Category Archives: Israel

A State Built on Murder. RISE AND KILL FIRST: The Secret History Of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations – Ronen Bergman.

OF ALL THE MEANS that democracies use to protect their security, there is none more fraught and controversial than “killing the driver”, assassination.

Israel’s reliance on assassination as a military tool did not happen by chance, but rather stems from the revolutionary and activist roots of the Zionist movement.

The six million would be avenged and let it be known that “no Nazi will place a foot on the soil of the Land of Israel.”

Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world. They have developed the most robust, streamlined assassination machine in history.

The members of Hashomer who led the Haganah at the outset were even willing to commit acts of violence against fellow Jews.

“You need to know how to forgive. You need to know how to forgive the enemy. However, we have no authority to forgive people like bin Laden. That, only God can do. Our job is to arrange a meeting between them. In my laboratory, I opened a matchmaker’s office, a bureau that arranged such meetings. I orchestrated more than thirty such meetings.” Natan Rotberg

Is it legitimate, both ethically and judicially, for a country to employ the gravest of all crimes in any code of ethics or law, the premeditated taking of a human life, in order to protect its own citizens?

MEIR DAGAN, CHIEF OF the Israeli Mossad, legendary spy and assassin, walked into the room, leaning on his cane.

He’d been using it ever since he was wounded by a mine laid by Palestinian terrorists he was fighting in the Gaza Strip as a young special-ops officer in the 1970s. Dagan, who knew a thing or two about the power of myths and symbols, was careful not to deny the rumors that there was a blade concealed in the cane, which he could bare with a push of a button.

Dagan was a short man, so dark-skinned that people were always surprised to hear that he was from Polish origins, and he had a potbelly with a presence of its own. On this occasion he was wearing a simple open-necked shirt, light black pants, and black shoes, and it looked as if he’d not paid any special attention to his appearance. There was something about him that expressed a direct, terse self-confidence, and a quiet, sometimes menacing charisma.

The conference room that Dagan entered that afternoon, on January 8, 2011, was in the Mossad Academy, north of Tel Aviv. For the first time ever, the head of the espionage agency was meeting with journalists in the heart of one of Israel’s most closely guarded and secret installations.

Dagan had no love for the media. “I’ve reached the conclusion that it is an insatiable monster,” he would tell me later, “so there’s no point in maintaining a relationship with it.” Nevertheless, three days before the meeting, I and a number of other correspondents had received a confidential invitation. I was surprised. For an entire decade I had been leveling some harsh criticism at the Mossad, and in particular at Dagan, making him very angry.

The Mossad did everything it could to give the affair a cloak-and-dagger atmosphere. We were told to come to the parking lot of Cinema City, a movie theater complex not far from Mossad HQ, and to leave everything in our cars except notebooks and writing implements. “You will be carefully searched, and we want to avoid any unpleasantness,” our escorts told us. From there we were driven in a bus with dark tinted windows to the Mossad headquarters complex. We passed through a number of electric gates and electronic signs warning those entering what was permitted and what forbidden inside the perimeter. Then came a thorough scanning with metal detectors to make sure we hadn’t brought any video or audio recording equipment. We entered the conference room, and Dagan came in a few minutes after us, walking around and shaking hands. When he got to me, he gripped my hand for a moment and said with a smile, “You really are some kind of a bandit.”

Then he sat down. He was flanked by the spokesman of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the chief military censor, a female brigadier general. (The Mossad is a unit of the prime minister’s office, and, under national law, reporting on any of its activities is subject to censorship.) Both of these officials believed that Dagan had called the meeting merely to bid a formal farewell to the people who had covered his tenure, and that he would say nothing substantive.

They were wrong. The surprise was evident on the face of the prime minister’s spokesperson, whose eyes got wider and wider as Dagan continued speaking.

“There are advantages to having a back injury,” Dagan said, opening his address. “You get a doctor’s certificate confirming that you’re not spineless.” Very quickly, we realized that this was no mere wisecrack, as Dagan launched into a vehement attack on the prime minister of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, Dagan claimed, was behaving irresponsibly and, for his own egotistical reasons, leading the country into disaster. “That someone is elected does not mean that he is smart” was one of his jibes.

This was the last day of Dagan’s term as the Mossad’s director. Netanyahu was showing him the door, and Dagan, whose life’s dream had been to hold the position of Israel’s top spy, was not going to stand by with folded arms. The acute crisis of confidence between the two men had flared up around two issues, and both of them were intimately connected to Meir Dagan’s weapon of choice: assassination.

“That someone is elected does not mean that he is smart” Meir Dagan

Eight years earlier, Ariel Sharon had appointed Dagan to the Mossad post and put him in charge of disrupting the Iranian nuclear weapons project, which both men saw as an existential threat to Israel. Dagan acted in a number of ways to fulfill this task. The most difficult way, but also the most effective, Dagan believed, was to identify iran’s key nuclear and missile scientists, locate them, and kill them. The Mossad pinpointed fifteen such targets, of whom it eliminated six, mostly when they were on their way to work in the morning, by means of bombs with short time fuses, attached to their cars by a motorcyclist. In addition, a general of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was in charge of the missile project, was blown up in his headquarters together with seventeen of his men.

These operations and many others initiated by the Mossad, some in collaboration with the United States, were all successful, but Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, had begun to feel that their utility was declining. They decided that clandestine measures could no longer effectively delay the Iranian nuclear project, and that only a massive aerial bombardment of the Iranians’ nuclear facilities would successfully halt their progress toward acquiring such weapons.

Dagan strongly opposed this idea. Indeed, it flew in the face of everything he believed in: that open warfare should be waged only when “the sword is on our throat,” or as a last resort, in situations in which there was no other choice. Everything else could and should be handled through clandestine means.

“Assassinations,” he said, “have an effect on morale, as well as a practical effect. I don’t think there were many who could have replaced Napoleon, or a president like Roosevelt or a prime minister like Churchill. The personal aspect certainly plays a role. It’s true that anyone can be replaced, but there’s a difference between a replacement with guts and some lifeless character.”

Furthermore, the use of assassination, in Dagan’s view, “is a lot more moral” than waging all-out war. Neutralizing a few major figures is enough to make the latter option unnecessary and save the lives of untold numbers of soldiers and civilians on both sides. A large-scale attack against Iran would lead to a large-scale conflict across the Middle East, and even then it likely would not cause enough damage to the Iranian installations.

Finally, from Dagan’s point of view, if Israel started a war with Iran, it would be an indictment of his entire career. History books would show that he had not fulfilled the task that Sharon had given him: to put an end to Iranian nuclear acquisition using covert means, without recourse to an open assault.

Dagan’s opposition, and similar heavy pressure from the top military and intelligence chiefs, forced the repeated postponement of the attack on Iran. Dagan even briefed CIA Director Leon Panetta about the Israeli plan (the prime minister alleges he did so without permission), and soon President Obama was also warning Netanyahu not to attack.

The tension between the two men escalated even higher in 2010, seven years into Dagan’s tenure. Dagan had dispatched a hit team of twenty-seven Mossad operatives to Dubai to eliminate a senior official of the Palestinian terror group Hamas. They did the job: the assassins injected him with a paralyzing drug in his hotel room and made their getaway from the country before the body was discovered. But just a short while after their departure, due to a series of gross errors they made, forgetting to take into account Dubai’s innumerable CCTV cameras; using the same phony passports that the operatives had previously used to enter Dubai in order to follow the target; and a phone setup that the local police had no trouble in cracking, the whole world was soon watching video footage of their faces and a complete record of their movements. The discovery that this was a Mossad operation caused serious operational damage to the agency, as well as profound embarrassment to the State of Israel, which had once again been caught using fake passports of friendly Western countries for its agents. “But you told me it would be easy and simple, that the risk of things going wrong was close to zero,” Netanyahu fumed at Dagan, and ordered him to suspend many of the pending assassination plans and other operations until further notice.

The confrontation between Dagan and Netanyahu became more and more acute until Netanyahu (according to his version) decided not to extend Dagan’s tenure, or (in Dagan’s words) “I simply got sick of him and I decided to retire.”

At that briefing in the Mossad Academy and in a number of later interviews for this book, Dagan displayed robust confidence that the Mossad, under his leadership, would have been able to stop the Iranians from making nuclear weapons by means of assassinations and other pinpoint measures, for instance, working with the United States to keep the Iranians from being able to import critical parts for their nuclear project that they could not manufacture themselves. “If we manage to prevent Iran from obtaining some of the components, this would seriously damage their project. In a car there are 25,000 parts on average. Imagine if one hundred of them are missing. It would be very hard to make it go. “On the other hand,” Dagan added with a smile, returning to his favorite modus operandi, “sometimes it’s most effective to kill the driver, and that’s that.”

OF ALL THE MEANS that democracies use to protect their security, there is none more fraught and controversial than “killing the driver”, assassination.

Some, euphemistically, call it “liquidation.” The American intelligence community calls it, for legal reasons, “targeted killings.” In practice, these terms amount to the same thing: killing a specific individual in order to achieve a specific goal, saving the lives of people the target intends to kill, averting a dangerous act that he is about to perpetrate, and sometimes removing a leader in order to change the course of history.

The use of assassinations by a state touches two very difficult dilemmas. First, is it effective? Can the elimination of an individual, or a number of individuals, make the world a safer place? Second, is it morally and legally justified? is it legitimate, both ethically and judicially, for a country to employ the gravest of all crimes in any code of ethics or law, the premeditated taking of a human life, in order to protect its own citizens?

This book deals mainly with the assassinations and targeted killings carried out by the Mossad and by other arms of the Israeli government, in both peacetime and wartime, as well as, in the early chapters, by the underground militias in the pre-state era, organizations that were to become the army and intelligence services of the state, once it was established.

Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world. On innumerable occasions, its leaders have weighed what would be the best way to defend its national security and, out of all the options, have time and again decided on clandestine operations, with assassination the method of choice. This, they believed, would solve difficult problems faced by the state, and sometimes change the course of history. In many cases, Israel’s leaders have even determined that in order to kill the designated target, it is moral and legal to endanger the lives of innocent civilians who may happen to find themselves in the line of fire. Harming such people, they believe, is a necessary evil.

The numbers speak for themselves. Up until the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada, in September 2000, when Israel first began to respond to suicide bombings with the daily use of armed drones to perform assassinations, the state had conducted some 500 targeted killing operations. In these, at least 1,000 people were killed, both civilians and combatants. During the Second Intifada, Israel carried out some 1,000 more operations, of which 168 succeeded. Since then, up until the writing of this book, Israel has executed some 800 targeted killing operations, almost all of which were part of the rounds of warfare against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2008, 2012, and 2014 or Mossad operations across the Middle East against Palestinian, Syrian, and Iranian targets. By contrast, during the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States of America carried out 48 targeted killing operations, according to one estimate, and under President Barack Obama there were 353 such attacks.

Israel’s reliance on assassination as a military tool did not happen by chance, but rather stems from the revolutionary and activist roots of the Zionist movement, from the trauma of the Holocaust, and from the sense among Israel’s leaders and citizens that the country and its people are perpetually in danger of annihilation and that, as in the Holocaust, no one will come to their aid when that happens.

Because of Israel’s tiny dimensions, the attempts by the Arab states to destroy it even before it was established, their continued threats to do so, and the perpetual menace of Arab terrorism, the country evolved a highly effective military and, arguably, the best intelligence community in the world. They, in turn, have developed the most robust, streamlined assassination machine in history.

The following pages will detail the secrets of that machine, the fruit of a mixed marriage between guerrilla warfare and the military might of a technological powerhouse, its operatives, leaders, methods, deliberations, successes, and failures, as well as the moral costs. They will illustrate how two separate legal systems have arisen in Israel, one for ordinary citizens and one for the intelligence community and defense establishment. The latter system has allowed, with a nod and a wink from the government, highly problematic acts of assassination, with no parliamentary or public scrutiny, resulting in the loss of many innocent lives.

On the other hand, the assassination weapon, based on intelligence that is “nothing less than exquisite”, to quote the former head of the NSA and the CIA, General Michael Hayden, is what made Israel’s war on terror the most effective ever waged by a Western country. On numerous occasions, it was targeted killing that saved Israel from very grave cases.

The Mossad and Israel’s other intelligence arms have done away with individuals who were identified as direct threats to national security, and killing them has also sent a bigger message: If you are an enemy of Israel, we will find and kill you, wherever you are. This message has indeed been heard around the world. Occasional blunders have only enhanced the Mossad’s aggressive and merciless reputation, not a bad thing, when the goal of deterrence is as important as the goal of preempting specific hostile acts.

The assassinations were not all carried out by small, closed groups. The more complex they became, the more people took part, sometimes as many as hundreds, the majority of them below the age of twenty-five. Sometimes these young people will come with their commanders to meet the prime minister, the only one authorized to green-light an assassination, in order to explain the operation and get final approval. Such forums, in which most of the participants advocating for someone’s death are under the age of thirty, are probably unique to Israel. Some of the low ranking officers involved in these meetings have advanced over the years to become national leaders and even prime ministers themselves. What marks have remained imprinted on them from the times they took part in hit operations?

The United States has taken the intelligence gathering and assassination techniques developed in Israel as a model, and after 9/11 and President Bush’s decision to launch a campaign of targeted killings against Al Qaeda, it transplanted some of these methods into its own intelligence and war on terror systems. The command and control systems, the war rooms, the methods of information gathering, and the technology of the pilotless aircraft, or drones, that now serve the Americans and their allies were all in large part developed in Israel.

Nowadays, when the same kind of extrajudicial killing that Israel has used for decades is being used daily by America against its enemies, it is appropriate not only to admire the impressive operational capabilities that Israel has built, but also to study the high moral price that has been paid, and still is being paid, for the use of such power.

Chapter One

IN BLOOD AND FIRE

ON SEPTEMBER 29, 1944, David Shomron hid in the gloom of St. George Street, not far from the Romanian Church in Jerusalem. A church building was used as officers’ lodgings by the British authorities governing Palestine, and Shomron was waiting for one of those officers, a man named Tom Wilkin, to leave.

Wilkin was the commander of the Jewish unit at the Criminal investigation Department (CID) of the British Mandate for Palestine, and he was very good at his job, especially the part that involved infiltrating and disrupting the fractious Jewish underground. Aggressive, yet also exceptionally patient and calculating, Wilkin spoke fluent Hebrew, and after thirteen years of service in Palestine, he had an extensive network of informants. Thanks to the intelligence they provided, underground fighters were arrested, their weapons caches were seized, and their planned operations, aimed at forcing the British to leave Palestine, were foiled.

Which was why Shomron was going to kill him.

Shomron and his partner that night, Yaakov Banai (code named Mazal, “Luck”), were operatives with Lehi, the most radical of the Zionist underground movements fighting the British in the early 1940s. Though Lehi was the acronym for the Hebrew phrase “fighters for the freedom of Israel,” the British considered it a terrorist organization, referring to it dismissively as the Stern Gang, after its founder, the romantic ultra-nationalist Avraham Stern. Stern and his tiny band of followers employed a targeted mayhem of assassinations and bombings, a campaign of “personal terror,” as Lehi’s operations chief (and later Israeli prime minister), Yitzhak Shamir, called it.

Wilkin knew he was a target. Lehi already had tried to kill him and his boss, Geoffrey Morton, nearly three years earlier, in its first, clumsy operation. On January 20, 1942, assassins planted bombs on the roof and inside the building of 8 Yael Street, in Tel Aviv. Instead they ended up killing three police officers-two Jews and an Englishman, who arrived before Wilkin and Morton and tripped the charges. Later, Morton fled Palestine after being wounded in another attempt on his life, that one in retribution for Morton having shot Stern dead.

None of those details, the back-and-forth of who killed whom and in what order, mattered to Shomron. The British occupied the land the Zionists saw as rightfully theirs, that was what mattered, and Shamir had issued a death sentence against Wilkin.

For Shomron and his comrades, Wilkin was not a person but rather a target, prominent and high value. “We were too busy and hungry to think about the British and their families,” Shomron said decades later.

After discovering that Wilkin was residing in the Romanian Church annex, the assassins set out on their mission. Shomron and Banai had revolvers and hand grenades in their pockets. Additional Lehi operatives were in the vicinity, smartly dressed in suits and hats to look like Englishmen.

Wilkin left the officers’ lodgings in the church and headed for the ClD’s facility in the Russian Compound, where underground suspects were held and interrogated. As always, he was wary, scanning the street as he walked and keeping one hand in his pocket all the time. As he passed the corner of St. George and Mea Shearim Streets, a youngster sitting outside the neighborhood grocery store got up and dropped his hat. This was the signal, and the two assassins began walking toward Wilkin, identifying him according to the photographs they’d studied. Shomron and Banai let him pass, gripping their revolvers with sweating palms.

Then they turned around and drew.

“Before we did it, Mazal [Banai] said, ‘Let me shoot first,” Shomron recalled. “But when we saw him, I guess I couldn’t restrain myself. I shot first.”

Between them, Banai and Shomron fired fourteen times. Eleven of those bullets hit Wilkin. “He managed to turn around and draw his pistol,” Shomron said, “but then he fell face first. A spurt of blood came out of his forehead, like a fountain. It was not such a pretty picture.”

Shomron and Banai darted back into the shadows and made off in a taxi in which another Lehi man was waiting for them.

“The only thing that hurt me was that we forgot to take the briefcase in which he had all his documents,” Shomron said. Other than that, “I didn’t feel anything, not even a little twinge of guilt. We believed the more coffins that reached London, the closer the day of freedom would be.”

THE IDEA THAT THE return of the People of Israel to the Land of Israel could be achieved only by force was not born with Stern and his Lehi comrades.

The roots of that strategy can be traced to eight men who gathered in a stifling one room apartment overlooking an orange grove in Jaffa on September 29, 1907, exactly thirty seven years before a fountain of blood spurted from Wilkin’s head, when Palestine was still part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The flat was rented by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a young Russian who’d immigrated to Ottoman Palestine earlier that year. Like the others in his apartment that night, all emigrants from the Russian empire, sitting on a straw mat spread on the floor of the candlelit room, he was a committed Zionist, albeit part of a splinter sect that had once threatened to end the movement.

Zionism as a political ideology had been founded in 1896 when Viennese Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). He had been deeply affected while covering the trial in Paris of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer unjustly accused and convicted of treason.

In his book, Herzl argued that anti-Semitism was so deeply ingrained in European culture that the Jewish people could achieve true freedom and safety only in a nation-state of their own. The Jewish elite of Western Europe, who’d managed to carve out comfortable lives for themselves, mostly rejected Herzl. But his ideas resonated with poor and working-class Jews of Eastern Europe, who suffered repeated pogroms and continual oppression and to which some of them responded by aligning themselves with leftist uprisings.

Herzl himself saw Palestine, the Jews’ ancestral homeland, as the ideal location for a future Jewish state, but he maintained that any settlement there would have to be handled deliberately and delicately, through proper diplomatic channels and with international sanction, if a Jewish nation was to survive in peace. Herzl’s view came to be known as political Zionism.

Ben-Zvi and his seven comrades, on the other hand, were-like most other Russian Jews, practical Zionists. Rather than wait for the rest of the world to give them a home, they believed in creating one themselves, in going to Palestine, working the land, making the desert bloom. They would take what they believed to be rightfully theirs, and they would defend what they had taken.

This put the practical Zionists in immediate conflict with most of the Jews already living in Palestine. As a tiny minority in an Arab land, many of them peddlers and religious scholars and functionaries under the Ottoman regime, they preferred to keep a low profile. Through Mustafasubservience and compromise and bribery, these established Palestinian Jews had managed to buy themselves relative peace and a measure of security.

But Ben-Zvi and the other newcomers were appalled at the conditions their fellow Jews tolerated. Many were living in abject poverty and had no means of defending themselves, utterly at the mercy of the Arab majority and the venal officials of the corrupt Ottoman Empire. Arab mobs attacked and plundered Jewish settlements, rarely with any consequences. Worse, as Ben-Zvi and the others saw it, those same settlements had consigned their defense to Arab guards, who in turn would sometimes collaborate with attacking mobs.

Ben-Zvi and his friends found this situation to be unsustainable and intolerable. Some were former members of Russian left-wing revolutionary movements inspired by the People’s Will (Narodnaya Volya), an aggressive anti-tsarist guerrilla movement that employed terrorist tactics, including assassinations.

Disappointed by the abortive 1905 revolution in Russia, which in the end produced only minimal constitutional reforms, some of these socialist revolutionaries, social democrats, and liberals moved to Ottoman Palestine to reestablish a Jewish state.

They all were desperately poor, barely scraping by, earning pennies at teaching jobs or manual labor in the fields and orange groves, often going hungry. But they were proud Zionists. If they were going to create a nation, they first had to defend themselves. So they slipped through the streets of Jaffa in pairs and alone, making their way to the secret meeting in Ben-Zvi’s apartment.

That night, those eight people formed the first Hebrew fighting force of the modern age. They decreed that, from then forward, everything would be different from the image of the weak and persecuted Jew all across the globe. Only Jews would defend Jews in Palestine.

They named their fledgling army Bar-Giora, after one of the leaders of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, in the first century. On their banner, they paid homage to that ancient rebellion and predicted their future. “In blood and fire Judea fell,” it read. “In blood and fire Judea will rise.”

Judea would indeed rise. Ben-Zvi would one day be the Jewish nation’s second president. Yet first there would be much fire, and much blood.

BAR-GIORA WAS NOT, AT first, a popular movement. But more Jews arrived in Palestine from Russia and Eastern Europe every year, 35,000 between 1905 and 1914, bringing with them that same determined philosophy of practical Zionism.

With more like-minded Jews flooding into the Yishuv, as the Jewish community in Palestine was called, Bar-Giora in 1909 was reconstituted into the larger and more aggressive Hashomer (Hebrew for “the Guard”). By 1912, Hashomer was defending fourteen settlements. Yet it was also developing offensive, albeit clandestine, capabilities, preparing for what practical Zionists saw as an inevitable eventual war to take control of Palestine. Hashomer therefore saw itself as the nucleus for a future Jewish army and intelligence service.

Mounted on their horses, Hashomer vigilantes raided a few Arab settlements to punish residents who had harmed Jews, sometimes beating them up, sometimes executing them. In one case, a special clandestine assembly of Hashomer members decided to eliminate a Bedouin policeman, Aref al-Arsan, who had assisted the Turks and tortured Jewish prisoners. He was shot dead by Hashomer in June 1916.

Hashomer did not recoil from using force to assert its authority over other Jews, either. During World War I, Hashomer was violently opposed to NILI, a Jewish spy network working for the British in Ottoman Palestine. Hashomer feared that the Turks would discover the spies and wreak vengeance against the entire Jewish community. When they failed to get NILI to cease operations or to hand over a stash of gold coins they’d received from the British, they made an attempt on the life of Yosef Lishansky, one of its members, managing only to wound him.

