarly asserted that settlements constitute 1.1% of the region.

Processes have not been instigated, by Israel, to recognise new Jewish settlements, since the Oslo II process of the mid to late 1990s. Dutch anti-Israel activist and mapmaker, Jan de Jong, produced a sequence of distorted maps to suggest Israel was instituting a 'land grab'. De Jong rather absurdly claimed that 60% of Judea and Samaria is taken by settlements but his maps, as reproduced by the Wall Street Journal, Feb 4th 2010, note that Israel did not begin further processes of settlement recognition after 1995. Subsequent land activity, according to the map, relates to unrecognised 'Settler outposts', which the Israeli authorities dismantle with some regularity.

De Jong Map, suggesting a 'land grab', Wall Street Journal, Feb 4th 2010

Anti-Israel commentators claim that the proposed E1 development would drive a wedge from East Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley, and thus the site would divide any potential Arab-Palestinian state. This is a complete untruth. The narrowest point between the E1 and the Dead Sea is fifteen kilometres, as wide as the narrowest points within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, the very borders those who condemn the Jewish State demand that it to return to.

Whilst settler violence is rightly an issue worthy of attention, it is wildly exaggerated in contrast to the far more prevalent, and deadly, Arab-Palestinian equivalent. According to B’Tselem’s own figures, some seventeen Arab-Palestinians were killed by settlers from 2000 to 2012, often in contexts of self-defence. By contrast, according to B’Tselem, over two hundred settlers were killed during the same period.


Negligible impact upon peace processes

One might think that Arab-Palestinians are desperate for an independent state, given the abhorrent conditions so many activists claim they are subjected to. Thus, it is curious that the Millennial ‘Camp David’ talks, which offered the PA 91% of their territorial demands, fell apart due to Yasser Arafat’s rejection of joint sovereignty over the Temple Mount, which Muslims call al Haram al Sharif. Land concessions were even more generous at Taba in 2001.

The 2007-08 Abbas-Olmert talks proposed territorial concessions of over 98%, with some land swaps. Abbas suddenly dropped out of the final stage of the talks in September 2008.

The brief 2010 talks with Benjamin Netanyahu collapsed because the PA demonstrated bad faith by only attending for the final few weeks of a ten month settlement freeze, having previously dismissed this substantive concession. Former US Peace envoy George Mitchell stated soon afterward that the PA made the freeze an absolute condition, after it having previously been 'less than worthless'. Mitchell described the freeze as less than the US requested but 'more than anyone else had done.'

Latterly, Netanyahu made several attempts to get Abbas to the negotiating table. Abbas finally succumbed when the demand to release all pre-Oslo prisoners was met, indicating that settlement freezes are not a pre-eminent requirement for negotiations. Rather, a tangible political victory is the incentivising element to bring an ever-reluctant Palestinian Authority to direct peace talks.

Likewise, anti-Israel commentators use the growth of settlements as a pre-text to claim that the two-state solution is dead, and thereby advocate for a one-state bi-national 'Rwandan solution'.

The intent of such one-staters is evident by their prejudicial actions. In reality, settlement growth is not a major issue because the substantive majority of Jewish Settlers live in five settlements near the 1949 Armistice Lines, and it was envisaged, in peace talks, that Israel would keep a majority of settlements, in exchange for some land swaps. The PA has long accepted the principle of land swaps. Thus, intense international condemnation, in which it is claimed that settlement expansion makes a just two-state solution impossible, is completely incorrect.

It could be argued that settlement activity is the sole stimulus toward achieving peace, given that the international community is unwilling to hold the PA to account for any wrongdoing. Former Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij said: 'The Palestinians now realize, that time is now on the side of Israel… and that the only way out of this dilemma is face-to-face negotiations'. It does seem Israel gives the green light to further construction when the PA seeks to bypass a negotiated peace process.

However, if such a strategy has been adopted, it has been enacted in a half-hearted fashion. Despite the popular portrayal of Benjamin Netanyahu as a ‘hawkish’ supporter of settlements, official figures by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics demonstrate that there has been less settlement construction during Netanyahu’s five years of governance. An average of 1,443 new housing units have been built in the contested territory during each year of his tenure, despite house prices being at a premium within the State itself.

In a similar manner, the most significant move on settlements occurred in April 2012, when an Israeli government committee was established to complete legal recognition of settlements Bruchin, Rechalim and Sansana, which already possessed de facto recognition. Previously, Negahot was the last settlement to have its recognition process legally finalised, in 1999, so this further de jure process was a diplomatic about-turn. The international media claimed Bruchin, Rechalim and Sansana were illegal settler outposts. However, State recognition had been initiated in the 1980’s and 90’s. The completion of the process was frustrated for years by Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, due to political considerations.

Final recognition was likely intended to place pressure on the Palestinian Authority. Negotiators for the two sides held talks in Amman during January 2012, but the PA decided to withdraw after only five meetings, thus failing to get Abbas to agree to meet Netanyahu. Talks recommenced, but PA negotiators again walked away in April, after Israeli proposals were submitted. Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, noted that the PA quit the talks without response. Netanyahu would initiate the move toward full recognition soon after.


A conclusion - racism

This article addressed the pragmatic and realpolitic issues surrounding Jewish Settlements. The subject also has a substantive moral and legal dimension, for which the continued existence of settlements can be forcefully argued. For example, Article Six of the League of Nations/British Mandate charter explicitly allows for Jewish settlements.

Likewise, Jewish history and culture has not only been embedded in Judea and Samaria since ancient times, but to arguably an even greater extent than the rest of Israel, with of course the notable exception of East Jerusalem.

Yet we see an overt denial of any rights of residence for Jewish people in Judea and Samaria.

The frequent pronouncements, by a variety of Palestinian Authority officials, that Jewish people will not be allowed live in a future Arab-Palestinian state, are met with disinterest. More broadly speaking, there is no substantive expectation that Jewish people will or should be allowed stay in the region, with a decades-long acquiescence to the Palestinian Authority’s racist land-law, making it a capital offence for Arab-Palestinians to sell land to people of a Jewish identity. Rather, there is unrelenting hostility to their presence. This popular anti-Israel Western position subscribes to overtly racial argumentation, for not only does it echo the NAZI concept of Judenrein living spaces, it goes further by extending the claim to a region where Jewish people possess an indigenous tie to the land.

Ultimately, a narrative focusing on settlement issues confuses a disturbing reality, in which hostility toward settlers is merely symptomatic of a broader malaise. This conflict is motivated by Israel’s very existence, as a principally Jewish State in Dar al-Islam, be it existing behind or beyond its Armistice Lines.





First published at the New English Review.