UN resolutions, Palestine, Israel and trimming the tree: when fear of demography matters

The desperation of a Palestinian mother

Today many Palestinians and people believing in justice and the right to self-determination are celebrating the overwhelming vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member state. This was a clear message that the world (or at least the UN represented world) sent to the US, Israel and allies that enough is enough. Indeed, had the UN been a real democratic organization without historically dictated (hence old) rights of veto, Palestine would today be a recognised nation. Surely, morally, humanly, and in the name of justice, this is news to celebrate. It also shows the extent to which the US, with few acolytes left, and Israel, with probably even fewer, are geopolitically isolated.

Israel and the US opposed the bid to the UN, albeit for different reasons.  The US knew the future plans of the Zionist government and knew that a victory of the Palestinians would in this case make the peace process very difficult – and a difficult peace process would mean a longer entanglement in the Middle East mess for the US. Israel in reality hoped that the Palestinian bid would succeed since, as we will see below, this buys time for the Zionist government’s ultimate aim: a fully, socially, politically, religiously and in particular demographically Jewish state that nobody can question in its ethnic essentialism.

Now, to understand the process that allows the Zionist government to achieve such essentialism we need to look where few people, even scholars, would look. It means to look at demography, lies about it, and in particular that which I call dirty demographic strategies of war and oppression.

Let me start from an apparently (and we will see why apparently) disconnected  anecdote.

Freiburg, Germany: 26th of September, 2007, at the XXX. Deutsche Orientalistentag,  I met an Israeli scholar who focussed on terrorism between one panel and another. He told me that he had worked for the IDF in past years and now he was in one of the Israeli universities. The conversation was more of a monologue than dialogue and he appeared to feel as if he needed to explain the reasons for “Zionist Israel,” as he called it. Yet to my surprise, the reasons were not about counter-terrorism mesures, or why Israel needs to imprison children without trial, why it needs target killing, or human shields or routinely suffocates the everyday lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Rather, he entertained me with demographic statistics: births and deaths of the Jewish population in Israel and in the settlements as well as births and deaths of the Palestinians (and Arabs in general). Surely he was a very well informed guy. To be honest, at that time, the statistical showoff and argument bored me not little. However, the Israeli scholar uttered something that soon caught my attention:

Periodically Israel will have to trim the Palestinian tree in one way or another – such as with military operations, which may not make sense at the level of strategy but make sense in the demographic war. To win such a war, we need to make the life of Palestinians so difficult so that they leave our [i.e. their] land; cutting them off from water and so on. Yet the military actions are the most effective. If you have “imprecise” targets and this is done by bombing, for instance, so called “symbolic targets”,  you will kill probably women and children, and that has not only a psychological effect causing more people to migrate but also it has a direct demographic impact  because they have a high number of potentially fertile women.

I felt disgusted by what he said.  His words were made even more appalling by their nonchalant and calm, clinical delivery. As offensive and incendiary as his words were, however, it was clear that entering into an argument would prove futile.  He believed himself to be perfectly “moral” in his claim over what he considered Biblically gifted land.

Years passed and I forgot his revolting words until the recent Israeli operation against Gaza proved to be a tragic reminder. The reason for this was that the IDF operation (mainly air strikes, mortars and battle ship missiles pounding the Gaza enclave to stop the rather ineffective rockets launched from Gaza) made no military sense.

Gilad Sharon, son of the famous Ariel, noticed in an op-ed contribution, for totally different reasons to mine, the futility of such “incomplete” operations, and, in true rightwing Zionist style, suggested,

This must not be allowed to end as did Operation Cast Lead: We bomb them, they fire missiles at us, and then a cease-fire, followed by “showers” – namely sporadic missile fire and isolated incidents along the fence… There is no middle path here – either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. Otherwise there will be no decisive victory. And we’re running out of time – we must achieve victory quickly.