In 1920, Hashomer evolved again, now into the Haganah (Hebrew for “Defense”). Though it was not specifically legal, the British authorities, who had been ruling the country for about three years, tolerated the Haganah as the paramilitary defensive arm of the Yishuv. The Histadrut, the socialist labor union of the Jews in Israel that was founded in the same year, and the Jewish Agency, the Yishuv’s autonomous governing authority, established a few years later, both headed by David Ben-Gurion, maintained command over the secret organization.

David Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion was born David Yosef Grijn in Plo’nsk, Poland, in 1886. From an early age, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a Zionist activist. In 1906, he migrated to Palestine and, thanks to his charisma and determination, soon became one of the leaders of the Yishuv, despite his youth. He then changed his name to Ben-Gurion, after another of the leaders of the revolt against the Romans.

Haganah in its early years was influenced by the spirit and aggressive attitude of Hashomer. On May 1, 1921, an Arab mob massacred fourteen Jews in an immigrants’ hostel in Jaffa. After learning that an Arab police officer by the name of Tewfik Bey had helped the mob get into the hostel, Haganah sent a hit squad to dispose of him, and on January 17, 1923, he was shot dead in the middle of a Tel Aviv street. “As a matter of honor,” he was shot from the front and not in the back, according to one of those involved, and the intention was “to show the Arabs that their deeds are not forgotten and their day will come, even if belatedly.”

The members of Hashomer who led the Haganah at the outset were even willing to commit acts of violence against fellow Jews. Jacob de Haan was a Dutch born Haredi-an ultra-Orthodox Jew, living in Jerusalem in the early 1920s. He was a propagandist for the Haredi belief that only the Messiah could establish a Jewish state, that God alone would decide when to return the Jews to their ancestral homeland, and that humans trying to expedite the process were committing a grave sin. In other words, de Haan was a staunch anti-Zionist, and he was surprisingly adept at swaying international opinion. To Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, by now a prominent Haganah leader, that made de Haan dangerous. So he ordered his death.

On June 30, 1924, just a day before de Haan was to travel to London to ask the British government to reconsider its promise to establish a Jewish nation in Palestine, two assassins shot him three times as he emerged from a synagogue on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem.

Ben-Gurion, however, took a dim view of such acts. He realized that in order to win even partial recognition from the British for Zionist aims, he would have to enforce orderly and more moderate norms on the semi-underground militia under his command. Hashomer’s brave and lethal lone riders were replaced after the de Haan murder by an organized, hierarchical armed force. Ben-Gurion ordered Haganah to desist from using targeted killings. “As to personal terror, Ben-Gurion’s line was consistently and steadily against it,” Haganah commander Yisrael Galili testified later, and he recounted a number of instances in which Ben-Gurion had refused to approve proposals for hits against individual Arabs. These included the Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini and other members of the Arab Higher Committee, and British personnel, such as a senior official in the Mandate’s lands authority who was obstructing Jewish settlement projects.

Not everyone was eager to acquiesce to Ben-Gurion. Avraham Tehomi, the man who shot de Haan, despised the moderate line Ben-Gurion took against the British and the Arabs, and, together with some other leading figures, he quit Haganah and in 1931 formed the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the “National Military Organization” whose Hebrew acronym is Etzel, usually referred to in English as IZL or the Irgun. This radical right-wing group was commanded in the 1940s by Menachem Begin, who in 1977 was to become prime minister of Israel. Inside the Irgun, too, there were clashes, personal and ideological. Opponents of Begin’s agreement to cooperate with Britain in its war against the Nazis broke away and formed Lehi. For these men, any cooperation with Britain was anathema.

These two dissident groups both advocated, to different degrees, the use of targeted killings against the Arab and British enemy, and against Jews they considered dangerous to their cause. Ben-Gurion remained adamant that targeted killings would not be used as a weapon and even took aggressive measures against those who did not obey his orders.

But then World War II ended, and everything, even the views of the obstinate Ben-Gurion, changed.

DURING WORLD WAR II, some 38,000 Jews from Palestine volunteered to help and serve in the British Army in Europe. The British formed the so-called Jewish Brigade, albeit somewhat reluctantly and only after being pressured by the Yishuv’s civilian leadership.

Unsure exactly what to do with the Brigade, the British first sent it to train in Egypt. It was there, in mid-1944, that its members first heard of the Nazi campaign of Jewish annihilation. When they were finally sent to Europe to fight in Italy and Austria, they witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand and were among the first to send detailed reports to Ben-Gurion and other leaders of the Yishuv.

One of those soldiers was Mordechai Gichon, who later would be one of the founders of Israeli military intelligence. Born in Berlin in 1922, Gichon had a father who was Russian and a mother who was the scion of a famous German-Jewish family, niece of Rabbi Leo Baeck, a leader of Germany’s Liberal (Reform) Jews. Gichon’s family moved to Palestine in 1933, after Mordechai had been required in his German school to give the Nazi salute and sing the party anthem.

He returned as a soldier to a Europe in ruins, his people nearly destroyed, their communities smoldering ruins. “The Jewish people had been humiliated, trampled, murdered,” he said. “Now was the time to strike back, to take revenge. In my dreams, when I enlisted, revenge took the form of me arresting my best friend from Germany, whose name was Detlef, the son of a police major. That’s how I would restore lost Jewish honor.”

It was that sense of lost honor, of a people’s humiliation, as much as rage at the Nazis, that drove men like Gichon. He first met the Jewish refugees on the border between Austria and Italy. The men of the Brigade fed them, took off their own uniforms to clothe them against the cold, tried to draw out of them details of the atrocities they had undergone. He remembers an encounter in June 1945 in which a female refugee came up to him.

“She broke away from her group and spoke to me in German,” he said. “She said, ‘You, the soldiers of the Brigade, are the sons of Bar Kokhba’”, the great hero of the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans, in AD. 132-135. “She said, ‘I will always remember your insignia and what you did for us.”’

Gichon was flattered by the Bar Kokhba analogy, but for her praise and gratitude, Gichon felt only pity and shame. If the Jews in the Brigade were the sons of Bar Kokhba, who were these Jews? The soldiers from the Land of Israel, standing erect, tough, and strong, saw the Holocaust survivors as victims who needed help, but also as part of the European Jewry who had allowed themselves to be massacred. They embodied the cowardly, feeble stereotype of the Jews of the Diaspora, the Exile, in traditional Jewish and Zionist parlance, who surrendered rather than fought back, who did not know how to shoot or wield a weapon. It was that image, in its most extreme version, the Jew as a Muselmann, prisoners’ slang for the emaciated, zombie-like inmates hovering near death in the Nazi camps, that the new Jews of the Yishuv rejected.

“My brain could not grasp, not then and not today, how it could have been that there were tens of thousands of Jews in a camp with only a few German guards, but they did not rise up, they simply went like lambs to the slaughter,” Gichon said more than sixty years later. “Why didn’t they tear the Germans to shreds? I’ve always said that no such thing could happen in the Land of Israel. Had those communities had leaders worthy of the name, the entire business would have looked completely different.”

In the years following the war, the Zionists of the Yishuv would prove, both to the world and, more important, to themselves, that Jews would never again go to such slaughter, and that Jewish blood would not come cheaply.

The six million would be avenged.

“We thought we could not rest until we had exacted blood for blood, death for death,” said Hanoch Bartov, a highly regarded Israeli novelist who enlisted in the Brigade a month before his seventeenth birthday.

Such vengeance, though, atrocity for atrocity would violate the rules of war and likely be disastrous for the Zionist cause. Ben-Gurion, practical as always, publicly said as much: “Revenge now is an act of no national value. It cannot restore life to the millions who were murdered.”

Still, the Haganah’s leaders privately understood the need for some sort of retribution, both to satisfy the troops who had been exposed to the atrocities and also to achieve some degree of historical justice and deter future attempts to slaughter Jews. Thus, they sanctioned some types of reprisals against the Nazis and their accomplices. Immediately after the war, a secret unit, authorized and controlled by the Haganah high command and unknown to the British commanders, was set up within the Brigade. It was called Gmul, Hebrew for “Recompense.” The unit’s mission was “revenge, but not a robber’s revenge,” as a secret memo at the time put it. “Revenge against those SS men who themselves took part in the slaughter.”

“We looked for big fish,” Mordechai Gichon said, breaking a vow of silence among the Gmul commanders that he’d kept for more than sixty years. “The senior Nazis who had managed to shed their uniforms and return to their homes.”

The Gmul agents worked undercover even as they performed their regular Brigade duties. Gichon himself assumed two fake identities, one as a German civilian, the other as a British major, as he hunted Nazis. In expeditions under his German cover, Gichon recovered the Gestapo archives in Tarvisio, Villach, and Klagenfurt, to which fleeing Nazis had set fire but only a small part of which actually burned. Operating as the British major, he gleaned more names from Yugoslavian Communists who were still afraid to carry out revenge attacks themselves. A few Jews in American intelligence also were willing to help by handing over information they had on escaped Nazis, which they thought the Palestinian Jews would use to better effect than the American military.

Coercion worked, too. In June 1945, Gmul agents found a Polish-born German couple who lived in Tarvisio. The wife had been involved in transferring stolen Jewish property from Austria and Italy to Germany, and her husband had helped run the regional Gestapo office. The Palestinian Jewish soldiers offered them a stark choice: cooperate or die.

“The guy broke and said he was willing to cooperate,” said Yisrael Karmi, who interrogated the couple and later, after Israel was born, would become the commander of the Israeli Army’s military police. “I assigned him to prepare lists of all the senior officials that he knew and who had worked with the Gestapo and the SS. Name, date of birth, education, and positions.”

The result was a dramatic intelligence breakthrough, a list of dozens of names. Gmul’s men tracked down each missing NAZI, finding some wounded in a local hospital, where they were being treated under stolen ALIASES, and then pressured those men to provide more information. They promised each German he would not be harmed if he cooperated, so most did. Then, when they were no longer useful, Gmul agents shot them and dumped the bodies. There was no sense in leaving them alive to tip the British command to Gmul’s clandestine mission.

Once a particular name had been verified, the second phase began: locating the target and gathering information for the final killing mission.

Gichon, who’d been born in Germany, often was assigned that job. “No one suspected me,” he said. “My vocal cords were of Berlin stock. I’d go to the corner grocery store or pub or even just knock on a door to convey greetings from someone. Most of the time, the people would respond to their real names, or recoil into vague silence, which was as good as a confirmation.” Once the identification was confirmed, Gichon would track the German’s movements and provide a detailed sketch of the house where he lived or the area that had been chosen for the abduction.

The killers themselves worked in teams of no more than five men. When meeting their target, they generally wore British military police uniforms, and they typically told their target they had come to take a man named so-and-so for interrogation. Most of the time, the German came without objection. As one of the unit’s soldiers, Shalom Giladi, related in his testimony to the Haganah Archive, the Nazi was sometimes killed instantly, and other times transported to some remote spot before being killed. “In time we developed quiet, rapid, and efficient methods of taking care of the SS men who fell into our hands,” he said.

“As anyone who has ever gotten into a pickup truck knows, a person hoisting himself up into one braces his foot on the rear running board, leans forward under the canvas canopy, and sort of rolls in. The man lying in wait inside the truck would take advantage of this natural tilt of the body.

The minute the German’s head protruded into the gloom, the ambusher would bend over him and wrap his arms under his chin, around his throat, in a kind of reverse choke hold, and, carrying that into a throttle embrace, the ambusher would fall back flat on the mattress, which absorbed every sound. The backward fall, while gripping the German’s head, would suffocate the German and break his neck instantly.

One day, a female SS officer escaped from an English detention camp next to our base. After the British discovered that the officer had escaped, they sent out photographs of her taken during her imprisonment, front and side view, to all the military police stations. We went through the refugee camp and identified her. When we addressed her in German, she played the fool and said she only knew Hungarian. That wasn’t a problem. A Hungarian kid went up to her and said: “A ship carrying illegal immigrants from Hungary is about to sail for Palestine. Pack up your belongings quietly and come with us.” She had no choice but to take the bait and went with us in the truck. During this operation, I sat with Zaro [Meir Zorea, later an IDF general] in the back while Karmi drove. The order Karmi gave us was: “When I get some distance to a suitable deserted place, I’ll honk the horn. That will be the sign to get rid of her.”

That’s what happened. Her last scream in German was: “Was ist los?” (“What’s going on?”). To make sure she was dead, Karmi shot her and we gave her body and the surroundings the appearance of a violent rape.

In most cases we brought the Nazis to a small line of fortifications in the mountains. There were fortified caves there, abandoned. Most of those facing their executions would lose their Nazi arrogance when they heard that we were Jews. “Have mercy on my wife and children!” We would ask him how many such screams the Nazis had heard in the extermination camps from their Jewish victims.”

The operation lasted only three months, from May to July, during which time Gmul killed somewhere between one hundred and two hundred people. Several historians who’ve researched Gmul’s operations maintain that the methods used to identify targets were insufficient, and that many innocents were killed. On many occasions, those critics argue, Gmul teams were exploited by their sources to carry out personal vendettas; in other cases, operatives simply identified the wrong person.

Gmul was closed down when the British, who’d heard complaints about disappearances from German families, grasped what was going on. They decided not to investigate further, but to transfer the Jewish Brigade to Belgium and the Netherlands, away from the Germans, and Haganah command issued a firm order to cease revenge operations. The Brigade’s new priorities, according to the Haganah, not the British, were to look after Holocaust survivors, to help organize the immigration of refugees to Palestine in the face of British opposition, and to appropriate weapons for the Yishuv.

YET, THOUGH THEY ORDERED Gmul to stop killing Germans in Europe, the Haganah’s leaders did not forsake retribution. The vengeance that had been halted in Europe, they decided, would be carried on in Palestine itself.

Members of the German Tempelgesellschaft (the Templer sect) had been expelled from Palestine by the British at the beginning of the war because of their nationality and Nazi sympathies. Many joined the German war effort and took an active part in the persecution and annihilation of the Jews. When the war ended, some of them returned to their former homes, in Sarona, in the heart of Tel Aviv, and other locations.

The leader of the Templers in Palestine was a man named Gotthilf Wagner, a wealthy industrialist who assisted the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo during the war. A Holocaust survivor by the name of Shalom Friedman, who was posing as a Hungarian priest, related that in 1944 he met Wagner, who “boasted that he was at Auschwitz and Buchenwald twice. When he was in Auschwitz, they brought out a large group of Jews, the youngest ones, and poured flammable liquid over them. ‘I asked them if they knew there was a hell on earth, and when they ignited them I told them that this was the fate awaiting their brethren in Palestine.” After the war, Wagner organized the attempts to allow the Templers to return to Palestine.

Rafi Eitan, the son of Jewish pioneers from Russia, was seventeen at the time. “Here come exultant Germans, who had been members of the Nazi Party, who enlisted to the Wehrmacht and SS, and they want to return to their property when all the Jewish property outside was destroyed,” he said.

Eitan was a member of a seventeen man force from the Haganah’s “special company” sent to liquidate Wagner, under a direct order from the Haganah high command. The Haganah chief of staff, Yitzhak Sadeh, realized that this was not a regular military operation and summoned the two men who had been selected to squeeze the trigger. To encourage them, he told them about a man he had shot with his pistol in Russia as revenge for a pogrom.

On March 22, 1946, after painstaking intelligence gathering, the hit squad lay in wait for Wagner in Tel Aviv. They forced him off the road onto a sandy lot at 123 Levinsky Street and shot him. Haganah’s underground radio station, Kol Yisraei (the Voice of Israel), announced the following day, “The wellknown Nazi Gotthilf Wagner, head of the German community in Palestine, was executed yesterday by the Hebrew underground. Let it be known that no Nazi will place a foot on the soil of the Land of Israel.”

Shortly thereafter, Haganah assassinated two other Templers in the Galilee and two more in Haifa, where the sect had also established communities.

“It had an immediate effect,” Eitan said. “The Templers disappeared from the country, leaving everything behind, and were never seen again.” The Templers’ neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Sarona, would become the headquarters of Israel’s armed forces and intelligence services. And Eitan, an assassin at seventeen, would help found the Mossad’s targeted killing unit.

The killing of the Templers was not merely a continuation of the acts of revenge against the Nazis in Europe, but signified a major change in policy. The lessons that the new Jews of Palestine learned from the Holocaust were that the Jewish people would always be under the threat of destruction, that others could not be relied upon to protect the Jews, and that the only way to do so was to have an independent state.

A people living with this sense of perpetual danger of annihilation is going to take any and all measures, however extreme, to obtain security, and will relate to international laws and norms in a marginal manner, if at all.

From now on, Ben-Gurion and the Haganah would adopt targeted killings, guerrilla warfare, and terrorist attacks as additional tools, above and beyond the propaganda and political measures that had always been used, in the effort to achieve the goal of a state and to preserve it. What had only a few years before been a means used only by the outcast extremists of Lehi and the Irgun was now seen by the mainstream as a viable weapon.

At first, Haganah units began assassinating Arabs who had murdered Jewish civilians. Then the militia’s high command ordered a “special company” to begin “personal terror operations,” a term used at the time for the targeted killings of officers of the British CID who had persecuted the Jewish underground and acted against the Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel. They were ordered to “blow up British intelligence centers that acted against Jewish acquisition of weapons” and “to take retaliatory action in cases where British military courts sentence Haganah members to death.”

Ben-Gurion foresaw that a Jewish state would soon be established in Palestine and that the new nation would immediately be forced to fight a war against Arabs in Palestine and repel invasions by the armies of neighboring Arab states.

The Haganah command thus also began secretly preparing for this all-out war, and as part of the preparations, an order, code named Zarzir (or Starling) was issued, providing for the assassination of the heads of the Arab population of Palestine.

WHILE THE HAGANAH SLOWLY stepped up the use of targeted killings, the radical undergrounds had their killing campaign in full motion, trying to push the British out of Palestine.

Yitzhak Shamir, now in command of Lehi, resolved not only to eliminate key figures of the British Mandate locally, killing CID personnel and making numerous attempts to do the same to the Jerusalem police chief, Michael Joseph McConnell, and the high commissioner, Sir Harold McMichael, but also Englishmen in other countries who posed a threat to his political objective. Walter Edward Guinness, more formally known as Lord Moyne, for example, was the British resident minister of state in Cairo, which was also under British rule. The Jews in Palestine considered Moyne a flagrant anti-Semite who had assiduously used his position to restrict the Yishuv’s power by significantly reducing immigration quotas for Holocaust survivors.

Shamir ordered Moyne killed. He sent two Lehi operatives, Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri, to Cairo, where they waited at the door to Moyne’s house. When Moyne pulled up, his secretary in the car with him, Hakim and Bet-Zuri sprinted to the car. One of them shoved a pistol through the window, aimed it at Moyne’s head, and fired three times. Moyne gripped his throat. “Oh, they’ve shot us!” he cried, and then slumped forward in his seat. Still, it was an amateurish operation. Shamir had counseled his young killers to arrange to escape in a car, but instead they fled on slow-moving bicycles. Egyptian police quickly apprehended them, and Hakim and Bet-Zuri were tried, convicted, and, six months later, hanged.

The assassination had a decisive effect on British officials, though not the one Shamir had envisioned. As Israel would learn repeatedly in future years, it is very hard to predict how history will proceed after someone is shot in the head.

After the unmitigated evil of the Holocaust, the attempted extermination of an entire people in Europe, there was growing sympathy in the West for the Zionist cause.

According to some accounts, up until the first week of November 1944, Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, had been pushing his cabinet to support the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. He rallied several influential figures to back the initiative, including Lord Moyne. It is not a stretch to assume, then, that Churchill might well have arrived at the Yalta summit with Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin with a clear, positive policy regarding the future of a Jewish state, had Lehi not intervened. Instead, after the Cairo killing, Churchill labeled the attackers “a new group of gangsters” and announced that he was reconsidering his position.

And the killing continued. On July 22, 1946, members of Menachem Begin’s Irgun planted 350 KG explosives in the south wing of the King David Hotel, in Jerusalem, where the British Mandate’s administration and army and intelligence offices were housed. A warning call from the Irgun apparently was dismissed as a hoax; the building was not evacuated before a massive explosion ripped through it. Ninety-one people were killed, and forty-five wounded.

This was not the targeted killing of a despised British official or a guerrilla attack on a police station. Instead, it was plainly an act of terror, aimed at a target with numerous civilians inside. Most damningly, many Jews were among the casualties.

The King David Hotel bombing sparked a fierce dispute in the Yishuv. Ben-Gurion immediately denounced the Irgun and called it “an enemy of the Jewish people.”

But the extremists were not deterred.

Three months after the King David attack, on October 31, a Lehi cell, again acting on their own, without Ben-Gurion’s approval or knowledge, bombed the British embassy in Rome. The embassy building was severely damaged, but thanks to the fact that the operation took place at night, only a security guard and two Italian pedestrians were injured.

Almost immediately after that, Lehi mailed letter bombs to every senior British cabinet member in London. On one level, this effort was a spectacular failure, not a single letter exploded, but on another, Lehi had made its point, and its reach, clear. The files of MI5, Britain’s security service, showed that Zionist terrorism was considered the most serious threat to British national security at the time, even more serious than the Soviet Union. Irgun cells in Britain were established, according to one MI5 memo, “to beat the dog in its own kennel.” British intelligence sources warned of a wave of attacks on “selected VIPs,” among them Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and even Prime Minister Clement Attlee himself. At the end of 1947, a report to the British high commissioner tallied the casualties of the previous two years: 176 British Mandate personnel and civilians killed.

“Only these actions, these executions, caused the British to leave,” David Shomron said, decades after he shot Tom Wilkin dead on a Jerusalem street. “If Avraham Stern had not begun the war, the State of Israel would not have come into being.”

Avraham Stern, leader and founder of Lehi

One may argue with these statements. The shrinking British Empire ceded control of the majority of its colonies, including many countries where terror tactics had not been employed, due to economic reasons and increased demands for independence from the native populations. India, for instance, gained its independence right around the same time.

Nevertheless, Shomron and his ilk were firmly convinced that their own bravery and their extreme methods had brought about the departure of the British.

And it was the men who fought that bloody underground war, guerrillas, assassins, terrorists, who would play a central role in the building of the new state of Israel’s armed forces and intelligence community.

Chapter two

A SECRET WORLD IS BORN

ON NOVEMBER 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to divide Palestine, carving out a sovereign Jewish homeland. The partition wouldn’t go into effect until six months later, but Arab attacks began the very next day. Hassan Salameh, the commander of the Palestinian forces in the southern part of the country, and his fighters ambushed two Israeli buses near the town of Petah-Tikva, murdering eight passengers and injuring many others. Civil war between Palestinian Arabs and Jews had begun. The day after the bus attacks, Salameh stood in the central square of the Arab port city of Jaffa. “Palestine will turn into a bloodbath,” he promised his countrymen. He kept that promise: During the next two weeks, 48 Jews were killed and 155 wounded.

