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Friday, Jun 4, 2010, 1:37 pm

Israel at Sea

By Pete Karman
In that same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt, unto the great river, the river Euphrates --Genesis, 15:18

Twice in official state documents, David Ben Gurion [Israel’s first prime minister] announced that the state was created "in a part of our small country" and "in only a portion of the Land of Israel." He later noted that "the creation of the new State by no means derogates from the scope of historic Eretz (Greater) Israel

The headline above refers to something beyond last Monday’s murderous maelstrom in the Mediterranean. Let’s begin with a commonplace. Israel’s acolytes never stop asking: Doesn’t Israel have the right to exist? My answer is, “Sure, what are its borders?” They are certainly not fixed, like the line, say, between Vermont and Quebec. Rather, they are described by Zionists as "to be negotiated." In fact, Israel is an expansionist state both by aspiration and by action. Since its founding in 1948, it has invaded and seized land from all of its neighbors. Those additions are populated by five million people who are afforded no rights by their occupier. Israeli writer Yitzak Laor put the situation this way:

We are the masters. We work and travel. They can make their living by policing their own people. We drive on the highways. They must live across the hills. The hills are ours. So are the fences. We control the roads and the checkpoints and the borders. We control their electricity, their water, their milk, their oil, their wheat and their gasoline. If they protest peacefully, we fire tear gas at them. If they throw stones, we fire bullets. If they launch a rocket, we destroy a house and its inhabitants. If they launch a missile, we destroy families, neighborhoods, streets, towns.

Over the four decades of its existence, Israel has used the often vicious and self-defeating resistance of its captives as an excuse to portray itself as a victim while making their lives all the more miserable. There is a plan to this. After the 1967 Six-Day War in which the Israelis conquered parts of Syria, Egypt and Jordan, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan offered a suggestion to the welter of Arabs that had come under its rule. “You can live like dogs,” he said, “or you can leave.”

That plan has not changed in the last 43 years. “The message,” says Yitzak Laor, “is always the same: leave or remain in subjugation under our military dictatorship. We are a democracy. We have decided democratically that you will live like dogs.”

Israel is a settler nation, redolent of the United States in the early 19th century. The U.S. was able to destroy its indigenous population and overrun a continent because its numbers were huge compared to theirs. Israel lacks such advantages. Its indigenous people are almost equal in number to its Jewish settlers. What’s more, Israel is surrounded by tens of millions of the kith and kin of those it seeks to eliminate as part of its expansionism. Most of the world’s Jews choose not to live in Israel, meaning there are not enough potential settlers to populate the lands seized. Immigration by gentiles would dilute the requisite Jewish nature of the state. Finally, demographics are on the side of the conquered, who are multiplying at a greater rate than the Israelis.

As a result, Israel has been unable to digest its gains. It was obliged to return the Sinai with its oil resources to secure a fitful peace with Egypt, its biggest neighbor. Unable to defeat a tenacious 22-year resistance, it finally retreated from the ten percent of Lebanon it had grabbed. In 2005, it ended its costly ground occupation of Gaza. Instead, it sealed the territory from the outside, turning it into what the president of Turkey calls an “open-air prison.” Rather than its troops kicking in doors, Israel relies for control on what it calls keeping the Gazans “on a diet.” In other words, starving them into submission.

Thus Israel cannot recreate Eretz Israel, and, worse, has increasing difficulty holding on to the territories it has already seized. Most vexing of all, its Jewish population is riven by bitter differences between the Haredi (Orthodox) and secular communities. So antagonistic are these groups that Israel’s housing minister has proposed their physical separation. This would mean double apartheid: between Jews and Arabs, and between Jews themselves.

After a succession of increasingly hard-right governments and wars characterized by over-the-top violence and ruthlessness, Israel has been been losing friends in the world. Even old allies like Turkey are dropping away.

An important article by Peter Beinart, a conservative American Jew, bemoans the failure of the pro-Israel lobby to prevent the serious erosion, particularly among young American Jews, of unquestioning support for Israel. Like its now departed close ally and role model, the Union of South Africa, Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the world. Who knows whether it will react by loosening up or digging in its heels? All we know for sure is that the "dogs" are not going away.

This post originally appeared at The Karman Turn

Pete Karman began working in journalism in 1957 at the awful New York Daily Mirror, where he wrote the first review of Bob Dylan for a New York paper. He lost that job after illegally traveling to Cuba (the rag failed shortly after he got the boot). Karman has reported and edited for various trade and trade union blats and worked as a copywriter. He was happy being a flack for Air France, but not as happy as being an on-and-off In These Times editor and contributor since 1977.

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