Hugely nasty, surely immoral, against the Geneva convention, definitely involving war crimes; yet none of the above has ever stopped Israel from committing a seemingly endless list of potential  human rights violations and war crimes, all justified under the label of “self-defence”–a label that, in our contemporary world, has become an excuse for many indefensible actions. Nonetheless,  Gilad Sharon said what a military strategist would have suggested in order to end once and forever the rocket fire: invasion or making the enemy pay too high of a price to continue.

Israel, a country that can do just about whatever it pleases in the region with limited international consequences, could have taken drastic actions to close the match with Hamas. Yet the careful observer will notice that Israel always stops short of the Armageddon. Theoretically, also considering the help of the US, it would not be so difficult to get rid of Hamas, replace it with a more ‘domesticated’  Palestinian  Authority, and finally achieve the two state solution that many suggest would bring peace to the region. By contrast, Israel seems to facilitate potential conflicts, retaliations from Hamas and, at the same time, delay and compromise any possibility of a real long lasting peace with the Palestinians.  Why?

The answer appears to come from demography, real and imagined, as well as its real and imagined consequences. Unfortunately, we do not have very good demographic statistics for Palestine but what we have can help to understand the endless conflict, one that I doubt at the present will have any real solution soon.  I will not discuss in detail the demographic situation and the above link provides a good source of information. Also I do not think I need to provide further evidence (but here is another one  if you need) of the centrality that this demographic discourse has in the conflict.

Yet let me mention a very good analysis provided by Aslak Berg in 2009. In particular, after discussing birth rates (he avoided discussing death rates that are also a very relevant factor, particularly considering the military actions), he concluded that a Zionist government, in order to achieve a secure and ethnically “clean” Jewish state, should :

• Withdraw from Gaza as much as possible since without the Gaza strip, the Jewish majority in Israel and the West Bank seems secure (again if emigration and fertility decline continues)
• Continue supporting the settlements to secure as much land as possible and help encourage Palestinians to emigrate.
• Delay a solution as much as possible in order to see if the demographic winds continue to turn in Israel’s favour.
• Encourage Palestinian division and the gap between Gaza and the West Bank
• If demographic trends do not continue, and there is an uptick in Palestinian births, only then give up most of the West Bank to secure a Jewish majority

And indeed this is what the Zionist government of Israel has been and is doing (including, however, working on the “acidental” trimming of defensive IDF operations). Yet Aslak Berg is also very right when he noticed in the same post that,

“most Israelis aren’t religious Zionists, but in the end, these are the only ones in Israel who know exactly what they want and how to get it so they end up setting the agenda for all of Israel.

At the end of the day, the plan is clear: continue the slow but persistant building of settlements in Gaza and the West Bank and normalize such process to the level of absorbing most of it. On the other hand, if during the Mubarak era in Egypt the idea was to leave Gaza as the only real Palestinian State, with the Brotherhood in Egypt, Israel dreams of transforming Gaza into an Egyptian problem and Egyptian controlled territory.

Now we can come back to today’s vote, celebrations and what I would define (for different reasons than the US) a terrible political mistake, which will likely be one of the many that have marked the history of this conflict and land. Israel today has won an important excuse: it can argue that the Palestinians wish to impose a peace that ought to be local, i.e made between Israel and Palestine, through international pressure.

This provides an excuse to stop peace talks with the only entity the international community wanted Israel to have: the Palestinian authority. Finally months will pass, if not years, and the West Bank will be slowly but steadily consumed. The demographic fear will still be used and Gaza will remain the open-air prison that it is, until even the Gazan people will see Egypt as the best solution or at least the lesser evil, particularly if the Brotherhood maintains power and the Islamification of Egyptian politics continues.

The trimming (read destruction) of Palestinian treeslivestock, infrastructure and future generations–through the killing of children (known as colateral dammage), the destruction of  children’s psychological well being and through  migration— will continue with ease thanks to today’s resolution.

In this resolution, there are only two real winners: Israel, for the reasons explained above, and Abbas,  whom with this success  has saved his political leadership at the expenses of those dancing today in the streets of Palestine.

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