Salameh, who led a force of five hundred guerrillas and even directly attacked Tel Aviv, became a hero in the Arab world, lionized in the press. The Egyptian magazine Al-Musawar published an enormous photograph of Salameh briefing his forces in its January 12, 1948, issue, under the banner headline THE HERO HASSAN SALAMEH, COMMANDER OF THE SOUTHERN FRONT.

Ben-Gurion had prepared for such assaults. To his thinking, Palestine’s Arabs were the enemy, and the British, who would continue to rule until the partition took formal effect in May 1948, were their abettors. The Jews could depend only on themselves and their rudimentary defenses. Most of the Haganah troops were poorly trained and poorly equipped, their arms hidden in secret caches to avoid confiscation by the British. They were men and women who had served in the British Army, bolstered by new immigrants who had survived the Holocaust (some of them Red Army veterans), but they were vastly outnumbered by the combined forces of the Arab states. Ben-Gurion was aware of the estimations of the CIA and other intelligence services that the Jews would collapse under Arab attack. Some of his own people weren’t confident of victory. But Ben-Gurion, at least outwardly, displayed confidence in the Haganah’s ability to win.

To bridge the numerical gap, the Haganah’s plan, then, was to use selective force, picking targets for maximum effectiveness. As part of this conception, a month into the civil war, its high command launched Operation Starling, which named twenty-three leaders of the Palestinian Arabs who were to be targeted.

The mission, according to Haganah’s commander in chief, Yaakov Dori, was threefold: “Elimination or capture of the leaders of the Arab political parties; strikes against political centers; strikes against Arab economic and manufacturing centers.”

Hassan Salameh was at the top of the list of targets. Under the leadership of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and spiritual leader of the Palestinian Arabs, Salameh had helped lead the Arab Revolt of 1936, in which Arab guerrillas for three years attacked both British and Jewish targets.

Both al-Husseini and Salameh fled Palestine after they were put on the British Mandate’s most wanted list. In 1942, they joined forces with the SS and the Abwehr, the Nazis’ military intelligence agency, to plot Operation Atlas. It was a grandiose plan in which German and Arab commandos would parachute into Palestine and poison Tel Aviv’s water supply in order to kill as many Jews as possible, rousing the country’s Arabs to fight a holy war against the British occupiers. It failed miserably when the British, having cracked the Nazis’ Enigma code, captured Salameh and four others after they dropped into a desert ravine near Jericho on October 6, 1944.

After World War II, the British released al-Husseini and Salameh. The Jewish Agency’s Political Department, which oversaw much of the Yishuv’s covert activity in Europe, tried to locate the former and kill him several times between 1945 and 1948. The motive was partly revenge for the mufti’s alliance with Hitler, but it was also defensive: Al-Husseini might have been out of the country, but he was still actively involved in organizing attacks on Jewish settlements in northern Palestine and in attempts to assassinate Jewish leaders. Due to a lack of intelligence and trained operational personnel, all those attempts failed.

The hunt for Salameh, the first Haganah operation to integrate human and electronic intelligence, began promisingly. A unit belonging to SHAI, the Haganah’s intelligence branch, and commanded by Isser Harel, tapped into the central telephone trunk line that connected Jaffa with the rest of the country. Harel had a toolshed built on the grounds of the nearby Mikveh Israel agricultural school and filled it with pruning shears and lawn mowers. But hidden in a pit under the floor was a listening device clipped to the copper wires of Jaffa’s phone system. “I’ll never forget the face of the Arabic-speaking SHAI operative who put on a set of headphones and listened to the first conversation,” Harel later wrote in his memoir. “His mouth gaped in astonishment and he waved his hand emotionally to silence the others who were tensely waiting. The lines were bursting with conversations that political leaders and the chiefs of armed contingents were conducting with their colleagues.” One of the speakers was Salameh. In one of the intercepted calls, SHAI learned he would be traveling to Jaffa. Haganah agents planned to ambush him by felling a tree to block the road on which his car would be traveling.

But the ambush failed, and it was not the last failure. Salameh survived multiple assassination attempts before falling in combat in June 1948, his killer unaware of his identity. Almost all of the other Operation Starling targeted killing bids also failed, because of faulty intelligence or flawed performances by the unskilled and inexperienced hit men.

Isser Harel

THE ONLY OPERATIONS THAT did succeed were all carried out by two of the Haganah’s elite units, both of which belonged to the Palmach, the militia’s only well-trained and fairly weII-armed corps. One of these units was the Palyam, the “marine company,” and the other was “the Arab Platoon,” a clandestine commando unit whose members operated disguised as Arabs.

Palyam, the naval company, was ordered to take over the port in Haifa, Palestine’s most important maritime gateway, as soon as the British departed. Its task was to steal as much of the weaponry and equipment the British were beginning to ship out as possible, and to prevent the Arabs from doing likewise.

“We focused on the Arab arms acquirers in Haifa and the north. We searched for them and killed them,” recalled Avraham Dar, one of the Palyam men.

Dar, who was a native English speaker, and two other Palyam men posed as British soldiers wanting to sell stolen gear to the Palestinians for a large amount of cash. A rendezvous was set up for the exchange near an abandoned flour mill on the outskirts of an Arab village. The three Jews, wearing British uniforms, were at the meeting place when the Palestinians arrived. Four others who were hiding nearby waited for the signal and then fell upon the Arabs, killing them with metal pipes. “We feared that gunshots would wake the neighbors, and we decided on a silent operation,” said Dar.

The Arab Platoon was established when the Haganah decided it needed a nucleus of trained fighters who could operate deep inside enemy lines, gathering information and carrying out sabotage and targeted killing missions. The training of its men, most of them immigrants from Arab lands, included commando tactics and explosives, but also intensive study of Islam and Arab customs. They were nicknamed Mistaravim, the name by which Jewish communities went in some Arab countries, where they practiced the Jewish religion, but were similar to the Arabs in all other respects-dress, language, social customs, etc.

Cooperation between the two units produced an attempt on the life of Sheikh Nimr al-Khatib, a head of the Islamic organizations of Palestine, one of the original targets of Operation Starling, because of his considerable influence over the Palestinian street. The Mistaravim could move around without being stopped by either the British or the Arabs. In February 1948, they ambushed al-Khatib when he returned from a trip to Damascus with a carload of ammunition. He was badly wounded, left Palestine, and removed himself from any active political roles.

A few days later, Avraham Dar heard from one of his port worker informants that a group of Arabs in a café had been talking about their plan to detonate a vehicle packed with explosives in a crowded Jewish section of Haifa. The British ambulance that they had acquired for this purpose was being readied in a garage in Nazareth Road, in the Arab part of the city. The Mistaravim prepared a bomb of their own in a truck that they drove into the Arab district, posing as workers engaged in fixing a burst pipe, and parked next to the wall of the garage. “What are you doing here? No parking here! Move the truck!” the men in the garage yelled at them in Arabic.

“Right away, we’re just getting a drink, and we need to take a leak” the Mistaravim replied in Arabic, adding a few juicy curses. They walked away to a waiting car, and minutes later their bomb went off, detonating the one in the ambulance as well, and killing the five Palestinians working on it.

ON MAY 14, 1948, Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the new state of Israel and became its first prime minister and minister of defense. He knew what to expect next.

Years earlier, Ben-Gurion had ordered the formation of a deep network of sources in the Arab countries. Now, three days before the establishment of Israel, Reuven Shiloah, director of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, the agency’s intelligence division, had informed him that “the Arab states have decided finally to launch a simultaneous attack on May 15. They are relying on the lack of heavy armaments and a Hebrew air force.” Shiloah provided many details about the attack plan.

The information was accurate.

At midnight, after the state was declared, seven armies attacked. They far outnumbered and were infinitely better equipped than the Jewish forces, and they achieved significant gains early on, conquering settlements and inflicting casualties.

The secretary general of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, declared, “This will be a war of great destruction and slaughter that will be remembered like the massacres carried out by the Mongols and the Crusaders.”

But the Jews, now officially “Israelis”, rapidly regrouped and even went on the offensive. After a month, a truce was mediated by the United Nations special envoy, Count Folke Bernadotte. Both sides were exhausted and in need of rest and resupply.

When fighting resumed, the tables were turned and, with excellent intelligence and battle management, along with the help of many Holocaust survivors who had only just arrived from Europe, the Israelis drove the Arab forces back and eventually conquered far more territory than had been allocated to the Jewish state in the UN partition plan.

Though Israel had repelled superior armies, Ben-Gurion was not sanguine about the embryonic Israel Defense Forces’ short-term victory. The Arabs might have lost the first battles, but they, both those who lived in Palestine and those in the Arab states surrounding Israel, refused to accept the legitimacy of the new nation. They vowed to destroy Israel and return the refugees to their homes.

Ben-Gurion knew the IDF couldn’t hope to defend Israel’s long, convoluted borders through sheer manpower. From the remnants of the Haganah’s SHAI intelligence operations, he had to begin building a proper espionage system fit for a legitimate state.

On June 7, Ben-Gurion summoned his top aides, headed by Shiloah, to his office in the former Templer colony in Tel Aviv. “Intelligence is one of the military and political tools that we urgently need for this war,” Shiloah wrote in a memo to Ben-Gurion. “It will have to become a permanent tool, including in our peacetime political apparatus.”

Ben-Gurion did not need to be persuaded. After all, a large part of the surprising, against-all-odds establishment of the state, and its defense, was owed to the effective use of accurate intelligence.

That day, he ordered the establishment of three agencies. The first was the Intelligence Department of the IsraeI Defense Forces General Staff, later commonly referred to by its Hebrew acronym, AMAN. Second was the Shin Bet (acronym for the General Security Service), responsible for internal security and created as a sort of hybrid between the American FBI and the British Ml5. (The organization later changed its name to the Israeli Security Agency, but most Israelis still refer to it by its acronym, Shabak, or, more commonly, as in this book, as Shin Bet.) And a third, the Political Department, now belonging to the new Foreign Ministry, instead of the Jewish Agency, would engage in foreign espionage and intelligence collection. Abandoned Templer homes in the Sarona neighborhood, near the Defense Ministry, were assigned to each outfit, putting Ben-Gurion’s office at the center of an ostensibly organized force of security services.

But nothing in those first months and years was so tidy. Remnants of Haganah agencies were absorbed into various security services or spy rings, then shuffled and reabsorbed into another. Add to that the myriad turf battles and clashing egos of what were essentially revolutionaries, and much was chaos in the espionage underground. “They were hard years,” said Isser Harel, one of the founding fathers of Israeli intelligence. “We had to establish a country and defend it. But the structure of the services and the division of labor was determined without any systematic judgment, without discussions with all the relevant people, in an almost dilettantish and conspiratorial way.”

Under normal conditions, administrators would establish clear boundaries and procedures, and field agents would patiently cultivate sources of information over a period of years. But Israel did not have this luxury. Its intelligence operations had to be built on the fly and under siege, while the young country was fighting for its very existence.

THE FIRST CHALLENGE THAT Ben-Gurion’s spies faced was an internal one: There were Jews who blatantly defied his authority, among them the remnants of the right-wing underground movements. An extreme example of this defiance was the Altalena affair, in June 1948. A ship by that name, dispatched from Europe by the Irgun, was due to arrive, carrying immigrants and arms. But the organization refused to hand all the weapons over to the army of the new state, insisting that some of them be given to still intact units of its own. Ben-Gurion, who had been informed of the plans by agents inside Irgun, ordered that the ship be taken over by force. In the ensuing fight, it was sunk, and sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed. Shortly afterward, security forces rounded up two hundred Irgun members all over the country, effectively ending its existence.

Yitzhak Shamir and the Lehi operatives under his command also refused to accept the more moderate Ben-Gurion’s authority. Over the summer, during the truce, UN envoy Bernadotte crafted a tentative peace plan that would have ended the fighting. But the plan was unacceptable to Lehi and Shamir, who accused Bernadotte of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II and of drafting a proposal that would redraw Israeli borders in such a way, including giving most of the Negev and Jerusalem to the Arabs, and putting the Haifa port and Lydda airport under international control, as well as obliging the Jewish state to take back 300,000 Arab refugees, that the country would not survive.

Lehi issued several public warnings, in the form of notices posted in the streets of cities: ADVICE TO THE AGENT BERNADOTTE: CLEAR OUT OF OUR COUNTRY. The underground radio was even more outspoken, declaring, “The Count will end up like the Lord” (a reference to the assassinated Lord Moyne). Bernadotte ignored the warnings, and even ordered UN observers not to carry arms, saying, “The United Nations flag protects us.”

Convinced that the envoy’s plan would be accepted, Shamir ordered his assassination. On September 17, four months after statehood was declared, and the day after Bernadotte submitted his plan to the UN Security Council, he was traveling with his entourage in a convoy of three white DeSoto sedans from UN headquarters to the Rehavia neighborhood of Jewish Jerusalem, when a jeep blocked their way. Three young men wearing peaked caps jumped out. Two of them shot the tires of the UN vehicles, and the third, Yehoshua Cohen, opened the door of the car Bernadotte was traveling in and opened fire with his Schmeisser MP40 submachine gun. The first burst hit the man sitting next to Bernadotte, a French colonel by the name of André Serot, but the next, more accurate, hit the count in the chest. Both men were killed. The whole attack was over in seconds, “like thunder and lightning, the time it takes to fire fifty rounds,” is the way the Israeli liaison officer, Captain Moshe Hillman, who was in the car with the victims, described it. The perpetrators were never caught.

The assassination infuriated and profoundly embarrassed the Jewish leadership. The Security Council condemned it as “a cowardly act which appears to have been committed by a criminal group of terrorists in Jerusalem,” and The New York Times wrote the following day, “No Arab armies could have done so much harm to the Jewish state in so short atime.”

Ben-Gurion saw Lehi’s rogue operation as a serious challenge to his authority, one that could lead to a coup or even a civil war. He reacted immediately, outlawing both the Irgun and Lehi. He ordered Shin Bet chief Isser Harel to round up Lehi members. Topping the wanted list was Yitzhak Shamir. He wasn’t captured, but many others were, and they were locked up under heavy guard. Lehi ceased to exist as an organization.

Ben-Gurion was grateful to Harel for his vigorous action against the underground and made him the number-one intelligence official in the country.

A short, solid, and driven man, Isser Harel was influenced by the Russian Bolshevik revolutionary movement and its use of sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and assassination, but he abhorred communism. Under his direction, the Shin Bet kept constant surveillance and conducted political espionage against Ben-Gurion’s political opponents, the leftwing socialist and Communist parties, and the rightwing Herut party formed by veterans of Irgun and Lehi.

Meanwhile, Ben-Gurion and his foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, were at loggerheads over what policy should be adopted toward the Arabs. Sharett was the most prominent of Israel’s early leaders who believed diplomacy was the best way to achieve regional peace and thus secure the country. Even before independence, he made secret overtures to Jordan’s King Abdullah and Lebanon’s prime minister, Riad al-Solh, who would be instrumental in forming the coalition of invading Arabs, and who already had been largely responsible for the Palestinian militias that exacted heavy losses on the pre-state Yishuv. Despite al-Solh’s virulently anti Jewish rhetoric and anti Israel actions, he secretly met with Eliyahu Sasson, one of Sharett’s deputies, several times in Paris in late 1948 to discuss a peace agreement. “If we want to establish contacts with the Arabs to end the war,” said Sasson when Sharett, enthusiastic about his secret contacts, took him to report to the cabinet, “we have to be in contact with those people who are now in power. With those who have declared war on us and who are having trouble continuing.”

Those diplomatic overtures obviously were not effective, and Ben-Gurion, on December 12, 1948, ordered military intelligence agents to assassinate al-Solh.

“Sharett was vehemently opposed to the idea,” recalled Asher (Arthur) Ben-Natan, a leading figure in the Foreign Ministry’s Political Department, the arm responsible for covert activities abroad. “And when our department was asked to help military intelligence execute the order, through our contacts in Beirut, he countermanded the order, effectively killing it.”

This incident, plus a number of other clashes between Harel and Sharett, made Ben-Gurion’s blood boil. He considered diplomacy a weak substitute for a strong military and robust intelligence, and he viewed Sharett, personally, as a competitor who threatened the prime minister’s control. In December 1949, Ben-Gurion removed the Political Department from the control of the Foreign Ministry and placed it under his direct command. He later gave the agency a new name: the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations. More commonly, though, it was known simply as “the Institute”, the Mossad.

With the establishment of the Mossad, Israeli inteIligence services coalesced into the three pronged community that survives in more or less the same form today: AMAN, the military intelligence arm that supplies information to the IDF; the Shin Bet, responsible for internal intelligence, counterterror, and counterespionage; and the Mossad, which deals with covert activities beyond the country’s borders.

More important, it was a victory for those who saw the future of the Israeli state as more dependent upon a strong army and intelligence community than upon diplomacy. That victory was embodied in real estate: The former Templer homes in Tel Aviv that the Political Department had occupied were handed over to the Mossad. It was also a personal victory for Isser Harel. Already in charge of the Shin Bet, he was installed as the chief of the Mossad as well, making him one of the most powerful, and secretive figures in early Israeli history.

From that point on, Israeli foreign and security policy would be determined by jousting between Tel Aviv, where the military high command, the intelligence headquarters, and the Defense Ministry were located, and where Ben-Gurion spent most of his time, and Jerusalem, where the Foreign Ministry was housed in a cluster of prefabricated huts. Tel Aviv always had the upper hand.

Ben-Gurion kept all of the agencies under his direct control. The Mossad and the Shin Bet were under him in his capacity as prime minister, and military intelligence fell under his purview because he was also minister of defense. It was an enormous concentration of covert, and political, power. Yet from the beginning, it was kept officially hidden from the Israeli public. Ben-Gurion forbade anyone from acknowledging, let alone revealing, that this sprawling web of official institutions even existed. In fact, mentioning the name Shin Bet or Mossad in public was prohibited until the 1960s. Because their existence could not be acknowledged, Ben-Gurion prevented the creation of a legal basis for those same agencies’ operations. No law laid out their goals, roles, missions, powers, or budgets or the relations between them.

In other words, Israeli intelligence from the outset occupied a shadow realm, one adjacent to yet separate from the country’s democratic institutions. The activities of the intelligence community, most of it (Shin Bet and the Mossad) under the direct command of the prime minister, took place without any effective supervision by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, or by any other independent external body.

In this shadow realm, “state security” was used to justify a large number of actions and operations that, in the visible world, would have been subject to criminal prosecution and long prison terms: constant surveillance of citizens because of their ethnic or political affiliations; interrogation methods that included prolonged detention without judicial sanction, and torture; perjury in the courts and concealment of the truth from counsel and judges.

The most notable example was targeted killing. In Israeli law, there is no death penalty, but Ben-Gurion circumvented this by giving himself the authority to order extrajudicial executions.

The justification for maintaining that shadow realm was that anything other than complete secrecy could lead to situations that would threaten the very existence of Israel. Israel had inherited from the British Mandate a legal system that included state of emergency provisions to enforce order and suppress rebellions. Among those provisions was a requirement that all print and broadcast media submit any reports on intelligence and army activities to a military censor, who vetoed much of the material. The state of emergency has not been rescinded as of the time of this writing. But as a sop to the hungry media, Ben-Gurion was shrewd enough to establish an Editors Committee, which was composed of the editors in chief of the print and radio news outlets. From time to time, Ben-Gurion himself, or someone representing him, would appear before the committee to share covert tidbits while explaining why those tidbits could never, under any circumstances, be released to the public. The editors were thrilled because they had gained for themselves entrée to the twilight realm and its mysteries. In gratitude, they imposed on themselves a level of self-censorship that went beyond even that imposed by the actual censor.

IN JULY 1952, AN exhibit of paintings by the Franco German artist Charles Duvall opened at the National Museum in Cairo. Duvall, a tall young man with a cigarette permanently dangling from his lip, had moved to Egypt from Paris two years earlier, announcing that he’d “fallen in love with the land of the Nile.” The Cairo press published a number of fawning pieces about Duvall and his work, strongly influenced, the critics said, by Picasso, and he soon became a fixture in high society. Indeed, the Egyptian minister of culture attended the opening of Duvall’s show and even purchased two of the paintings that he left on loan to the museum, where they would hang for the next twenty-three years.

Five months later, when his show had closed, Duvall said that his mother had fallen ill and he had to rush back to Paris to care for her. After his return to France, he sent a few letters to old friends in Egypt, and then he was never heard from again.

Shlomo Cohen-Abarbanel

Duvall’s real name was Shlomo Cohen-Abarbanel, and he was an Israeli spy. He was the youngest of four sons born to a prominent rabbi in Hamburg in Germany. In the winter of 1933, as the Nazis rose to power and began enforcing race laws, the family fled to France and then Palestine. Fourteen years later, in 1947, Cohen-Abarbanel, whose artistic abilities had been apparent since he was a toddler, returned to Paris to study painting at the age of twenty-seven. A short time later, Haganah intelligence personnel heard about his talents and recruited him to forge passports and papers to be used by European and North African Jews being smuggled into Palestine in violation of British immigration laws. It was the beginning of a long career in espionage. Portraying himself as a bohemian artist, Cohen-Abarbanel operated networks of agents in Egypt and recruited new agents throughout the Arab world. He collected information about Nazi war criminals who had taken refuge in the Middle East, and he reported to his superiors on the initial attempts of German rocket scientists to sell their services to Arab armies. When he returned to Israel in 1952, he pushed his superiors in the young intelligence agency the Mossad to invest more resources into finding and killing Nazis.

A short time after taking command of the Mossad, Isser Harel asked Cohen-Abarbanel to design an official emblem for the agency. The artist shut himself in his room and emerged with a design, which he’d drawn by hand. At its center was a seven-branched menorah, the sacred lamp that stood in the Temple in Jerusalem that the Romans destroyed in AD. 70. The seal also bore a legendverse 6 from chapter 24 of the Book of Proverbs, authored, according to Jewish tradition, by King Solomon himself: “For by subterfuge you will make war.” This was later changed to another line from Proverbs (chapter 11, verse 14), which reads, “Where there is no subterfuge, the nation falls, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Cohen-Abarbanel’s meaning could not have been clearer: using covert stratagems, the Mossad would be the supreme shield of the new Jewish commonwealth, ensuring that never again would Jews be dishonored, that never again would Judea fall.

The Mossad’s charter, written by Harel, was equally broad and ambitious. The organization’s purpose, according to its official orders, was “secret collection of information (strategic, political, operational) outside the country’s borders; carrying out special operations outside Israel’s borders; thwarting the development and acquisition of unconventional weapons by hostile states; prevention of terror attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets outside Israel; development and maintenance of intelligence and political ties with countries that do not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel; bringing to Israel Jews from countries that refused to allow them to leave, and creating frameworks for the defense of the Jews still in those countries.” In other words, it was charged with not only protecting Israel and its citizens but also standing as a sentinel for world Jewry.

ISRAEL’S YOUNG INTELLIGENCE SERVICES had to offer a response to a series of challenges presented by the ring of twenty-one hostile Arab nations that surrounded Israel and threatened to destroy it. There were those in the top echelons of the defense establishment who believed that these challenges would best be met by the use of pinpointed special operations far beyond enemy lines.

To this end, AMAN set up a unit called Intelligence Service 13 (which in Jewish tradition is considered a lucky number). Avraham Dar, now one of its prominent officers, went to Egypt in 1951 to set up a network of agents culled from local Zionist activists. On various pretexts, the recruits traveled to Europe, and then to Israel for training in espionage and sabotage. Outlining the goal of his network, Dar explained that “the central problem that made Egypt so antagonistic to Israel was the way King Farouk ran the government. If we could get rid of that obstacle many problems would be solved. In other words”, and here Dar turned to a Spanish proverb, “no dog, no rabies.”

King Farouk , Queen Farida and his daughters

Getting rid of “the dog” proved to be unnecessary, Farouk soon was overthrown in a coup. And AMAN’s assumption that things would be better when he was gone turned out to be totally groundless. However, the idea that this already established Egyptian network could be employed to change the course of history in the region was simply too tempting for Israel’s leaders to let go. AMAN decided to use these local agents against the Free Officers Movement, which had just recently ousted Farouk, “aiming to undermine Western confidence in the Egyptian regime by causing public insecurity and provoking demonstrations, arrests, and retaliatory actions, with Israel’s role remaining unexposed.” But the whole operation ended in catastrophe.

Despite intensive training, AMAN’s recruits were amateurish and sloppy, and all of their sabotage operations ended in failure. Eventually, eleven operatives were ferreted out by Egyptian authorities. Some were executed after short trials, and one killed himself after suffering gruesome torture. The lucky ones were sentenced to long prison terms and hard labor.

The ensuing turmoil gave rise to a major political dispute that raged in Israel for many years, over whether AMAN had received the approval of the political establishment for these abortive operations.

The main lesson drawn by Israel was that local Jews should never be recruited in hostile “target” countries. Their capture was almost certain to end in death, and send ripples throughout the entire Jewish community. Despite the temptation to use people who were already on the ground and didn’t need to establish a cover story, Israel almost never again did.

However, the underlying conviction that Israel could act boldly and change history through special operations behind enemy lines remained, and was in fact cemented in place as the core principle of Israel’s security doctrine. Indeed, this philosophy, that special ops behind enemy lines should be at least one of the country’s primary methods of national defense, would predominate among Israel’s political and intelligence establishment all the way up to the present day.

And while many of the world’s established nations kept a separation between the intelligence outfits that gathered information and the operations units that utilized that information to conduct clandestine missions, from the very beginning Israel’s special forces were an integral part of its intelligence agencies. In America, for instance, specialoperations units Delta Force and SEAL Team Six are components of the Joint Special Operations Command, not the CIA or military intelligence. In Israel, however, special operations units were under the direct control of the intelligence agencies Mossad and AMAN.

The goal was to continually translate gathered intelligence into operations. While other nations at the time were also gathering intelligence during peacetime, they did so only to be prepared in case war broke out, or to authorize the occasional special-ops attack. Israel, on the other hand, would constantly use its intelligence to develop special-ops attacks behind enemy lines, in the hope of avoiding all-out warfare entirely.

THE FASHIONING OF AN emblem, a charter, and a military philosophy was one thing. Implementation, as Harel was soon to learn, was another thing altogether, especially when it came to aggressive action.

The Mossad’s first major operation ended badly. In November 1954, a captain in the Israeli Navy named Alexander Yisrael, a philandering grifter deeply in debt, slipped out of the country on a bogus passport and tried to sell top-secret documents to the Egyptian embassy in Rome. A Mossad agent working in that embassy tipped off his superiors in Tel Aviv, who immediately began to develop a plan to kidnap Yisraeli and return him to Israel for trial as a traitor.

For Harel, this was a critical test, both for the security of the nation and his career. In those formative years, the heads of all the agencies jockeyed for power and prestige, and one significant failure could prove professionally fatal. He assembled a top-notch team of Mossad and Shin Bet operatives to grab Yisraeli in Europe. He put his second cousin, Rafi Eitan, who as a teenager had assassinated two German Templers, in charge.

Eitan says that “there were some who proposed finding Yisraeli and killing him as quickly as possible. But Harel squelched this immediately. ‘We don’t kill Jews,’ he said, and declared this was to be an abduction operation.” Harel himself said, “It never occurred to me to issue an order to kill one of our own. I wanted him to be brought to Israel and put on trial for treason.”

This is an important point. There is a tradition of mutual responsibility in Judaism, and a deep connection among all Jews, as if they are one big family. These values are seen as having kept the Jewish people alive as a nation throughout the two thousand years of exile, and for a Jew to harm another Jew is considered intolerable. Back in the days of the Palestinian underground, when it was effectively impossible to hold trials, eliminating Jewish traitors was deemed legitimate to a certain extent, but not after the state was established. “We do not kill Jews”, even if they were believed to be a grave danger to national security, became an iron law of the Israeli intelligence community.

The plan unfolded perfectly at first. Eitan and three others pinched Yisraeli after he’d been stopped by another Mossad female asset at a Paris intersection. The captive was taken to a safe house, where a Mossad doctor injected him with a sedative and placed him in a crate typically used to transfer arms, before putting him on a long, multi-stop flight on an Israeli Air Force cargo plane. At every stop, Yisraeli was injected again until, just as the plane touched down in Athens, he suffered a massive seizure and died. Following Harel’s orders, one of Eitan’s men ended up dumping the body from the back of the plane into the sea.

Harel’s people fed the Israeli press false information that Yisraeli, who left behind a pregnant wife, had stolen money and settled somewhere in South America. Harel, who was very embarrassed that an operation of his had ended in the death of a Jew, ordered that all the records on the case be secreted deep in one of the Mossad’s safes. But Harel’s rivals kept a copy of some of the documents, to be used against him someday if so required.

Harel also came to the conclusion that there was an urgent need for the formation of a special unit specifically designed to carry out sabotage and targeted killing missions. He began searching for “trained fighters, tough and loyal, who would not hesitate to squeeze the trigger when necessary.” He found them in the last place he would have been expected to look: the veterans of the Irgun and Lehi, against whom he had once fought a bitter struggle.

Ben-Gurion had forbidden the employment of any former members of the right-wing underground in government departments, and many of them were jobless, frustrated, and hungry for action. The Shin Bet believed that some of them were dangerous and were liable to start underground movements against the regime.

Harel aimed to kill two birds: to set up his specialops unit, and to get the underground fighters into action under his command, outside the borders of the state.


Irgun parade in 1948

David Shomron, Yitzhak Shamir, and those of their comrades in the Irgun and Lehi who were deemed tough and daring enough were invited to Harel’s home in north Tel Aviv and sworn in. This was the establishment of Mifratz, Hebrew for “Gulf” or “Bay,” the Mossad’s first hit team.

Chapter Three

THE BUREAU FOR ARRANGING MEETINGS WITH GOD

ISRAEL’S WAR OF INDEPENDENCE officially ended with armistice agreements in 1949. The unofficial fighting never stopped. Throughout the early 1950s, the country was constantly infiltrated by Arabs from the parts of Palestine that remained in Arab hands after the war, namely, the Gaza Strip, in the south, which was administered by Egypt, and the West Bank, in the east, which Jordan had annexed. The IDF estimated that in 1952, about sixteen thousand infiltrations occurred (eleven thousand from Jordan and the rest from Egypt). Some of those infiltrators were refugees who had fled during the War of Independence, either voluntarily or involuntarily, and were trying to return to their villages and salvage what was left of their property. But many others were militants whose objective was to kill Jews and spread terror. They called themselves fedayeen“those who self-sacrifice.”

The Egyptians, despite having signed an armistice, quickly realized that the fedayeen could fight a proxy war on their behalf. With proper training and supervision, those Palestinian militants could wreak substantial havoc on Israel while giving Egypt the cover of plausible deniabiiity.

A young captain in Egyptian military intelligence, Mustafa Hafez, was put in charge of organizing the fedayeen. Beginning in mid-1953, Hafez (along with Salah Mustafa, the Egyptian military attache in Jordan’s capital, Amman) started recruiting and training guerrilla squads to be dispatched into Israel’s south. For years, those squads, six hundred fedayeen in total, sneaked across the border from Gaza and laid waste to anything they could. They blew up water pipes, set fire to fields, bombed train tracks, mined roads; they murdered farmers in their fields and yeshiva students at study, altogether some one thousand civilians between 1951 and 1955. They spread panic and fear to the point that Israelis refrained from driving at night on main roads in the south.

Mustafa Hafez

The proxy squads were considered a huge success. The Israelis couldn’t hold Egypt or Jordan directly responsible. They would respond instead by recruiting their own proxies, turning Arabs into informers, collecting intelligence on fedayeen targets, and then assassinating them. Those tasks were assigned, for the most part, to an IDF intelligence team known as Unit 504.

Some of the men of Unit 504 had been raised in Arab neighborhoods of Palestine and thus were intimately familiar with the language and customs of the locals. Unit 504 was under the command of Rehavia Vardi. Polish-born, Vardi had served as a senior Haganah intelligence officer prior to the establishment of the state, and he was known for his sharp wit and blunt statements. “Every Arab,” he said, “can be recruited on the basis of one of the three PS, praise, payment or pussy.” Whether through those three Ps or other means, Vardi and his men recruited four hundred to five hundred agents, who passed on invaluable information in the period between 1948 and 1956. Those recruits, in turn, provided Unit 504 with information on a number of senior fedayeen dispatchers. Several were identified, located, and targeted, and in ten to fifteen of those cases, the Israelis persuaded their Arab agents to place a bomb near that target.

That was when they would call Unit 188. That was when they required the services of Natan Rotberg.

“IT WAS ALL VERY, very secret,” Rotberg said. “We were not allowed to mention the names of units; we were not allowed to tell anyone where we were going or where we were serving or, it goes without saying, what we were doing.”

Rotberg, a thick-necked and good-natured kibbutznik with a bushy mustache, was one of a small group, only a few hundred men, who took part in forming the original triumvirate of AMAN, Shin Bet, and the Mossad. In 1951, when Rotberg was assigned to a marine commando unit called Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13), Israeli intelligence set up a secret facility north of Tel Aviv to teach “special demolitions” and manufacture sophisticated bombs. Rotberg, Flotilla 13’s explosives officer, was appointed to run it.

Rotberg had a large vat installed in which he mixed TNT and pentaerythritol tetranitrate and other chemicals into deadly concoctions. But though his mixtures were designed to kill people, he claimed that he did not act with hatred in his heart. “You need to know how to forgive,” he said. “You need to know how to forgive the enemy. However, we have no authority to forgive people like bin Laden. That, only God can do. Our job is to arrange a meeting between them. In my laboratory, I opened a matchmaker’s office, a bureau that arranged such meetings. I orchestrated more than thirty such meetings.”

When Rehavia Vardi and his men had identified a target, they would go to Rotberg for the bomb. “At first we worked with double-bottomed wicker baskets,” Rotberg said. “I would cushion the bottom part of the basket with impermeable paper and pour the concoction in from the vat. Then we’d put on a cover and, above that, fill it up with fruits and vegetables. For the triggering mechanism, we used pencils into which we inserted ampoules filled with acid that ate away at the cover until it reached the detonator, activated it, and set off the charge. The problem with the acid was that weather conditions affected the time it took to eat away the cover, producing nonuniform timing. A bomb in the Gaza Strip would go off at a different time than one in the West Bank, where it is generally colder. We then switched to clocks, which are much more accurate.”

But Rotberg’s bombs were hardly enough to solve the fedayeen problem. According to several sources, explosives killed only seven targets between mid-1951 and mid-1953, while in the process killing six civilians.

The attacks continued unabated, terrorizing Israeli civilians, humiliating the Israel Defense Forces. Vardi and his men, talented as they were at recruiting agents, managed to glean only sparse information about the identities of the fedayeen handlers, and even when the unit did ferret out specific targets, the IDF was unable to find or kill them. “We had our limitations,” says Yigal Simon, a Unit 504 veteran and later on its commander. “We didn’t always have intelligence, we couldn’t send our agents everywhere, and they didn’t appreciate us enough in the IDF. It was important to the high command to show that the IDF, Jewish hands, could execute these actions.”…

*

from

RISE AND KILL FIRST: The Secret History Of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations

by Ronen Bergman

get it at Amazon.com

As Israelis, we call on the world to intervene on behalf of the Palestinians – Ilana Hammerman and David Hare * The Biggest Prison on Earth. The History of the Occupied Territories – Ilan Pappe.

We’re patriotic citizens but are horrified by the escalating tensions in our country: we fear for those who live here.

Israeli courts are in the process of legitimising the destruction of entire villages, and the Knesset is passing new laws that steadily decrease the ability of the courts to have a say at all.

The state of Israel is facing a catastrophic situation, which could, alarmingly soon, lead to extensive bloodshed. It is time for the international community to act decisively. Substantive external pressure, political, economic and cultural offers the only chance of emerging from this impossible situation before it is too late. Not a sweeping BDS-style boycott of the country, but diverse, carefully crafted, acts of pressure.

We represent a group of intellectuals and cultural figures central to Israeli society, several of whom are world renowned in their fields. We are patriotic Israeli citizens who love our country and who contribute tirelessly to Israeli science and culture, and to that of the world at large. We fully intend to stay here and continue to contribute, but we are horrified by the situation and fear deeply for our lives and those of our offspring, and for the lives of the 13 million Jews and Arabs who live here and who have no other homeland.

The decision to direct our plea to the outside world is not taken lightly, and we do so with a heavy heart. The pressure we believe is needed must come from governments and parliaments, of course, but also from civil society, individuals and establishments.

Ever since 1967, not a single Israeli government has put a stop to the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Moreover, in recent years, the official and openly stated ideological policy of the elected Israeli government has it that this land, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river, belongs in its entirety to the Jewish people, wherever they may be.

In the spirit of this ideology, the processes involving oppression, expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians living in the West Bank are broadening and deepening. This includes Jerusalem, too, which was annexed by Israel in 1967, and the borderlines of which extend almost from Bethlehem in the south to Ramallah in the north. Israeli courts are in the process of legitimising the destruction of entire villages, and the Knesset is passing new laws that steadily decrease the ability of the courts to have a say at all. Others legitimise the additional expropriation of private Palestinian land in favour of the settlements built on them. These acts of one-sided expropriation violate those parts of international law that protect civilians of occupied territories, and some are even in violation of Israeli law.

For years the international community has been talking about a solution based on separate Israeli and Palestinian states coexisting in peace and security. But current Israeli policy renders this impossible. During the 51 years of military rule on the West Bank, Israel has taken over large quantities of land, and has placed around 600,000 Israeli citizens there in hundreds of settlements. It supplies them with roads, water and electricity, has built and financed their health, education and cultural institutions, and has given them the same civil and political rights enjoyed by citizens residing within its sovereign territory.

In contrast, Israel is squeezing the living space of Palestinian residents, who enjoy no civil or political rights. With the aid of laws, special regulations and military orders it shuts them out of the areas it has allotted to its citizens and for its military training activities. It delineates and then expropriates their private and public land on the basis of rules it sets down for the sole beneflt of its own citizens. It confines their villages by surrounding them with fences and barriers, destroys houses and refuses to allow them to expand; it imposes collective punishments, detains thousands of men, women and minors, tries them in a military court system and imprisons them in its sovereign territory.

Since all these actions are being carried out in violation of international law, the resulting situation is no longer just an internal Israeli issue. The institutions of the international community have taken many decisions intended to curb these actions, but none has ever been accompanied by enforcement mechanisms.

And so a destructive, violent and explosive reality is becoming the norm in these areas. We, who are located in the midst of this reality, believe the international community must help, since that community alone is responsible for enforcing compliance, with its treaties and with the decisions of its institutions, and since in the current circumstances only it can do so.

Never have these issues been as clear cut and as urgent as they are today: if peace is not established in this part of the world very soon, an area that has become a timebomb of national and religious tensions, there will be no future and no life for us or the Palestinians.

Ilana Hammerman is an Israeli writer and translator.

David Harel is Vice-president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities

*

See also:

The Biggest Prison on Earth. The History of the Occupied Territories

by Ilan Pappe

The ‘Shacham Plan’, ‘The Organization of Military Rule in the Occupied Territories’.

‘Don’t be afraid to shoot’: A former Israeli soldier’s account of Gaza – Matthew Hall * The Biggest Prison on Earth. The History of the Occupied Territories – Ilan Pappe.

“This is basically a prolonged military occupation,”

The killing of more than 100 Palestinians by the Israeli Defence Force during recent protests in the Gaza Strip is the latest example of routine violence and abuse by the military and part of an aggressive strategy to control the occupied territories.

That is the view of a former Israeli sergeant and paratrooper who now serves as the executive director of Breaking the Silence, a not-for-profit organisation founded by former soldiers known for documenting “the reality of everyday life in the occupied territories”.

The bloodshed earlier this month saw demonstrators shot dead by Israel Defence Force (IDF) snipers and, according to Avner Gvaryahu, is emblematic of IDF abuse against Palestinians.

“It makes no sense to bring a sniper rifle to an unarmed protest,” Gvaryahu said from Tel Aviv.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 104 Palestinians, including 12 children, were killed by the Israeli military during the recent demonstrations.

Another 12 Palestinians including two children were killed in what were classified as ”other circumstances”. The OCHA said 12,600 Palestinians were injured during the demonstrations along with one Israeli soldier.

“I am not a pacifist,” Gvaryahu says. “I believe in a right to self-determination for Israel and I believe in Israel’s right to self defence but I don’t think what is happening in Gaza is self defence. I think it is occupation defence.”

“This is basically a prolonged military occupation,” he says.

“Yes, there are borders to defend but the vast majority of the friction and the combat is in the West Bank. The military does semi-police work there but with limitless power. We are controlling people who do not want to be controlled by us.”

Since it was founded in 2004 by soldiers who served in Hebron, Breaking the Silence has received thousands of testimonies from IDF veterans documenting Israeli military interactions with Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In one account, an infantry soldier participating in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza recalled that commanders told them ‘Don’t be afraid to shoot , and “There were no uninvolved civilians.”

A female officer detailed an incident near the Gaza Strip where an “old Palestinian farmer who got too close to the fence by mistake” was killed. “You simply see the tank shell coming and blowing him up,” she recalled. Other female officers recalled how they felt they needed to go beyond what was expected of male soldiers to prove themselves. Being a ”ball-breaker”, capable of “humiliating Arabs” earned them immediate kudos.

A sergeant who served in Ramallah in 2007 said: “Soldiers got out with army clubs and beat people to a pulp. We were told not to use it on people’s heads. I don’t remember where we were told to hit but as soon as a person on the ground is beaten with such a club, it’s difficult to be particular.”

An air force captain recalled: “We see a tsunami in Thailand and we’re all very saddened by what happens to all the civilians the day after. You know, they don’t have a home. But we’re carrying out a f…ing tsunami 70 kilometres from Tel Aviv and we aren’t even aware of it.”

Gvaryahu says that commanding officers tell soldiers who are new to an area “to show there is a new sheriff in town”. ”A soldier is given orders to instil in the Palestinians a sense that they are being chased,” he adds.

Gvaryahu says he underwent his own awakening during a night mission where his unit took over a Palestinian house.

“You pick a house, you kick in the windows, you barge in the house, you wake up the family. You usually handcuff the head of the family and you throw the family in a room and say if they want to use their own house they need permission from you.

”There are good soldiers, bad soldiers, moral soldiers, and immoral soldiers but the problem is not the soldier,” Gvaryahu says. “The problem is what the soldiers are ordered to uphold.”

Breaking the Silence’s research is funded by individual donors and international organisations and governments including Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Norway’s embassy in Tel Aviv, Christian Aid, and the European Union. Unsurprisingly, its published testimonies divide opinion across Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

“Our view is far from being a majority view in Israel but it is also a view that cannot be totally dismissed,” Gvaryahu says.

Efforts to discredit Breaking the Silence have gone beyond the expected media counterpoints and online videos. Rightwing activist group Ad Kan unsuccessfully attempted to infiltrate the group and plant false testimonies. Other groups have taken to social media to counter Gvaryahu’s accounts, including an open letter claiming to be by soldiers of his same army unit.

Veteran accounts published by BTS are vetted and approved by the IDF censor but that didn’t stop Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming the testimonies crossed “a red line”. In 2016 the Israeli government made unsuccessful attempts through the courts to force BTS to reveal the identity of one of its sources.

“I am proud they see a group of young former soldiers working out of a small office with less than 20 workers as a critical voice that they have to respond to,” Gvaryahu says.

In an email an lDF spokesperson said its rules of engagement vary ”in accordance with the circumstances on the ground, the nature of the threat, lessons learnt, and intelligence gathered in contending with the violent riots and attacks from Gaza.”

The spokesperson said Hamas, the de facto governing party in Gaza designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel, Australia and the United States, incited violence and used “riots” as cover for carrying out attacks on Israel.

”When dealing with violent riots, the IDF uses live fire as a last resort, when all other means have not been successful in contending with the threat. The use of live fire… is approved by a commander in the field who assesses the threat in each individual case. Only in the case of an immediate threat, may the soldiers use live fire.”

The IDF did not respond to requests to comment on testimonies published by BTS.

Gvaryahu says killing Palestinians had far reaching consequences for those on both sides of the fence. “Taking someone’s life is a big responsibility. We know from our experience that killing someone is not something that leaves you.

“It is immoral and irresponsible to put snipers with live ammunition in front of unarmed protesters. There have to be other tools as well. If you walk around with a hammer in your hand everything begins to look like a nail.

“I care deeply about Israel,” Gvaryahu says. I love my country. I wake up, go to sleep, eat and drink thinking about how to make this place better.”


See also:

The Biggest Prison on Earth. The History of the Occupied Territories

by Ilan Pappe

The ‘Shacham Plan’, ‘The Organization of Military Rule in the Occupied Territories’.

Al Walaja: the Palestinian village being slowly squeezed off the map – Oliver Holmes * The Biggest Prison on Earth. The History of the Occupied Territories – Ilan Pappe. 

As the 70th anniversary of Nakba approaches when 700,000 Palestinians lost their homes in the wake of the creation of Israel farming families on the West Bank recount their struggle to survive.

In the middle part of the last century the inhabitants of the village of Al Walaja, not far from Jerusalem, considered themselves very lucky.

Fertile hills, terraced for growing vegetables and fruit, led down to a valley where an Ottoman era railway line connected Jerusalem with the Mediterranean port of Jaffa. Close to a station, Al Walaja’s farmers always had buyers for their lentils, peppers, and cucumbers. Mohammed Salim, who estimates he is approaching 80 as he was born “sometime in the 40s”, remembers vast fields owned by A1 Walaja families. “There was nothing else here.”

Today, Salim lives in what has fast become an enclave. In 2018, Al Walaja sits on a tiny cusp of the land it commanded when he was a child. During his lifetime, two wars have displaced all of the village’s residents and swallowed most of its land. More was later confiscated for Jewish settlements. And in the past two decades a towering concrete wall and barbed wire have divided what remains of the community as Israel claims more territory.

Every year on 15 May, Palestinians mark the anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes or fled amid the fighting that accompanied the creation in 1948 of the state of Israel after the end of the British Mandate. For the residents of A1 Walaja, the Nakba was the beginning of a sevendecade struggle to survive.

Salim and his cousin, Umm Mohammed, remember it was dusk when the fighting flared in 1948. A civil war between Jewish forces and Arab militia raged as the British sought to withdraw, with surrounding states joining the fight. Residents had heard rumours of a massacre of hundreds of Arab Villagers in Deir Yassin at the hands of Zionist paramilitaries. Determined not to suffer the same fate, they fled in October when they heard gunfire.

“As a child, the shells looked to me like watermelons flying through the sky,” said Umm Mohammed. Her father, she recalls, held her in one arm and her brother in the other as they headed across the train tracks and up the hill on the other side.

“We built wooden houses there,” said Umm Mohammed, who can see the crumbled homes of the village from her balcony . “We thought we would return after the fighting stopped.”

According to the UNRWA, the United Nations body responsible for Palestinian refugees, about 70% of Al Walaja’s land was lost after Israel and Arab states drew demarcation lines in 1949. Of the original 1,600 people from Al Walaja, most fled to neighbouring countries. About 100, like Umm Mohammed, settled.

After the six day war in 1967, when the young Israeli state captured the West Bank from Jordan, Al Walaj a found itself occupied. Salim remembers a message that filtered through the Village, purportedly from an Israeli commander. “He said, ‘Be aware, and don’t resist?”

Israel later annexed east Jerusalem, expanding the city’s boundary and essentially cutting the Village in two. Israeli laws, including strict building restrictions, were imposed, although a few people in Al Walaja were given residency rights.

At the top of the new village was an Ottoman base, subsequently taken over by the British, Jordanians and eventually the Israeli military. During the 1970s the site was transformed into a Jewish settlement named Har Gilo, considered illegal under international law, which with another settlement blocks Al Walaja on two sides. Israeli flags flutter from the balconies.

Salim says the communities rarely talk. “So far, they are nice people,” he said, looking up at the fortified wall that surrounds the settlement.

In the early 2000s, Israel began construction of a barrier in response to Violence across the country, including suicide bombings. Al Walaja was squeezed again, finding itself further isolated by the concrete wall. The original route of the barrier would have split the existing Village in two, but Israel’s high court granted it a stay. The wall now surrounds A1 Walaja on three sides and isolates about 30% of its remaining land.

“It has become a siege around the Village,” said Khader Al Araj, 47, president of the village council. He scrambled in a metal filing cabinet full of annotated maps. “All our land has been taken.”

Now comprising 2,600 people, Al Walaja still exists but its future is, to say the least, precarious. In the past decade, Israeli police have placed a checkpoint in the valley that most residents cannot pass. Isolated fields remain uncultivated, while the Jerusalem municipality has bulldozed dozens of homes. Many more have pending demolition orders. Once famous for its springs, Al Walaja is losing them, too. A wire fence surrounds the largest one at the bottom of the hill. Farmers’ goats can no longer drink there.

The latest threat is ostensibly benign, an Israeli national park in the valley. The EU says national parks in the occupied territories are used to prevent Palestinians from building. The parks authority says it supports agricultural work but will not allow “illegal construction”. Over the past year, the barrier has been added to, with a four-metre high fence covered in barbed wire. A police checkpoint will be erected further into Al Walaja’s territory, cutting residents off from the rest of their land. Legal challenges have stalled Israeli plans, but ultimately most have gone through.

Yet Al Walaja looks like one of the Holy Land’s most charming villages. Apricot trees and flowers line its winding roads, planted out of pride, residents say, for the small spot of land they still have. A symbol of the destruction of Palestinian life, Al Walaja has attracted funding from foreign states sympathetic to what it represents. Its streets are covered in plaques, thanking various governments for freshly paved walkways and new roads.

Al Araj looks exhausted but believes that selfrespect is part of the battle: “We try very hard to keep the village beautiful.”

*

See also:

The Biggest Prison on Earth. The History of the Occupied Territories

by Ilan Pappe

The ‘Shacham Plan’, ‘The Organization of Military Rule in the Occupied Territories’.

get it at Amazon.com

Israel Digs a Grave for the Two-State Solution – NYT Editorial Board. 

Encouraged by supportive signals from Washington and disarray in Israeli politics, Israeli right-wing politicians are enacting measures that could deal a death blow to the creation of a separate state for Palestinians, the so-called two-state solution that offers what tiny chance there is for a peace settlement. That hope, however remote, should not be allowed to die.

Israeli nationalists have long sought a single Jewish state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has paid lip service to supporting the two-state solution, he has continually undermined it. Palestinians have also acted in ways that thwarted their goal of an independent state.

The United States, Europe and a majority of Israelis have opposed such territorial expansion into the West Bank and supported a negotiated peace.

But President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, in contravention of longstanding American policy, followed by United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s threat to cut off aid to Palestinian refugees, were seen by the right-wingers as an opening to end any pretense of supporting the two-state idea.

These hard-liners, taking advantage of the political damage that corruption investigations have done to Mr. Netanyahu, have staked out positions to the right of his. The prime minister was not even present at a meeting of the Likud leadership that for the first time urged the formal annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The Israeli Parliament, meanwhile, voted to require a two-thirds majority vote for any legislation ceding parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, raising an obstacle to any land-for-peace deal involving Jerusalem. 

This should be the moment for the United States, Israel’s strongest supporter in the world, to step in and say no, that path can lead only to greater strife and isolation for Israel. But it is evident that for Mr. Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is supposed to be leading the president’s Middle East efforts, diplomacy is a one-sided affair.

Furthermore, the threat to cut the substantial American contribution to the United Nations agency that supports more than five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria would foment a humanitarian crisis in refugee camps, threaten continuing Palestinian security cooperation with Israel and prompt more censure around the world.

Mr. Trump still claims he is in favor of peace talks. All he has done so far has been to create greater obstacles and fan the ardor of extremists on both sides. If he was really interested in a Middle East deal, as he claimed in his campaign, this would be a good time to reaffirm America’s longstanding commitment to a two-state solution and tell the Israeli right that it is going too far.

New York Times 


An Israel of Pride and Shame – Roger Cohen. & The Conflict in Jerusalem Is Distinctly Modern. Here’s the History – Sewell Chan. 

An Israel of Pride and Shame – Roger Cohen.  

In 1919, David Ben-Gurion, who 29 years later would become the founding prime minister of Israel, dismissed the possibility of peace.

Speaking at a public discussion, he said: “Everyone sees the difficulty of relations between Jews and Arabs but not everyone sees that there is no solution to that question. There is no solution. There is an abyss and nothing can fill that abyss … We want Palestine to be ours as a nation. The Arabs want it to be theirs, as a nation.”

Almost a century on, Ben-Gurion’s prescience, in this statement, is clear. Today, Jerusalem, contested city, is adorned with banners saying: “God Bless Trump. From Jerusalem DC (David’s Capital) to Washington DC.”

President Trump’s rash recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, its boundaries to be determined, has won him friends in Israel even as it has envenomed the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One thing is safe to say about 2018: It will not bring peace to the Holy Land. Peace is not built on provocations or ultimate-deal fantasy.

Tom Segev, a prominent Israeli historian who has just completed a biography of Ben-Gurion, told me Israel’s founding father was not much interested in Jerusalem when he first went to Ottoman Palestine in 1906. He was not drawn to “David’s capital,” preferring to stay with the Jewish pioneers in Petah Tikva and elsewhere.

“Jerusalem had too many Orthodox Jews, who were anti-Zionist, and too many Arabs,” Segev said. Ben-Gurion was interested in forging a new Jew: the scrawny scholars of the European shtetl poring over sacred texts would become vigorous tillers of the soil. “Tel Aviv was the capital of Zionism; Jerusalem of Judaism,” Segev suggested. 

The Zionist movement accepted United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate Palestine. It accepted a split that excluded Jerusalem from the nascent Jewish state, with the city as a separate entity to be administered by the United Nations.

Arabs, however, rejected Resolution 181, went to war, lost, and under the Armistice Israel took control of West Jerusalem, which became its capital. War erupted again in 1967, Arabs lost again, Israel captured East Jerusalem and declared the whole city reunited as its capital. Settlement of the occupied West Bank began.

This lightning victory in the Six-Day War occurred a half-century ago. Most Israelis were born after it. The pre-1967 lines mean nothing to them. These are the facts.

Then comes emotion.

Such a victory could only be God-given. As Segev put it, “That’s when the euphoria starts, lasting until today. Strong nationalism and strong religion begin to coalesce. It was somewhere inside our collective soul.”

By the mid-1970s, Israel stood at the fulcrum of its shift from brave upstart to colonialist power. The messianic push to settle the West Bank (and so the biblical Land of Israel) would shift religious Zionism from a marginal phenomenon to the heart of Israel’s politics. The nation’s culture began its steady journey from a communal to an individualist culture.

Yitzhak Rabin, the secular general who concluded that only territorial compromise with the Palestinians would bring peace, was killed in 1995, not by a Palestinian but by an Israeli religious zealot. Since then Israel has moved steadily right.

Was this inevitable? Could an ethno-religious Jewish state only find itself in eternal conflict, controlling the lives of Palestinians? Segev thinks it was inevitable. “If I were a Palestinian, I would also fight the Jews,” he said. “That was the price of Zionism.” Hence his book’s title: “A State at All Costs.” Was it worth the price? “I am very much aware how high the price was,” he said.

I don’t think it was entirely inevitable. Had Rabin lived, there would have been a chance for peace. Had the cultivation of victimhood not proved a fatal Palestinian temptation, a chance could have existed. And what of the price paid? Put a gun to my head, or rather my heart, and I will say as a Jew that, yes, Israel was worth the price.

The Jews needed a homeland. History proves that. Assimilation never worked; the Holocaust was no more than a culmination. The United Nations, in 1947, backed such a homeland. And if I, as a Jew, have lived a privileged life in the diaspora, it is in part because of the pride and strength that the new Jew of Israel forged. “Never Again” became more than mere words through Israel’s might.

But the Israel hoped for by Ben-Gurion has lost itself, corrupted by overreach. “The situation is very bad in the occupied territories,” Segev said. “There’s a systematic violation of Palestinians’ human rights. Our government is more and more right wing, racist, anti-Arab. If they were members of a government in Austria, we’d recall our ambassador in protest.”

This is the government cheered on by President Trump and an American ambassador, David Friedman, who sounds like the West Bank settlers envoy.

This is the government leading Israel nowhere. This is my shame.

*

The Conflict in Jerusalem Is Distinctly Modern. Here’s the History – Sewell Chan.

In December 1917, 100 years ago this month, the British general Edmund Allenby seized control of Jerusalem from its Ottoman Turkish defenders. Dismounting his horse, he entered the Old City on foot, through Jaffa Gate, out of respect for its holy status.

In the century since, Jerusalem has been fought over in varying ways, not only by Jews, Christians and Muslims but also by external powers and, of course, modern-day Israelis and Palestinians.

It is perhaps fitting that President Trump appears to have chosen this week to announce that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite concerns from leaders of Arab countries, Turkey and even close allies like France. 

Conflicts over Jerusalem go back thousands of years — including biblical times, the Roman Empire and the Crusades — but the current one is a distinctly 20th-century story, with roots in colonialism, nationalism and anti-Semitism. The New York Times asked several experts to walk readers through pivotal moments of the past century.

1917 – 48: British Mandate

“It was for the British that Jerusalem was so important — they are the ones who established Jerusalem as a capital,” said Prof. Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, a historical geographer at Hebrew University. “Before, it was not anyone’s capital since the times of the First and Second Temples.”

The three decades of British rule that followed Allenby’s march on Jerusalem saw an influx of Jewish settlers drawn by the Zionist vision of a Jewish homeland, while the local Arab population adjusted to the reality of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the city since 1517.

“Paradoxically, Zionism recoiled from Jerusalem, particularly the Old City,” said Amnon Ramon, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. “First because Jerusalem was regarded as a symbol of the diaspora, and second because the holy sites to Christianity and Islam were seen as complications that would not enable the creation of a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Many early Zionists were secular European socialists, motivated more by concerns about nationalism, self-determination and escape from persecution than by religious visions.

“Jerusalem was something of a backwater, a regression to a conservative culture that they were trying to move away from,” according to Michael Dumper, professor in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter in England. “Tel Aviv was the bright new city on a hill, the encapsulation of modernity.”

For Arabs, he said: “There was still something of the shock at not being in the Ottoman Empire. There was a reordering of their society. The local Palestinian aristocracy, the big families of Jerusalem, emerged as leaders of the Palestinian national movement, which was suddenly being confronted by Jewish migration.”

Opposition to that migration fueled several deadly riots by Palestinians, while Jews chafed at British rule and at immigration restrictions imposed in 1939 — restrictions that blocked many Jews fleeing the Holocaust from entering. After the war, in 1947, the United Nations approved a partition plan that provided for two states — one Jewish, one Arab — with Jerusalem governed by a “special international regime” owing to its unique status.

1948 – 67: A Divided City

Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948, the Arab countries attacked the new state. They were defeated. Amid violence by militias and mobs on both sides, huge numbers of Jews and Arabs were displaced.

Jerusalem was divided: The western half became part of the new state of Israel (and its capital, under an Israeli law passed in 1950), while the eastern half, including the Old City, was occupied by Jordan. “For the Palestinians, it was seen as a rallying point,” Professor Dumper said.

Israel and Jordan, he said, were largely focused elsewhere. Israel built up its prosperous coastal areas — including Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon — into a thriving commercial zone, while the Jordanian king, Abdullah I, focused on the development of Amman, Jordan’s capital.

The early Israeli state was hesitant to focus too much on Jerusalem, given pressure from the United Nations and from the European powers, according to Issam Nassau, a historian at Illinois State University. 

Having accepted the idea of international control of Jerusalem, the early Israeli leadership sought alternatives for a capital, perhaps Herzliya or somewhere in the south. They also realized that not having control of Jerusalem’s holy sites might have some advantages, according to Dr. Ramon.

While Israel moved many government functions to Jerusalem during the country’s first two decades, foreign governments largely avoided Jerusalem and opened embassies in Tel Aviv, in recognition of the United Nations resolution.

1967 – 93: Two Wars and an Intifada

No event has shaped the modern contest over Jerusalem as much as the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, in which Israel not only defeated invading Arab armies but also seized control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt; the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan; and the Golan Heights from Syria.

“The turning points in 1967 were two: the great victory, including the fast shift from fears of defeat before the war to euphoria and the feeling that everything was possible, and the emotional impact of occupying the Old City,” said Manchester Klein, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Images of Israeli soldiers praying at the Western Wall, to which they had been denied access during Jordanian rule, became seared into Israel’s national consciousness.

“Jerusalem became the center of a cultlike devotion that had not really existed previously,” said Rashid Khalid I, a professor of modern Arab studies at Colombia University. “This has now been fetishized to an extraordinary degree as hard-line religious nationalism has come to predominate in Israeli politics, with the Western Wall as its focus.”

The victory of the right-leaning party Likud in 1977, under the leadership of Menachem Begin, helped solidify this new emphasis on Jerusalem as integral to Israel’s identity. Religious settlers became more prominent in political life in Israel, beginning a long ascendance that has never really halted. Old-line socialists with roots in Russia and Eastern Europe gave way to a more diverse — and also more religious — population of Israelis with origins in the Middle East, North Africa and other regions.

As part of this shift, Jerusalem’s symbolic importance intensified. Its role in Jewish history was emphasized in military parades and curriculums, and students from across Israel were taken there on school visits. This process culminated in 1980, when lawmakers passed a bill declaring that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” — although Israel stopped short of annexing East Jerusalem, a move that would most likely have drawn international outrage.

1993 – present: Oslo and Beyond

The 1993 Oslo accords provided for the creation of a Palestinian Authority to govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while deferring a resolution on core issues: borders, refugees and Jerusalem’s status. In the nearly quarter-century since, the prospects for a lasting peace deal have seemed ever more elusive.

A visit by the right-wing politician Ariel Sharon in 2000 to the sacred complex known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — which contains Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock — set off violent clashes and led to a second Palestinian uprising that claimed the lives of about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis over five years.

Palestinians say that Jewish settlers have encroached on East Jerusalem, and that Israel has compounded the problem by revoking residency permits. Even so, the ethnic composition of Jerusalem’s population has remained about 30 percent to 40 percent Arab.

“The entire international community has been in accord that Israeli annexation and settlement of East Jerusalem since 1967 is illegal, and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Professor Khalidi said. “If Trump changes this position, given the importance of Jerusalem to Arabs and Muslims, it is hard to see how a sustainable Palestinian-Israeli agreement or lasting Arab-Israeli normalization is possible.”

Professor Ben-Arieh says the conflict over the city is likely to endure. “The Arab-Jewish conflict escalated into a nationalistic conflict, with Jerusalem at its center,” he said. “Jerusalem was a city holy to three religions, but the moment that, in the land of Israel, two nations grew — the Jewish people and the local Arab people — both embraced Jerusalem. More than Jerusalem needed them, they needed Jerusalem.”

New York Times 

New York Times 

In Jerusalem we have the latest chapter in a century of colonialism – Karma Nabulsi. 

One hundred years ago, on 11 December 1917, the British army occupied Jerusalem. As General Allenby’s troops marched through Bab al-Khalil, launching a century of settler colonialism across Palestine, prime minister David Lloyd George heralded the city’s capture as “a Christmas present for the British people”.

In a few months’ time, we mark another such anniversary: 70 years since the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, the catastrophic destruction of the Palestinian polity; the violent dispossession of most of its people with their forced conversion into disenfranchised refugees; the colonial occupation, annexation and control of their land; and the imposition of martial law over those who managed to remain.

The current US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel bookends a century of such events: from the Balfour declaration in November 1917 to the partition plan of 1947; from the Nakba of 1948 to the Naksa of 1967, with its annexation of Jerusalem, the occupation of the rest of Palestine, further mass expulsions of Palestinians including from East and West Jerusalem, and the invaders’ razing of entire ancient neighbourhoods in the city.

Donald Trump’s declaration could easily be read as one more outrage in his growing collection of chaotic and destructive policies, this one perhaps designed to distract from his more prosaic, personal problems with the law. It is viewed as the act of a volatile superpower haplessly endorsing illegal military conquest and consolidating the “acquisition of territory by force” (a practice prohibited and rejected by the UN and the basic tenets of international law). And it is seen alongside a long list of domestic and international blunders.

However, this analysis obscures what happens each day in occupied Palestine, and hides what will surely happen next – unless governments, parliaments, institutions, unions and, most of all, citizens take measures to actively resist it.

Leaders across the world appear incapable of naming what is taking place in Palestine, so their received wisdom on the cause and nature of the conflict, along with the “consensus solutions” they offer, prove futile. This century of events instead should be understood as a continuum, forming part of an active process that hasn’t yet stopped or achieved its ends. Palestinians understand it: we feel it in a thousand ways every day. How does this structure appear to those who endure it day in, day out?

Patrick Wolfe, the late scholar, traced the history of settler colonial projects across continents, showing us that events in Palestine over the last 100 years are an intensification of (rather than a departure from) settler colonialism. He also established its two-sided nature, defining the phenomenon – from the Incas and Mayans to the native peoples of Africa, America, and the Middle East – as holding negative and positive dimensions. Negatively, settler colonialism strives for the dissolution of native societies; positively, it erects a new colonial society on the expropriated land: “Colonisers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event.”

After the British marched into Jerusalem in 1917 and declared martial law, they turned Palestine into an Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (OETA). Declaring martial law over the city, Allenby promised: “Every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected.” But what did he say of its people? Allenby divided the country into four districts: Jerusalem, Jaffa, Majdal and Beersheba, each under a military governor, and the accelerated process of settler colonialism began.

At the time of the military takeover, Palestine was 90% Christian and Muslim, with 7-10% Palestinian Arab Jews and recent European settlers. By the time the British army left Palestine on 14 May 1948, the expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people was already under way. During their 30 years’ rule, the British army and police engineered a radical change to the population through the mass introduction of European settlers, against the express wishes of the indigenous population. They also suppressed Palestine’s Great Revolt of 1936-39, destroying any possibility of resistance to what lay ahead.

Once any individual episode is understood as part of a continuing structure of settler colonialism, the hitherto invisible daily evictions of Palestinians from their homes assume their devastating significance.

Invisible too has been the force driving the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land. Without a framing of settler colonialism, the notion of the founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzegovina, of “spiriting away” the native Arabs “gradually and circumspectly”, makes little sense. In Jerusalem this is how gradual ethnic cleansing is being practised today.

The new US policy on Jerusalem is not about occupation and annexation; the supremacy of one religion over another so “balance” must be restored; the two-state solution or the failures of the Oslo agreement; or the location of an embassy, or division of Jerusalem.

Nor is it even about the soap opera-level conspiracy the Palestinian people have been abandoned to: where the son-in-law of the US president, who has actively funded the rightwing settlement movement in Israel, has been granted absolute power to fabricate a “peace process” with a crown prince who has just locked up his relatives.

In this dystopic vision, the village of Abu Dis outside Jerusalem is proposed as the capital of a future fragmented Palestinian “state” – one never created, given that (along with all US-led peace processes), its eventual appearance is entirely dependent on Israel’s permission. This is named, in “peace process” language, as any solution to be agreed “by the parties themselves”, via “a negotiated settlement by the two sides”.

With colonialism always comes anti-colonial resistance. Against the active project to disappear the indigenous people, take their land, dispossess and disperse them so they cannot reunite to resist, the goals of the Palestinian people are those of all colonised peoples throughout history. Very simply, they are to unify for the struggle to liberate their land and return to it, and to restore their inalienable human rights taken by force – principles enshrined in centuries of international treaties, charters, and resolutions, and in natural justice.

The US has been blocking Palestinian attempts to achieve this national unity for years, vetoing Palestinian parties in taking their legitimate role in sharing representation. Palestinians’ democratic right to determine their path ahead would allow our young generation – scattered far and wide, from refugee camps to the prisons inside Palestine – to take up their place in the national struggle for freedom. The US assists the coloniser and ties our hands.

Former European colonial powers, including Britain, now claim they are aware of their colonial legacy, and condemn centuries of enslavement and the savage exploitation of Africa and Asia. So European leaders should first name the relentless process they installed in our country, and stand with us so that we can unite to defeat it.

*

Karma Nabulsi is fellow in politics at St Edmund Hall, and teaches at Oxford University

The Guardian 

GAZA, Preparing for Dawn – Donald Macintyre. 

Prologue: Shakespeare in Gaza 

Leyla Abdul Rahim had come to the line in Act IV of King Lear where the blinded Gloucester laments, ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to th’gods. They kill us for their sport.’

Or, rather, the paraphrase offered in the textbook English for Palestine: ‘We are like flies and the gods are like cruel little boys. They torment us and kill us for fun.’ 

The teacher described children pulling the wings off a fly. ‘So the gods torment us for fun, to laugh, to play, okay?’ she said, quickly adding: ‘This is not related to our religion. It is away from our Islam. Allah doesn’t torment us, of course.’

It was tempting to point out from the back of the class that God isn’t supposed to do that in other monotheistic religions either. But that would have been an abuse of Mrs Abdul Rahim’s generous invitation to sit in on her Grade 12 English class at Bashir al-Rayyes High School for Girls in Gaza City. And the thirty students –preparing for the tawjihi, the high school matriculation, for which King Lear was a set text –were enjoying themselves. 

Hands shot up and there were repeated cries of ‘Miss, Miss’ whenever Mrs Abdul Rahim tested her seventeen-year-old charges, all but one in the standard uniform of pale blue smock, jeans and white headscarf. 

‘Goneril is now in love with Edmund. He’s evil. He’s like her exactly. Do you think Goneril respects her husband?’ (Chorus of ‘no’.) 

When Mrs Abdul Rahim ended the lesson, the girls burst spontaneously into applause. After the class, Khulud al-Masharawi said in English that she liked the play because ‘Lear began to feel sorry for people other than himself. He thought about people who had no home, or are on their own.’

It took a moment to remember that this classroom tour de force had taken place in an isolated, overcrowded 140-square-mile strip of territory corralled by concrete walls and electronically monitored fences, ruled by an armed and proscribed Islamic faction, and succinctly described in recent memory by Condoleezza Rice as a ‘terrorist wasteland’. Gaza, as often, was failing to conform to its stereotype. 

I had been brought to the Lear class by another English teacher, Jehan al-Okka. It was fair-minded of her, because she harboured doubts about the suitability for Gaza schoolgirls of Shakespeare’s tragedies, a sentiment clearly not shared by her colleague. For Jehan, Lear was at least an improvement on Romeo and Juliet. She had been among a group of Gaza teachers who staged a successful mini-uprising against a decision to include Romeo and Juliet in that year’s English curriculum for the tawjihi. (Despite the schism between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority since Hamas’s seizure of control in June 2007, the PA continued to supervise the syllabus from its Ramallah base for Gaza as well as the West Bank.) 

Jehan was convinced that Romeo and Juliet was the wrong play at the wrong time. ‘It encourages suicide and disobeying parents,’ she said. Jehan was also concerned that some of her pupils, upon learning that they were to study the play, had downloaded the film version; more, she thought, for the ‘immoral scenes’ rather than any educational purpose. She was relaxed about university students studying the play but felt it was unsuitable for impressionable teenagers. 

As it happened, Romeo and Juliet had been part of the high school syllabus from the years when Gaza had been under Egyptian control and then after the Six Day War and Israeli conquest in 1967. But Jehan, who wasn’t in Hamas, saw a ‘contradiction’between Islamic culture and ‘the things that Shakespeare is trying to convey in his tragedies’. She spoke of the conditions in Gaza: the ten-year Israeli blockade crippling Gaza’s economy which, she believed, had led to a rise in crime. ‘I’m not saying King Lear is encouraging it, but we are trying to reduce violence in our country. And for people who have psychological problems this makes it looks glamorous.’

When she was teaching Lear she said she was careful to warn her pupils: ‘this is not in our culture. None of you will do this.’ Despite her doubts, Jehan took pride in the conscientiousness with which she taught the play. And she was popular. Abir, one seventeen-year-old in the science stream class Jehan took for English, gently defied her teacher by saying she wouldn’t mind studying Romeo and Juliet instead of Lear. 

When we discussed the right age to get married, none of the girls wanted to do so before their twenties, despite the tradition of early marriage prevalent in some sections of Gaza society. But the independent-minded Abir suggested the highest age of all: twenty-eight. 

Jehan explained that some two-thirds of science stream pupils wanted to be doctors – ‘It’s a dream,’ she said. But Abir wanted to be an engineer. Were there many women engineers in Gaza? ‘Yes, many,’ the teacher said crisply, ‘without jobs. Unemployed. 

’Back in the principal’s office we returned to the subject of the English set text. ‘Why give the students something that is full of misery?’ she asked. ‘The students, when someone dies – they are all like, “why is he doing this, the writer?” Everyone dies by the end and the lovely Cordelia dies. Some of the students cried when I said Cordelia died. 

When I studied at university I was old enough to understand the value. For children, when they read something they take the image – killing, suicide, treason. And life in Gaza is bad enough not to increase that misery.’ 

This was the most challenging of Jehan’s points. She was right, for example, that suicide among young Gazans seemed to be on the rise. Are there societies so under pressure that they cannot safely absorb Shakespearean tragedy? Whatever Jehan’s concerns, the prevailing Gaza answer to that question appeared to be no. 

At Gaza City’s al-Mis’hal Cultural Centre, a staged version of Romeo and Juliet ran to appreciative audiences for eight nights in early May 2016. The prominent Gaza writer Atef Abu Saif and the director Ali Abu Yassin had set the play in modern Gaza with the star-crossed lovers Yousef and Suha belonging to each of the main rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, instead of to the Montagues and Capulets. 

It opened in a café where a clean-shaven Fatah doctor and a bearded Hamas businessman fall into an argument until they are thrown out by the owner. The café owner represented the Gazan everyman, enraged by the split between the two factions that has deformed Palestinian politics since 2007. 

But the ending differed from Shakespeare’s. Warned by the café owner that Suha’s family will never accept Yousef as an in-law, the young man, with the cries of Suha imploring him to stay ringing in his ears, leaves for Egypt through the tunnels to catch a boat for Europe, just like the dozens of Gazans believed to have drowned on a fatal voyage to Malta in September 2014. 

Nor did the denouement resolve the split between the two factions, as it had in the original. After years of futile meetings aimed at Fatah–Hamas reconciliation, such a finale would probably be too implausible for an audience of Palestinians now deeply cynical about the prospects of such a desirable outcome. 

Nor was this the only Gaza commemoration of Shakespeare’s death in the summer of 2016: students at the Nusseirat refugee camp in the middle of the Strip mounted their own video performance of Lear. It was advertised outside the Centre by a handsome poster of James Barry’s eighteenth-century painting, King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cordelia. True, Cordelia’s (very modest) décolletage had been Photoshopped to leave an orange blur in its place. But this was the only concession to the socially conservative sensibilities of Gaza’s Hamas rulers. 

The show was an imaginatively produced series of drawn and photographic tableaux with a voiceover by the high school pupils in faultless English and some entertaining visual effects. Lear’s palace was Blenheim, while Regan’s home was Buckingham Palace, complete with ceremonial troop of Grenadier Guards representing her visiting father’s unwelcome entourage. There were no Arabic subtitles. But as it was condensed into thirty-one minutes with every plot development intact, none of the parents who had loyally turned out for the evening seemed to mind. 

First, there were speeches. Dr Kamal Ghunaim, an Islamic University professor and chairman of the Centre’s trustees, was convinced that Shakespeare had read the Qur’an and suggested that Othello had ‘contextualised’ the work of the ninth-century Arab poet Deek al-Jinn al-Homsi, who talked about killing his wife after being told to do so by his cousin. 

Dr Ghunaim explained that the Lear project ‘aims to help bridge the gaps between Palestinians and other nations’. Yet before we sat down for the evening, I had asked the Directorate’s Head of English whether the British Council had been involved in the event. No, he said sadly. The Ministry’s contact with the Council had stopped in 2006, when Hamas was elected. The international political and economic boycott of Hamas was a cultural boycott, too.

Jehan al-Okka, the Bashir al-Rayyes High School Shakespeare sceptic, was thrilled in 2016 to be awarded a place on a US government-backed international six-week Excellence and Achievement Programme for teachers at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, coupled with a visit to Washington, DC. Among the programme’s aims was the building of ‘lasting relationships that promote mutual understanding and collaboration between the United States and international teachers and students through educational and cultural exchanges’. 

Except that in an experience wearily familiar to Palestinians in Gaza, Mrs al-Okka was refused by both Israel and Jordan the permits necessary for her to be able to leave. Maybe she wouldn’t have been converted to Romeo and Juliet as a high school text. But you couldn’t help thinking of the lively insights this spirited and engaging woman would have brought to discussions about teaching English in the Arab world. 

Amid the convulsions of the Middle East, from Syria to Libya, from Iraq to Yemen –and that of Gaza itself over the last fifteen years – a crushing mid-career disappointment inflicted on a high school teacher unable to improve her skills abroad seems trivial. But it was part of a larger story: Palestinian, Israeli and international, a story of how and why a population of two million at the south-east corner of the Mediterranean became so beleaguered and isolated from the outside world. 

*

Part One

From Ottomans to Oslo, 1917–1995

Reached by a sandy track through tall cypresses, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery is the most tranquil spot in the whole of the Gaza Strip. These days its vast lawn and carefully tended beds of geranium and rosemary are a refuge for picnicking families and those who simply want to meditate quietly in the shade of the cemetery’s oleander and jacaranda trees. 

But the neat rows of 3,217 graves are also a reminder of Britain’s pivotal role in shaping modern Gaza. After terrible losses in the French trenches of the First World War, the new Prime Minister David Lloyd George wanted a quick, high-profile victory over the Germans’ Ottoman allies, the imperial power in the Middle East for five centuries. What better conquest than Jerusalem? 

Following in the footsteps of great leaders of the past – Thutmose III, the great Egyptian warrior Pharaoh in the fifteenth century bce; Saladin, the general who led the Arabs against the crusaders; and Napoleon – the only route into Palestine was through Gaza. 

Sir Archibald Murray established a major camp at Deir el Balah (‘Dear old Bella’to the British Tommies) but twice failed to take the city in the spring and summer of 1917. Under Sir Edmund Allenby, who replaced Murray, the imperial forces broke through the Ottoman lines between Gaza and Beersheba despite fierce resistance; Allenby’s troops marched into Gaza City unopposed in November 1917. Within a month, Allenby was in Jerusalem, realising Lloyd George’s dream of capturing it by Christmas. 

Gravestone after gravestone –more than 700 of them inscribed with the anonymous ‘A soldier of the Great War: Known unto God’– commemorate the men of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force killed during the three assaults. Eighty-year-old Ibrahim Jaradeh, the gardener awarded the MBE for looking after the cemetery with his family over more than half a century, said the British had always been good to him although, ‘of course, my job here made me hate war. These soldiers lost their lives when they were young.’ 

For a man who hated war Jaradeh had seen a lot of it: as well as caring for the graves of thousands who had fallen in the 1917 military campaign for Palestine, he himself had lived through an even more epic turning point for his nation thirty years later. 

Five days before Allenby’s troops had entered Gaza City, the British government had taken a momentous step, setting in train a process that would eventually culminate in that second war. 

In a letter to Lord Rothschild, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour wrote: ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’ 

While the Balfour declaration was a response to the long-standing Zionist urgings for a national home in Palestine after centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution in Europe and Russia, it was largely dictated by what the British government determined were its strategic interests. It held out the prospect of persuading Jewish leaders abroad to stiffen the resolve of the US, whose hesitant entry into the war was disappointing British expectations. 

At the same time, the secret Sykes–Picot negotiations with France to carve up the Middle East between the two powers after the war had been unable to reach agreement on Palestine, deciding it should be run by some form of postwar international administration. Thanks to Allenby’s decisive victory, the British were now anxious to retain control. 

As the historian Eugene Rogan put it: ‘On the face of it, Lord Balfour was offering Palestine to the Zionist movement. In fact Lloyd George’s government was using the Zionist movement to secure Palestine for British rule.’ 

In doing so, however, it cut directly across the promises of independence from foreign rule with which Britain had enticed the Arab leadership to rise up against the Ottomans in the First World War – aspirations which would be further encouraged by US President Woodrow Wilson’s dramatic pledge at the 1919 Paris conference of ‘an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development’ in the region. 

It was hardly surprising that the increase in Jewish immigration between the two world wars would meet with stiff resistance, expressed in the Arab riots of 1929 and a full-scale revolt in 1936. 

Britain, now exercising power in Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, would prove unequal to the task of reconciling the two conflicting aims of providing a ‘national home’ for the Jews while preserving the rights of its ‘non-Jewish’–overwhelmingly Arab –‘communities’, who were in the clear majority. Palestine would gradually become enmeshed in a triangle of rising and lethal violence between the Arabs, the Jewish underground and British forces. 

As David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first Prime Minister, had clear-sightedly remarked after the 1929 riots: ‘Politically speaking it is a national movement  .  .  . The Arab must not and cannot be a Zionist. He could never wish the Jews to become a majority. This is the true antagonism between us and the Arabs. We both want to be the majority.’ 

By the end of the Second World War the monstrous events which had unfolded in Europe – Hitler’s murder of some six million Jews in the Holocaust –immeasurably strengthened the case for a Jewish home in Palestine. Unable to find the basis of a peace agreement, Britain handed the problem to the UN, which in 1947 proposed a Palestine of two states: a Jewish one covering fifty-six per cent of the land and an Arab one on forty-four per cent. 

Most nations, including the US – after intial hesitation – and the Soviet Union, supported the partition proposal. But Arab leaders, both in Palestine and outside it, flatly rejected it. They saw partition of Palestine as requiring them, after having lived peacefully in earlier centuries with a local Jewish minority, and despite the promises of independence made by the Western powers during and after the First World War, not only to accept on their land, but also on a large part of it become subject to, a state controlled by immigrants from Europe – albeit including those fleeing persecution and now survivors of Hitler’s genocide. 

In 1947 the Arabs were still a two-thirds majority in Palestine. Cities like Haifa and Jaffa, designated as part of the Jewish state by the UN partition resolution, had large Arab majorities; the Arabs owned ninety-four per cent of Palestinian land and eighty per cent of its arable farmland. 

In fact a minority of Palestinians did support partition. A heavily autobiographical novel, Would They Ever Learn? by Mustafa Abdel Shafi, a Palestinian surgeon from an old Gaza family, gives a rare glimpse of Gaza in the 1940s and early ’50s. 

The life and loves of his hero, a conscientious and ambitious doctor named Basil, are set against the turbulent political background of the period. Coming from a family untainted by anti-Jewish prejudice –his father had been horrified by the Arab massacre of Jews in Hebron and elsewhere in 1929 – Basil (like the author and his more famous brother Haidar, in real life) is among those who had very reluctantly taken the (almost taboo) view that they should accept the partition resolution. 

‘The plan is painful and unfair  .  .  . but we cannot resist it, ’Basil says at a family discussion. ‘Let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, that we had the military power. Would the powers that be sit hand-bound and watch us frustrate what they had schemed for so diligently?  .  .  . They would invoke shameful incidents, of which we are completely innocent, to justify their action. They would remind the whole world of the atrocities of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau to justify their determination to create a national home for the Jews in Palestine. We should follow the common saying “If you cannot beat them join them.” Let’s brace up, build our own state and let the future take care of itself.’ 

In view of subsequent events, this was far sighted, seen from the vantage point of a twenty-first century in which Palestinians are struggling for a state on twenty-two per cent of the land, half of what they were offered in 1947. 

But if rejection of the partition plan was as great an error as it is often described in hindsight – an ‘Arab mistake as a whole’ as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, twelve at the time of the UN resolution, put it in 2015 – then the UK’s Labour government had done little to discourage it. Britain was drained militarily and economically by the Second World War, and armed insurrection – terrorism, as the British classified it – by Jewish groups had hardened public opinion at home against staying in Palestine. 

Britain abstained in the General Assembly vote. And having already decided to wind up its Mandate in May 1948, it did not seek to enforce the UN resolution. 

On the day the Mandate ended David Ben-Gurion declared Israel an independent state. The first major foreign leader to recognise the fledgling country was US President Harry Truman (the second was Stalin). Truman had ignored the advice of his own State Department, which had been seeking a postponement of Ben-Gurion’s declaration in the hope of averting war between the Jews and their Arab neighbours. 

With a domestic election campaign only six months away, Truman had an eye on Jewish support – which could hardly be other than enthusiastic about the new state of Israel after the horrors of the Holocaust. As when the Americans had voted with the majority at the UN Assembly the previous November, Truman’s recognition of the new nation –especially when contrasted with the slowness of Britain – would indelibly reinforce the Israeli view that the US was its most important supporter. Though occasionally complicated by serious disputes, the US–Israel relationship would deepen significantly over the next half-century. 

By now Gaza had become, like the rest of Palestine, engulfed in what became, for Israel, the War of Independence; and for Palestinians the nakba, or catastrophe. The military ‘Plan D’evolved by the Hagana, the paramilitary Jewish defence organisation which became the Israel Defense Forces after Israel’s birth, was to secure territory allocated to the Jewish state in the UN partition plan, ‘as well as settlements outside those areas and corridors leading to them so as to provide a solid and continuous basis for Jewish sovereignty’. 

A few years later, ‘Basil’, who, despite his reluctant backing of partition, remains a nationalist to his core, tells a Jewish audience in the American town where he is by then working that ‘they planned to occupy as much Arab territory as they could, trying to evacuate it of its rightful inhabitants’. Basil goes on to cite ‘the notorious massacre of Deir Yassin where scores of innocent unarmed men, women and children were killed in cold blood’. This, he says, was ‘aimed at terrorising other Arab villagers, to make them leave their homes  .  .  .’ 

Whether or not it was the ‘aim’, the April 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin, a village outside Jerusalem (which was in turn followed by the retaliatory killing of seventy-three Jews in a convoy travelling to the Hadassah Hospital-Hebrew University complex in Jerusalem) did indeed give a ‘powerful push to the flight of Arabs from their homes elsewhere. 

In fact there were two wars, or a war of two phases. The first civil or ‘ethnic’war between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine lasted from the UN partition resolution in November 1947 until Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the state in May 1948. The second, from May 1948, was between the newly founded Israel and the armies of neighbouring Arab states that arrived to support the Palestinians: Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, the last of which, for obvious geographical reasons, formed a southern front that included Gaza and its surrounding countryside. 

According to Uri Avnery, who fought as a commando on the Jewish side in the 1947–8 war and later became a pioneering left-wing peace activist, it was in the second phase that ‘a deliberate policy of expelling the Arabs [living in Palestinian towns and villages] became an [Israeli] war aim on its own’. As Avnery also pointed out, no Jews remained in the land the Arabs conquered – like the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. But that hardly compared with over 700,000 Arabs driven by the Jewish advances from their homes into permanent exile, internal or external, or with hundreds of Palestinian villages which (unlike the handful of Jewish neighbourhoods conquered by the Arabs but recovered twenty years later after the Six Day War) were subsequently destroyed. 

Refugees poured into Gaza not just from the surrounding villages but from major towns like Jaffa, Ashdod, Majdal (now Ashkelon, where Mustafa Abdel Shafi had been a GP) and Beersheba as they fell to the Israeli forces. The Gaza cemetery gardener Ibrahim Jaradeh’s family fled Beersheba, which was repeatedly hit by strafing and bombing by the Israeli air force on the nights of 19 and 20 October 1948. 

Israeli ground troops moved into the town on 21 October, in a conquest ‘accompanied by the execution of a handful of Egyptian POWs and wholesale looting by individuals and military units’. 

Aged eleven at the time, Jaradeh remembered the journey by camel to Hebron where they were eventually given temporary housing through the winter of 1948. ‘So it wasn’t only the immigration, God also made it harder with the cold and snow, we used to sleep next to each other, holding the [younger] kids to make them feel warm with the very light blankets.’ 

Then the family, plus two camels, and, said Jaradeh, a monkey, made for Gaza. His younger brother travelled in one of the camel’s saddle bags. Sixty-nine years later he told his British visitor that Ethel Mannin’s The Road to Beersheba was an authentic account of how ‘Israel stole our land’, but then added quietly: ‘God willing things will be for the better, we ask God for peace for the Jews and for the Arabs.’ 

Many refugees, including Jaradeh’s family (and indeed Gamal Abdel Nasser, who served as an Egyptian officer in the Gaza district during the war), blamed Egyptian failures for the loss of territory. Attia Hijazi was twenty-two and living in Deir Sneid, only half a kilometre from the Gaza district kibbutz of Yad Mordechai.

His father was the village mukhtar (local leader). ‘We had good relations with them [the Jews] before the war. They were Palestinian Jews and immigrants. My father regularly visited the Jews’ mukhtar. We were connected by the common interest of agriculture.’ When the war started, the residents were determined to prevent the village from being captured. But, said Hijazi, ‘when the Egyptian army came during the war they told our fighters they could take a rest, saying, “We’ll do it.”

’The Egyptians occupied Yad Mordechai after a five-day battle in May during which the local kibbutzniks, aided by a Hagana unit, had held out under heavy Egyptian bombardment, allowing Israeli forces time to halt the Egyptian army’s northern push. Hijazi said that when the Egyptians started to fall back to Deir Sneid, ‘the Jews attacked them, and we understood that the Egyptian army was covering its withdrawal, not fighting. 

By October, they left us all with no protection whatever and the Jews bombarded the place. My brother was injured. When we saw the Egyptian flag coming down at Yad Mordechai [in November], we left for Beit Lahiya [in Gaza].’ 

By the winter 13,500 refugees were sheltered in a former British Army camp at Bureij, south of Gaza City. ‘They had staked out little cubicles for themselves using rags or flattened gasoline tins. Everyone was very dirty and cold. In one cubicle we saw a group of ten people ranging in age from infancy to about seventy looking at an old woman on the floor who had just died.’ 

By then Basil/Abdel Shafi had become the only doctor at a clinic servicing refugees in Khan Yunis and agitating against the ‘unacceptable’ insanitary conditions in the camp, where, according to an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimate, children were dying at the rate of around ten a day. 

The war ended with an armistice signed by Israel and Egypt in February 1949, followed by similar agreements with Syria and Jordan in the succeeding months. These divided what had been Palestine into three separate parts: first the new state of Israel, of course; second, a landlocked 5,640-square-kilometre territory under Jordanian control which contained East Jerusalem (including the Old City) and a sector that became known as (and still is) the West Bank (of the Jordan river); and, finally, the ‘Gaza Strip’, which came under Egyptian control and was cut off from the Jordanian-run East Jerusalem and the West Bank by what was now southern Israel. 

Israel had been offered fifty-six per cent of Palestine under the UN partition plan. It now held seventy-eight per cent; the rest was made up of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 

The armistice brought little relief for the now 200,000 refugees in Gaza, numerically overwhelming the existing population. (There were up to 750,000 Palestinian refugees in all from what was now Israel: 280,000 in the West Bank, and most of the rest in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.) A new body, the UN Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA), had taken over from Quakers and others who had been caring for them voluntarily. 

A year later Sir Ronald Storrs, who had been Britain’s first military governor, launched a series of appeals for clothing to be donated to UNRWA for refugees who had ‘fled their homes of more than 1,000 years’, quoting a UN official at one camp describing ‘children by the hundred, most of them half naked – shoeless, shivering.’ 

Uri Avnery always believed the moment that determined the subsequent history of the conflict was not so much the expulsion and flight of the refugees itself; rather, that ‘the real decision was taken after the war: not to allow the 750,000 Arab refugees to return to their homes’. 

The decision was ruthlessly enforced. Mustafa Abdel Shafi’s autobiographical novel describes his own indelible memory of carrying out post-mortems of impoverished refugees shot dead by Israeli forces on the new armistice line as they tried to get back to the villages where ‘they had earned their living by hard work’, if only to retrieve a few belongings: ‘There was a dead man, riddled with bullets and his intestines were exposed, for the first time Basil saw maggots in action; it was a ghastly scene  .  .  . On the way back he wondered when the massacre of these innocent, ignorant and unarmed people was going to stop.’ 

The plight of many of Gaza’s non-refugees was hardly better. The Gaza Strip was now under Egyptian control, but the armistice lines made it far narrower than the old Gaza district under the British Mandate; forty-one kilometres long and a mere twelve at its widest point. As a result peasant farmers whose land lay beyond the armistice line, and therefore in Israel, simply lost their livelihoods. Nor were they afforded even the rudimentary provision for refugees; their woefully undernourished children were sent begging, and some of the poorest were reduced to selling the doors and windows of their houses and even timber from the roofs. 

D. C. Stephen, the district officer of UNRWA, which became and still is to this day responsible for the education and welfare of the refugees, pointed out that the native Gazans had previously ‘made a fair livelihood according to standards generally accepted in the Middle East’. ‘They are of a proud race and it is as degrading for them as it would be for us to be in their present position  .  .  . The setting of the present boundary by the “Powers that Be” means that the people of Gaza have completely lost their only means of existence.’ 

Over the following eighteen years, Gaza –now under Egypt’s control – played a pivotal part in the hostilities between Israel and its Arab neighbours, which culminated in all-out war in 1967. 

The 1955 Gaza Raid, authorised by then Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion after Palestinian infiltrators killed an Israeli cyclist, and led by twenty-seven-year-old paratroop officer Ariel Sharon, killed thirty-seven Egyptian soldiers at a cost of eight IDF lives. It almost certainly put paid to a secret dialogue between Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Israel’s dovish Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, which might have dented the unremitting hostility of Arab countries towards the eight-year-old Israeli state. 

Instead, after the raid Nasser, who had hitherto restrained Palestinian fedayeen –nationalist volunteer militants mostly from refugee families – allowed them to carry out commando raids across the Gaza border. Ben-Gurion, who soon became Prime Minister again, in turn adopted a much more confrontational policy towards Egypt. 

The secret partnership between the United Kingdom, France and Israel to confront Nasser after he decided to nationalise the Suez Canal in July 1956 ended in disaster for the first two governments, causing head-on confrontation with US President Eisenhower and leaving the Canal in the hands of Nasser, whose prestige in the region greatly increased in the wake of the Anglo–French fiasco. But, at least in the short term, it was a military triumph for Israel, which overran both Gaza and the Sinai Desert in Egypt. 

Although Ben-Gurion too was forced to bow to US pressure, in his case to withdraw from both Gaza and the Sinai, and he did not succeed in overthrowing Nasser as he wanted, nevertheless the Israeli military destroyed the main fedayeen bases in Gaza during its four-month occupation of the Strip. And he secured a US guarantee that Egypt would allow free passage for ships bringing Iranian oil for Israel through the Straits of Tiran. 

In the following decade, which passed without military conflict between Egypt and Israel, Nasser moved to bring Palestinian nationalism under the wing of the Arab states, and Egypt in particular. He took the lead in the Arab League’s formation in 1964 of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) with its military arm, the Palestinian Liberation Army; their stated aims were the ‘restoration of the Palestinian homeland’–including the return of the 1948 refugees to their original homes in what was now Israel. In practice the PLA came under the strict control of its Egyptian, Iraqi and Syria sponsor governments.  

Nasser was also seeking to curb the activities of the more militant and independent Fatah. On 22 May 1967 Nasser decided to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. This was a dangerously provocative step, though it is unlikely Nasser intended it to lead to war. The Six Day War, which did indeed break out a fortnight later, on 4 June, was arguably the only Arab–Israeli war that ‘neither side wanted’.  

Nasser was under mounting Arab pressure to show solidarity with Egypt’s ally Syria, whose border with Israel was the focus of an escalating series of incidents culminating in an aerial battle in which six Syrian MIGs were shot down in April. The historian Avi Shlaim has persuasively depicted Nasser as having embarked ‘on an exercise in brinkmanship that was to carry him over the brink’, while also rejecting a widespread Arab view that Israel deliberately provoked the war to expand its territory.  

The huge expansion that did indeed follow Israel’s stunning military victory against the forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, was a consequence rather than a specific war aim. This did not make it any less traumatic for the Palestinians in the conquered territory. Israel now occupied all the land that since the 1949 armistice had been controlled by Jordan (the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including its holy sites) and by Egypt (Gaza). 

By 1967, the tents and makeshift huts in the still crowded and impoverished refugee camps set up in 1948 had largely been replaced by UNRWA with more solid housing. But the somewhat better conditions added to the bleak sense of permanent displacement among refugees, now reinforced by the catastrophic defeat of the Arab states. For the refugees it meant being controlled by the very forces who had driven them from their homes –sometimes on land that, painfully, they could still see from inside the Strip –nineteen years earlier. 

Mohammed Kardash, who was thirty-three and living in Jabalya at the time, remembered with disgust forty years later the bombastic claims of Ahmed Said, the Egyptians’ propagandist-in-chief, who declared Israeli warplanes were ‘falling like flies’, when in fact Egypt’s air force was destroyed on the first day of the June war. ‘We huddled round the radio all the time to listen to him. I believed what he was saying and so did everyone else. He said, “I congratulate the fish of the Mediterranean because they will eat the flesh of Jews.” ’Still furious at the deception, Kardash added: ‘There is a stain of shame in the way he was talking.’

After the war, Kardash, who had originally been brought to Gaza in a Turkish boat by his parents fleeing from his native Jaffa in 1948, would now be a refugee again, this time in Jordan, part of a limited and ill-starred scheme by then Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to evacuate (with some money) refugees from Gaza after the 1967 war. (In fact, Kardash had hidden two rifles for his brother who had been in the Palestine Liberation Army. After what he said was a beating, ‘the [Israeli] army gave me a choice,’ he says, ‘to go to prison or to leave Gaza’. He never revealed the whereabouts of the rifles.)  

It was after the Six Day War that Fatah, the secular resistance organisation founded by Yasser Arafat ten years earlier, began its ascendancy in the Palestinian liberation movement. In 1969 it joined and immediately dominated the PLO. 

Arafat, whose chequered keffiyeh and battledress would become the global symbol of Palestinian struggle, had been born in Cairo to Palestinian parents. He had studied in the Egyptian capital, fought in the 1948 war and founded Fatah in the early fifties in Kuwait with a group including two Gaza-based refugees, both to become prominent PLO leaders. 

The militancy repressed by the occupation of 1956 resumed in Gaza after the Six Day War. Within a few months of the war ending, the military occupying authorities began to allow Palestinians out through Erez, the Strip’s northern crossing, to work in Israel. This would begin what was to be for three decades a major source of income for tens of thousands of Gaza’s families, albeit one entirely dependent on Israeli goodwill and the demand for cheap labour. 

As a boy growing up in the poor and overcrowded Shaboura district of the Rafah refugee camp, Fathi Sabbah, who would later become an activist and later still a leading journalist, remembered armed militants throwing grenades at Israeli buses transporting the workers, as well as ambushing soldiers in the camps’ narrow alleys and attacking military bases. ‘There was a saying that the Palestinian militants were ruling Gaza at night and the Israeli army in the daytime,’ he recalled.  

In 1971 Ariel Sharon – by now in charge of the IDF’s Southern Command – moved large forces into the refugee camps in a remorseless operation to crush the nascent resistance. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in Gaza in 1971–2 and thousands more detained and sometimes deported. His troops conducted house-to-house searches under curfew, bulldozed thousands of houses to create buffer zones and widen the roads to allow armoured vehicles easier movement through the camps. 

In Shaboura, Sabbah recalled, ‘the only street that was paved with asphalt was for security reasons, not for helping people. It wasn’t easy for their vehicles to withdraw. So they destroyed hundreds of houses and they deported people from Shaboura to the Canada and Brazil camps. ’Those two camps – named after the UN national contingents that briefly patrolled the border immediately after the 1956 Sinai campaign – were located on either side of what became the closed border, which cut Rafah in two and left thousands of Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side.

Now in 1971 – after the mass exodus of 1948 and further displacements in 1967 –refugees were on the move again. Sharon’s draconian tactics were successful. 

Elsewhere in the region, the following decade was turbulent: the ‘Black September’ conflict between the PLO and Jordan, the massacre of athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Anwar Sadat’s decision to address the Knesset in Jerusalem in 1977, the Israel–Egypt peace agreement in 1979 and Sadat’s subsequent assassination in 1981. 

But Gaza was relatively calm. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s ‘invisible’ occupation policy of trying to ensure ‘that areas of friction between the two [Israeli and Palestinian] peoples are minimal’ was intended to dilute Palestinian nationalism; but it had financial benefits. 

The opening of the borders to daily migrant workers was one; another was allowing farmers and manufacturers to trade with Israeli companies, though with restrictions to ensure their exports did not adversely compete with Israeli business (while no such restrictions applied to imports from Israel to Gaza). Exports abroad – beyond Israel and the West Bank –were invariably handled by Israeli agents. But when a generation later exports of goods and labour were barred and unemployment shot up above forty per cent, and above sixty per cent for youth, older Palestinian civilians often looked back on the 1970s as –paradoxically –something of a silver age. 

Munir Dweik started work in Israel at the age of fifteen. He had grown up in a desperately poor family of refugees in the Jabalya camp. His parents had been peasant farmers from Batani al-Gharbi, east of Ashdod, one of the villages targeted – and in most cases mortared – by incoming Israeli troops in May 1948 during the IDF’s Operation Lightning, under which the Givati Brigade was ordered to deny ‘the enemy a base for their future operations  .  .  . by creating general panic’.  

In a circuitous flight typical of the times, the Dweik family fled to Gaza through neighbouring villages, moving on as each also fell. With his father unable to find regular work, his steadfast and resourceful mother decided that tourmos – lupin beans, a regional staple and universally popular in Gaza – could provide a living for the family. 

Half a century later, now a fifty-two-year-old taxi driver, Dweik recalled every detail of the process. First his mother bought a sack of lupin beans and boiled them in a large saucepan; then she decanted the beans into half a dozen separate earthenware pots filled with sugary water to counter their natural bitterness. She changed the water three times a day, over several days, until they tasted good enough to eat. At 8 a.m., Dweik and his father would carry them in sacks 2.5 kilometres from the refugee camp to Beit Lahiya to sell, shouting ‘tourmos, tourmos’ when they arrived; if they could find a wedding, they might sell out by noon; if not they stayed into the afternoon. 

Dweik remembered the journeys back to Jabalya in summer on the scorching sand. His father had plastic shoes but he had none; sometimes to cool his feet he would sit on the ground and put his legs in the air. ‘It was boiling. Sometimes I was making a pee, and then put my feet in the pee to cool them, after that I was running, running to find some shade and wait for my father.’ 

A school friend suggested Dweik join him working as a chicken plucker and cleaner for a shopkeeper in Tel Aviv during the summer holidays. The boys took the bus through Erez early in the morning from Monday to Thursday, earning about 150 shekels a week. When he was sixteen, Dweik decided to work in Israel full-time; his mother resisted strongly because she wanted him to stay at school and complete his education, despite the parlous state of the family finances. ‘This is your future, you should continue studying and learning – maybe you could become a teacher or a doctor,’ his mother told him. 

Remembering his mother’s warmth and selflessness, Dweik put his hands over his face to cover his tears. From 1981 until restrictions were imposed on Palestinian workers in Israel during the 1990–91 Gulf War, Dweik worked full-time in Israel. As he improved his skills and became fluent in Hebrew, he worked for several Jewish employers, each of whom successively poached him with higher pay, till he was earning around 450 shekels a week. Dweik remembered nearly all his employers with affection. 

By now the right-wing Likud government elected in 1977 and led by Menachem Begin had begun to expand Jewish settlements in occupied territory. Like Palestinian refugee camps, settlements are the object of a frequent popular misconception. The camps now consist not of tents but residential buildings, even if usually ramshackle and heavily overcrowded, set along dusty narrow alleys. 

Similarly, settlements are not normally the remote, hastily assembled barbed wire-protected hilltop clusters of caravans the word conjures in the foreign imagination. Such outposts – many illegal even in Israeli law – have always existed, and usually as an embryonic settlement or the expansion of an existing one. But most settlements proper, essentially colonies in occupied territory, would in time become well-planned communities, often close to Palestinian villages or towns, and typically comprised red-roofed villas, often with shops, synagogues and leisure centres, making ample use of local water and land for agriculture and domestic purposes. 

The rural ones were and still are normally protected from the Palestinians (to whom they were such a daily affront) by their own armed security details, and by IDF troops stationed in the vicinity. Not only did the Palestinians see their land, including pastures and olive groves, swallowed up by the settlements and their surrounding military security zones, but they themselves, unlike the settlers, who enjoyed normal civil rights as Israeli citizens, were subject to the Israeli military justice system. 

The biggest settlements, those bordering the 1949–67 ‘green line’, like, say, Maale Adumim, close to Jerusalem, or Ariel, a great residential finger stretching through the West Bank from east to west, became essentially dormitory cities, many of whose breadwinners would work in Israel itself. 

The settlement building in Gaza and the West Bank had started, albeit falteringly, after the Six Day War under a Labour government, despite the written opinion of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s own legal adviser, submitted in secret to ministers, that it contravened international law, especially the Fourth Geneva convention, for a country to transfer civilians to occupied territory. 

That might be less significant had the lawyer not been Theodor Meron, who rose to become one of the world’s most eminent international jurists and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. A Holocaust survivor, Meron has never recanted, and in 2007 confirmed that this was still his opinion.  

Yet despite that legal view, widely shared by most Western governments, settlements steadily multiplied during the seventies in the West Bank and Gaza – where the most rapid growth would take place in the eighties. And that in turn convinced many Palestinians that Israel felt no real international pressure to end the occupation. For this and other reasons, the relative calm in Gaza in the early 1970s could not last indefinitely. 

The Palestinian sense of abandonment increased with the 1979 Egypt–Israel Treaty; Sadat effectively subordinated the Palestinian cause to Egypt’s own interests and Begin had little intention of implementing even the severely limited provisions for Palestinian autonomy contained in the treaty terms. 

At the same time, the factions were beginning to stir again. Fathi Sabbah recalled that when he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a smaller leftist faction within the PLO, in 1981 as a nineteen-year-old, he was part of a consciousness-raising group. ‘Our main duty was to read about what happened in the nakba . . . then we make a presentation to the group about it.’ The group then passed on what they had learned to high school students and others.

 The PFLP was rooted in the left and, unlike the Communist Party, had not rejected armed struggle. Its members studied Marx, Engels, Maxim Gorky, Che Guevara. They idolised Ghassan Kanafani, a PFLP official and among the greatest of Palestinian twentieth-century writers, assassinated by Israel in 1972 at the age of thirty-six. 

The PFLP also ran social programmes, including food donations, house repairs and street cleaning.

*

GAZA, Preparing for Dawn

by Donald Macintyre 

get it at Amazon.com

Palestine Will Be Free! 100 years on: The Balfour Declaration explained.

This week, Palestinians around the world are marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration was issued on November 2, 1917.
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The declaration turned the Zionist aim of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine into a reality when Britain publicly pledged to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” there.
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The pledge is generally viewed as one of the main catalysts of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 – and the conflict that ensued with the Zionist state of Israel.
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It is regarded as one of the most controversial and contested documents in the modern history of the Arab world and has puzzled historians for decades.
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What is the Balfour Declaration?
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The Balfour Declaration (“Balfour’s promise” in Arabic) was a public pledge by Britain in 1917 declaring its aim to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
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The statement came in the form of a letter from Britain’s then-foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a figurehead of the British Jewish community.
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It was made during World War I(1914-1918) and was included in the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
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The so-called mandate system, set up by the Allied powers, was a thinly veiled form of colonialism and occupation.
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The system transferred rule from the territories that were previously controlled by the powers defeated in the war – Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria – to the victors.
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The declared aim of the mandate system was to allow the winners of the war to administer the newly emerging states until they could become independent.
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The case of Palestine, however, was unique. Unlike the rest of the post-war mandates, the main goal of the British Mandate there was to create the conditions for the establishment of a Jewish “national home” – where Jews constituted less than 10 percent of the population at the time.
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Upon the start of the mandate, the British began to facilitate the immigration of European Jews to Palestine. Between 1922 and 1935, the Jewish population rose from nine percent to nearly 27 percent of the total population.
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Though the Balfour Declaration included the caveat that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, the British mandate was set up in a way to equip Jews with the tools to establish self-rule, at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.
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Why was it controversial?
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The document was controversial for several reasons.
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Firstly, it was, in the words of the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said, “made by a European power … about a non-European territory … in a flat disregard of both the presence and wishes of the native majority resident in that territory”.
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In essence, the Balfour Declaration promised Jews a land where the natives made up more than 90 percent of the population.
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Secondly, the declaration was one of three conflicting wartime promises made by the British.
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When it was released, Britain had already promised the Arabs independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1915 Hussein-McMahon correspondence.
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The British also promised the French, in a separate treaty known as 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, that the majority of Palestine would be under international administration, while the rest of the region would be split between the two colonial powers after the war.
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The declaration, however, meant that Palestine would come under British occupation and that the Palestinian Arabs who lived there would not gain independence.
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Finally, the declaration introduced a notion that was reportedly unprecedented in international law – that of a “national home”.
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The use of the vague term “national home” for the Jewish people, as opposed to “state”, left the meaning open to interpretation.
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Earlier drafts of the document used the phrase “the reconstitution of Palestine as a Jewish State”, but that was later changed.
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In a meeting with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in 1922, however, Arthur Balfour and then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George reportedly said the Balfour Declaration “always meant an eventual Jewish state”.
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Why was it issued?
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The question of why the Balfour Declaration was issued has been a subject of debate for decades, with historians using different sources to suggest various explanations.
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While some argue that many in the British government at the time were Zionists themselves, others say the declaration was issued out of an anti-Semitic reasoning, that giving Palestine to the Jews would be a solution to the “Jewish problem”.
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In mainstream academia, however, there are a set of reasons over which there is a general consensus:
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  • Control over Palestine was a strategic imperial interest to keep Egypt and the Suez Canal within Britain’s sphere of influence
  • Britain had to side with the Zionists to rally support among Jews in the United States and Russia, hoping they could encourage their governments to stay in the war until victory
  • Intense Zionist lobbying and strong connections between the Zionist community in Britain and the British government; some of the officials in the government were Zionists themselves
  • Jews were being persecuted in Europe and the British government was sympathetic to their suffering
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How was it received by Palestinians and Arabs?
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In 1919, then-US President Woodrow Wilson appointed a commission to look into public opinion on the mandatory system in Syria and Palestine.
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The investigation was known as the King-Crane commission. It found that the majority of Palestinians expressed a strong opposition to Zionism, leading the conductors of the commission to advise a modification of the mandate’s goal.
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The late Awni Abd al-Hadi, a Palestinian political figure and nationalist, condemned the Balfour Declaration in his memoirs, saying it was made by an English foreigner who had no claim to Palestine, to a foreign Jew who had no right to it.
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In 1920, the Third Palestinian Congress in Haifa decried the British government’s plans to support the Zionist project and rejected the declaration as a violation of international law and of the rights of the indigenous population.
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However, the other important source for insight into Palestinian opinion on the declaration – the press – was closed down by the Ottomans at the start of the war in 1914 and only began to reappear in 1919, but under British military censorship.
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In November 1919, when the al-Istiqlal al-Arabi (Arab independence) newspaper, based in Damascus, was reopened, one article said in response to a public speech by Herbert Samuel, a Jewish cabinet minister, in London on the second anniversary of the Balfour Declaration: “Our country is Arab, Palestine is Arab, and Palestine must remain Arab.”
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Even prior to the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, pan-Arab newspapers warned against the motives of the Zionist movement and its potential outcomes in displacing Palestinians from their land.
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Khalil Sakakini, a Jerusalemite writer and teacher, described Palestine in the immediate aftermath of the war as follows: “A nation which has long been in the depths of sleep only awakes if it is rudely shaken by events, and only arises little by little … This was the situation of Palestine, which for many centuries has been in the deepest sleep, until it was shaken by the great war, shocked by the Zionist movement, and violated by the illegal policy [of the British], and it awoke, little by little.”
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Increased Jewish immigration under the mandate created tensions and violence between the Palestinian Arabs and the European Jews. One of the first popular responses to British actions was the Nebi Musa revolt in 1920 that led to the killing of four Palestinian Arabs and five immigrant Jews.
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Who else was behind it?
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While Britain is generally held responsible for the Balfour Declaration, it is important to note that the statement would not have been made without prior approval from the other Allied powers during World War I.
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In a War Cabinet meeting in September 1917, British ministers decided that “the views of President Wilson should be obtained before any declaration was made”. Indeed, according to the cabinet’s minutes on October 4, the ministers recalled Arthur Balfour confirming that Wilson was “extremely favourable to the movement”.
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France was also involved and announced its support prior to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration.
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A May 1917 letter from Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, to Nahum Sokolow, a Polish Zionist, expressed the sympathetic views of the French government towards “Jewish colonisation in Palestine”.
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“It would be a deed of justice and of reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago,” stated the letter, which was seen as a precursor to the Balfour Declaration.
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What impact did it have on Palestinians?
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The Balfour Declaration is widely seen as the precursor to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba when Zionist armed groups, who were trained by the British, forcibly expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.
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Despite some opposition within the War Cabinet predicting that such an outcome was probable, the British government still chose to issue the declaration.
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While it is difficult to imply that the developments in Palestine today can be traced back to the Balfour Declaration, there is no doubt that the British Mandate created the conditions for the Jewish minority to gain superiority in Palestine and build a state for themselves at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.
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When the British decided to terminate their mandate in 1947 and transfer the question of Palestine to the United Nations, the Jews already had an army that was formed out of the armed paramilitary groups trained and created to fight side by side with the British in World War II.
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More importantly, the British allowed the Jews to establish self-governing institutions, such as the Jewish Agency, to prepare themselves for a state when it came to it, while the Palestinians were forbidden from doing so – paving the way for the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

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Al Jazeera

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The Biggest Prison on Earth. The History of the Occupied Territories – Ilan Pappe. 

The ‘Shacham Plan’, ‘The Organization of Military Rule in the Occupied Territories’.

The strategy was presented by the Israeli Chief of the General Staff to the army on 1 May 1963 and was meant to prepare the army for controlling the West Bank as an occupied military area.

The West Bank, of course, was not yet occupied, but the fact that four years before the actual occupation the Israeli military was ready with a judicial and administrative infrastructure for ruling the lives of one million Palestinians is highly significant.

Since 1948, and even more since 1956, Israel’s military and political elite was looking for the right historical moment to occupy the West Bank.

The plan was code-named the ‘Shacham Plan’ and it divided the West Bank into eight districts so as to facilitate the imposition of an organized military rule. The plan included the appointment of a legal advisor to the future Governor General of the Occupied Territories and four military courts.

The main concern was that the Geneva Convention did not permit executions. A year into the occupation Israel decided that the Convention did not apply to the occupation and, as for executions, the Israelis would not adopt the death penalty but instead resorted to other equally lethal means of execution.

Mandatory emergency regulations became the legal infrastructure for the military courts, those institutions through which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would pass, arrested without trial, sent to be tortured and abused. Only rarely did they emerge from them unscathed. The judges were all army officers, and were not required to have a legal background. Courts had either one, two or three judges. Those courts with three judges had the right to order executions or sentence people to life imprisonment. Among the theoretical institutions envisaged in 1963 was a special military court of appeal that would become operational in 1967, sanctioning the decisions of the lower courts in order to show to the world a system that apparently had the right to appeal built into it.

What the 13th Israeli government contemplated and executed in 1967, and what successive generations of Israeli bureaucrats would maintain, was the largest ever mega-prison for a million and a half people – a number that would rise to four million – who are still today, in one way or another, incarcerated within the real or imaginary walls of this prison.

After almost three months of deliberation, they concluded their discussions with a series of decisions, all of which in one way or another condemned those living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to life imprisonment in the biggest ever mega-prison of the modern age. The Palestinians living there were incarcerated for crimes they never committed and for offences that were never committed, confessed or defined. As this book is being written, a third generation of such ‘inmates’ have begun their lives in that mega-prison.

Never before, or since, this government’s term in office would such a consensual partnership lead the State of Israel in its future and critical decisions.

Contrary to conventional wisdom about the history of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, no one apart from the government of Israel has played a crucial role, then or now, in deciding the fate of these territories or the people living in them. What these ministers decided in the second half of June 1967, and in the following months of July and August, has remained the cornerstone of Israeli policy towards the Occupied Territories to this day. None of the successive Israeli governments have deviated from this path, and nor have they ever wanted to, in any shape or form.

The resolutions adopted in that short period, between June and August 1967, clearly charted the principles to which future Israeli governments would religiously adhere and from which they would not diverge, even during the most dramatic events that followed, be it the first or second Intifada or the Oslo peace process and the Camp David Summit of 2000.

This government represented, as never before or since, the widest possible Zionist consensus. This can also be attributed to the euphoric mood in the wake of the total devastation of three Arab armies by the IDF and the successful blitzkrieg that ended with the military occupation of vast areas of Arab lands and countries. An almost messianic aura surrounded the decision-makers in those days, encouraging them to take bold decisions of historical consequence that their successors would find hard to refute or change.

Because the decisions taken reflected the consensual Zionist interpretation of the past and present reality of Palestine as an exclusive Jewish State, none of the developments occurring thereafter appeared to undermine their validity for future Israeli policymakers. The only way of challenging the decision taken then was by questioning the very validity of Zionism itself.

Two fundamentals of Zionist ideology were still unfailingly adhered to by the politicians of 1967, just as they had been by their predecessors. The struggle for the survival of the Jewish State depended, on the one hand, on its ability to control most of historical Palestine, and, on the other, on its capacity to reduce considerably the number of Palestinians living in it.

The historical consensus dictated a wish for a purely ethnic Jewish State. There were sometimes attempts to ascertain what would constitute a tolerable non-Jewish minority within a Jewish State, but the unspoken (and at times spoken) desire was to have only Jews in what was considered to be the ancient Land of Israel.

1948 provided the historical opportunity to realize both goals: taking over much of the land and getting rid of most of the local population.

Several discrete processes came together to allow the Zionist movement to ethnically cleanse Palestine that year: the British decision to withdraw from Palestine after thirty years of rule; the impact of the Holocaust on Western public opinion; the disarray in the Arab and Palestinian worlds; and, finally, the crystallization of a particularly determined Zionist leadership.

As a result, half of the country’s native population was expelled, half of its villages and towns destroyed and 80 per cent of Mandatory Palestine became the Jewish State of Israel.

The dispossession was witnessed at close hand by representatives of the international community: delegates of the International Red Cross, correspondents of the Western press and UN personnel.

The Western world, however, was not interested in listening to their incriminating reports; the political elites chose to ignore them.

The message from Europe and the US was clear: whatever happens in Palestine is the inevitable final act of the Second World War. Something had to be done so that Europe could atone for the crimes committed on its soil against the Jewish people – and therefore a last, massive dispossession of Palestinians was needed so that the West could move on to post-war peace and reconciliation.

The situation in Palestine, of course, had nothing to do with the movement of populations in Europe in the wake of the Second World War or with the genocide of Europe’s Jews; it was the culmination not of the war in Europe but of Zionist colonization of the land that had begun at the end of the nineteenth century. It was the final act in the making of a modern-day settler Jewish State at a time when the international community seemed to view colonization as unacceptable and an example of the deplorable ideology of the past.

But not in the case of Palestine. The message from the enlightened world was unambiguous: the Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians as well as the takeover of most of Palestine were both legitimate and acceptable. Almost half of the ministers attending the 1967 meetings were themselves veterans of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Some were members of the small cabal that took the decision to expel almost a million Palestinians, destroy their villages and towns and prevent them from ever returning to their homeland. Others were generals or officers in the machinery that perpetrated the crime. All of them were fully aware of the international indifference in 1948 when the Zionist movement took over 78 per cent of Palestine. And this is why they, and their colleagues, were convinced that the international community would allow them once more to act unilaterally now that the Israeli army occupied the remaining 22 per cent of the land. Having acted with impunity in 1948, there was no reason to expect any serious rebuke for, or obstacles to, a similar policy of ethnic cleansing in June 1967.

The government was determined, almost en masse, to decide unilaterally about the territories’ future, but was more divided about the possibility or the wisdom of another huge ethnic cleansing after the official end of hostilities. The counter-arguments were clear: a post-war ethnic cleansing could have awakened an otherwise dormant Western conscience. Furthermore, it was also doubtful if the army had the will and mentality to carry it out, as it was unclear whether it had sufficient means to accomplish it. The 1967 government was also a larger forum than the one that devised the 1948 ethnic cleansing. The thirteenth government included quite a few conscientious ministers who would have objected to such a master plan on moral grounds.

Notwithstanding the decision to refrain from mass expulsion, very few members of that government and those that succeeded it objected to the incremental expulsions and dispossession that have reduced significantly the number of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (nor did they object to the harassment that triggered emigration from Palestine). The fewer the Palestinians, the easier it would be to police them in the new mega-prison that was constructed.

So, ethnic cleansing on a grand scale was ruled out in 1967.

However, the prevailing sense was that the international community would not act against Israel’s land expansion – not as an endorsement of expansionism per se but more as a reflection of an unwillingness to confront it.

But there was one crucial caveat: there could not be a de jure annexation of the territories, only a de facto one.

There were two reasons for this: first, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were regarded by international law as occupied territories, whereas the areas Israel occupied during the operations in 1948 were all recognized by the United Nations as part of the State of Israel. Second, if the population could not be expelled, it could also not be fully integrated as equal citizens of the Jewish State, given their number and potential natural growth that would have.

There was then, and there is now, an Israeli consensus and an overwhelming desire to keep the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for ever, while at the same time there was and still is the two-fold recognition of the undesirability of officially annexing these territories and the inability to expel the population en masse.

And yet keeping these territories, with the population in them, seemed as vital as the need to maintain a decisive Jewish majority in whatever constituted a Jewish State.

Ministers were convinced, as all the ministers after them would be, that they had found the formula that would enable Israel to keep the territories it coveted, without annexing the people it negated, while safeguarding immunity against international condemnation and rebuke.

In fact, they had not discovered anything new. Since 1948 they had faced a similar predicament when they and their predecessors had had to decide how to treat the Palestinian minority inside Israel. They imposed on them a military rule that was only lifted after eighteen years and replaced by a new kind of regime of inspection, control and coercion. With time, this eased somewhat but became more hidden and complex. But by now there were more people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; therefore, while the limited citizenship granted to the Palestinian minority in Israel seemed to tally with the aim of maintaining a decisive Jewish majority in the state, the same would not have been the case had similar citizenship been extended to the people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Thus, there was a need to keep the territories, not to expel the people in them, but at the same time not to grant them citizenship.

These three parameters or presumptions have remained unchanged to this day.

1. Maintain a decisive Jewish majority in the State of Israel.

2. Keep the Occupied Territories.

3. No granting of citizenship to the Palestinian people in them.

They remain the unholy trinity of the consensual Zionist catechism.

In 1967 the official Israeli navigation between impossible nationalist and colonialist ambitions turned a million and a half people into inmates of a mega-prison. But it was not a prison for a few inmates wrongly or rightly incarcerated: it was imposed on a society as a whole. It was, and still is, a malicious system that was constructed for the vilest of motives.

The open-air prison also became Israel’s peace plan, endorsed by the USA and European countries. This plan formed the basis of diplomatic efforts and the ‘peace process’. In Israel and in the West, a vast laundering of words and a very cooperative media and academic community were essential for maintaining the moral and political validity of the open-air prison option as the best solution for the ‘conflict’ and as an idealized vision of normal and healthy life in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But this laundering did not cleanse the reality of the situation, and the hyperbole of peace and independence did not deafen the conscientious members of all the societies involved: in the Occupied Territories, in Israel and the outside world. In the age of the internet, an independent press, active civil society and energetic NGOs, it was hard to play the charade of peace and reconciliation on the ground where people were incarcerated in the biggest ever human prison witnessed in modern history.

This book is as much about the officials, academics and bureaucrats as it is about the system they built in June 1967 and that is still maintained today. A second generation is already in place and a third is imminent. Once you cross that generational gap any discourse about temporality or even finality is useless. It becomes a living organism that is very hard to combat or dismantle, hence the understandable desperation in recent years that takes the form of suicide bombs or rocket attacks, neither of which have any hope of persuading Israelis to dismantle this monstrosity.

This book does not seek to demonize Israeli society as a whole, although many of its members support the mega-prison and many others choose to turn a blind eye. It singles out the politicians and academics who in 1967 established the mechanism of the creation of an enclave and imprisonment, as well as the thousands of officials, officers, soldiers and police who ran it. Some who appear in this book are as guilty as those individuals all over the world, and throughout history, who stood by and did nothing about the crimes committed on their behalf, in their name and before their very eyes. These Israelis, who either support or do not object to the oppression, are still hailed in the Western world as champions of peace and humanity, endowed with an endless stream of undeserved prizes and awards.

But that said, there are very few really evil people in modern human history but there are quite a few evil systems. The mega-prison of Palestine is one of them.

The villains of the piece, of this book, are therefore the Israelis who worked out the fine detail of the system to begin with, those who upheld it for all those years and those who ‘perfected’ its operation: namely, its power to abuse, humiliate and destroy. They were and are servants of the bureaucracy of evil. They come quite innocent into the system but only very few among them fail to succumb to its raison d’être, to its modus operandi. As wardens of this largest prison on earth, they are constant abusers, dehumanizers and destroyers of Palestinian rights and lives. Only when the last of them has been discharged from this service will we know that the mega-prison of Palestine has been abolished for ever.

This book is dedicated to those who relentlessly tried to alert decent human beings to the importance of not standing by and watching while millions of people were being treated in such an inhumane and dehumanizing way – just because they were not Jews.

***

The Biggest Prison on Earth: the History of the Occupied Territories

by Ilan Pappe

Get it on Amazon

Israelis tend to think they can intimidate critics into silence. But I will not be silenced. – Zenia Stampe, Danish MP. 

I am a Danish politician and Member of the Danish Parliament. I have just returned from a week in Israel and Palestine. The trip concluded with a very unusual experience. We were meeting with a political director from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also happens to be the next Ambassador to Denmark. We discussed the situation in the Middle East. But towards the end of the meeting he changed the subject and began attacking Facebook updates I have written in Danish.

It is very unusual for a diplomat to argue with a politician from abroad. It shows how sensitive the Israeli government is to foreign criticism. It also shows that Israelis tend to think they can intimidate critics into silence.

But I will not be silenced. I have seen systematic and deliberate breaches of international law during the last week. I intend to speak out. And now I know the Israeli government is listening.

And that’s why I ask you to read and share my post with your network. For the further it reaches, the more seriously the Israeli government will be forced to address it.

We often hear the Israeli government using “security considerations” to justify their politicies But one thing is now only too clear to me: Israel is making systematic efforts to drive the Palestinians out of large areas of the occupied territories. Israel is in the process of colonizing the areas that were intended to become the Palestinian state. And the word security is a thin layer of varnish applied by Israel to cover that policy.

Let me provide just four examples:

1. Confiscation of Palestinian houses

Israeli law allows any Jewish Israelis to claim homes where Jews lived before 1948. Note that this is taking place in the occupied territories, not in Israel. This means that an Israeli Jew can knock on the door of a house where a Palestinian family has lived for generations. They can obtain a court order to force the family to move out; the settlers then move in. Most often they put a huge Israeli flag on the roof. And the Israeli military is now obliged to protect the house. So the neighbours suddenly see their street turned into a militarized area. The children play among heavily armed soldiers and checkpoints.

How can this policy benefit Israel’s security in any way?

2. Settlements

There are currently 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the Palestinian territories, and the number is rising rapidly. According to international law the settlements are illegal. An occupying power must not transfer its own population to occupied territory. But the most critical aspect is not the growth in the number of settlers but the systematic confiscation of Palestinian land, the demolition of Palestinian property, the depletion of natural resources, and the compulsory relocation of Palestinians. These are all breaches of international law, and a de facto colonization of the Palestinians’ country.

This is not just a matter of principle. I have witnessed demolitions. I have spoken to farmers driven off land where they have lived and which they worked for generations. I have seen settlements covering larger and larger areas on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, with security walls, control towers and huge security zones. If this development continues Palestine will become like a Swiss cheese, where all that is left for the Palestinians is the holes in the cheese. The Palestinians are confined to ghettos in their own country.

How can this in any way be justified by security considerations?

3. Living Conditions

Palestinians in large areas of the West Bank must submit applications in Israel to extend their homes, dig wells, etc. But their applications are systematically rejected. They find water supplies get cut off and electrical installations destroyed by the military. Meanwhile they see the settlements in the area constantly expanding and being given unrestricted access to electricity and water. I have stood on a road where the Palestinians on one side of the road only had a little water, while the settlers on the other side of the road had all the water they needed. It is not just a problem for individual families and businesses forced to cope with very limited resources. This is also a huge obstacle to the Palestinian economy because it impedes the creation of jobs. We visited a farm and a brewery, both of which were very well run and had considerable potential. But when you only have very limited access to water and do not know when it’s going to be cut off, it’s hard to expand production.

What has any of this to do with security?

4. The security wall

Israel has the right to protect its borders from potential terrorists. This includes the right to build a wall. But Israel’s security wall is not on the Israeli border and it does not separate Israelis from Palestinians. The wall cuts through Palestine and prevents Palestinians from accessing their own farmlands, schools, institutions, hospitals, and jobs. Thousands of Palestinians cross the wall every day but doing so requires permits and hours of waiting in chaotic conditions.

The wall is therefore a clear breach of international law, and it cannot be justified by security considerations. If this were about security, the wall would surely be located along the green line: the internationally recognized border between Israel and Palestine. And why does Israel at least not provide a proper number of operational checkpoints so that Palestinians can cross the wall quickly? Chaotic scenes with thousands of desperate people queuing for hours and hours are normal. It’s sheer harassment.

How can this be of any value in terms of security considerations?

I know many Jews and many Israelis. I understand and respect how centuries of persecution have created a need for security, both in terms of protection from persecution in the many countries where Jews live and in the mere fact that Israel exists as a safe haven. I will stand up for this at all times.

But the Israeli government is pursuing goals that are not about security. They are about a land grab; about taking over the little the Palestinians have left. It is a slow and deliberate displacement of the Palestinians from their own country. This must not go unremarked. We have a duty to criticize it.

I look forward to welcoming the new Israeli ambassador to Denmark. He must know that many Danes follow what is going on in Israel and Palestine. Many of us are gravely concerned. And we are not going to remain silent.

Please share. Thanks!

PS: The photo shows me on the outskirts of the Palestinian village of Susiya. Susiya has been demolished by the Israeli military six times and is subject to a standing demolition order. On the horizon, the watchtower of the settlement that Israel says is threatened by the village. Which is why the village is to be demolished. But actually, who is threatening who?”

***

Zenia Stampe, Danish MP 

New Zealand must show Israel cost of staying its course – Janfrie Wakim. 

Our Government and the United Nations Security Council are optimistic if they think the UNSC Resolution 2334 is a bold and balanced measure which will bring a two-state peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The only thing new about it was the lifting of the United States veto which had protected Israel from any UNSC criticism during the Obama years.

Previous US Administrations, from President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 to Secretary of State James Baker in 1991, have given much harsher responses to Israel’s military or settlement adventures than Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent tepid statements.

Other than Obama’s betrayal of his previous obsequiousness towards Israel, what generated this resolution was the increasing rate of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel has continued building them, contrary to clear international law and its own Oslo Agreement undertakings, since it conquered these lands in 1967.

There are now 650,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the proposed area of the Palestinian state. The resolution becomes quixotic in the context of such a non-reversible demographic injection designed by Israel to thwart the two-state outcome.

NZ Herald





A typically Jewish perspective. Israel vote was an affront to all New Zealanders. – Juliet Moses. 

New Zealanders are often told that our country punches above its weight internationally. Unfortunately, in the case of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 regarding the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully has delivered New Zealand an uppercut to its face.

New Zealand co-sponsored the “anti-settlement” resolution with Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela, hardly bastions of human rights. (Hans: that’s a typically childish Israeli response. ‘But he’s doing it too’.)

With the United States abstaining, the Security Council passed it at its last sitting of 2016 on Christmas Eve.

You don’t have to be a fan of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to criticise the resolution. And there are many people, like me, who support a two-state solution – the co-existence of a secure Jewish state and a viable Palestinian state, who are demoralised by this resolution, believing that it makes that outcome less likely.

The resolution goes well beyond condemning Israel for West Bank settlements. It deems all settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines a “flagrant violation of international law”.  (Which they are, as the world has been telling Israel since 1967. Israelis seem to forget that their nation was created for them by the UN. That hasn’t been enough for them. The typically super arrogant Jewish state has been a criminal state ever since.) 

It declares all the land beyond those lines “occupied Palestinian territory”. That includes East Jerusalem, where Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, as well as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are situated.

When Israel’s Arab neighbours mounted a second unsuccessful attempt to exterminate her in 1967, Israel acquired East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan. Palestinians have never had a sovereign state in the West Bank or elsewhere, although they have refused several opportunities for one. (Bullshit! The only solutions Israel has ever offered have been heavily loaded with impossible preconditions.)

That is not to say that they should not have such a state. It means, however, that the Security Council has purported to act as an international court, creating a legal principle in doing so. (And it is high time that legal principle is established.) 

It has pre-determined an issue that should be negotiated between the two parties. It has taken away any incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate without pre-conditions and to accept any less than what they have now been told is theirs. (Yes, and it is theirs, Israel stole it in 1967. Why should they settle for anything less?) 

It has undermined Israel’s policy of trading land for peace, successfully implemented with Egypt, for, if the West Bank is not Israel’s, what bargaining chip does she have? (Israel doesn’t need a bargaining chip. It needs to get out of the occupied territories as the UN resolution states. Are you thick, or is it just your typical Israeli arrogance that blinds you?) 

It has ignored that Jews have the best legal claim to the land as the indigenous people, under the League of Nations mandate and as the victor of a defensive war. And it requires Israel to return to suicidal borders, the very ones that led to her being attacked in 1967, with no guarantee of her security. (It’s a bitch when the shoe is on the other foot, isn’t it?) 

The major obstacle to a Palestinian state is not settlements. It never has been. (It is for the Palestinians. Shall we tell you again? WE WANT OUR LAND BACK!

It is the refusal of the Palestinian leadership, along with many Arab and Muslim states, to accept the existence of a tiny Jewish state smaller than Northland. When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and disbanded settlements, it was thanked with thousands of rockets from the reigning Islamist group Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

(And Israel has blockaded and otherwise made life very difficult for people in Gaza ever since. That’s not to say that the Hamas attacks are OK, the attacks on Israel are murderous criminal acts for which ‘the perpetrators’ deserve to be punished in a court of law. Does Israel ever ask itself whether genuine economic help for the people of Gaza over the last 40 years might have changed their mindset regarding Israel?)

The more “moderate” Palestinian Authority which rules the West Bank refuses to recognise Israel and glorifies terrorism in its schools and media. Israel cannot risk that the West Bank goes the same way as Gaza or worse still Syria, on which the council has been an abject failure. (Israel is a fact. Any deal over the occupied territories needs to recognise the State of Israel. Won’t happen if the deal doesn’t include economic assistance. Why should we pay? Israel will ask: the Palestinians have been paying for the consequences of Israel’s actions for decades.) 

The security of the Jewish state and the survival of its people is not something that warrants merely a passing mention in a resolution under the guise of even-handedness, nor is it something that we can afford to be reckless about, as history attests. (The current insecurity of the Jewish State is largely the consequence of Israeli actions and more importantly, inaction, since 1949.)

Palestinians should have their self-determination, but not at the expense of the Jewish people’s(Israel has had it’s self-determination at the expense of it’s neighbors since 1949.)

As a Jewish New Zealander, I feel betrayed by our Government. Given our own shameful colonial past, New Zealand’s role in illegalising an indigenous people in their ancestral homeland has been noted by several overseas commentators. (Typically arrogant Jewish statement. We are dealing with events now, in 2016. Debating tit for tat ‘you did, no you did’ over regrettable events in the distant past has zero to do with the Israeli made plight of the Palestinians.) 

However, all New Zealanders, regardless of religion or political ideology, should ask questions about this resolution. (Only one question comes to mid: Why has it taken so bloody long to arrive at this resolution? The territories have been illegally occupied since 1967.)

How did Murray McCully manoeuvre this resolution, opaquely and urgently, on the last day of New Zealand’s two-year term on the council, and upon whose advice or insistence? (Us Kiwis tend to empathise with the underdog, especially when the victim is treated to decades if occupation and cluster bombs. Also we have a conscience, not something Israel would easily understand.) 

It is doubtful that the resolution was put to Cabinet, so who determines our foreign policy? Why the apparent change in policy as regards Israel? And when can we expect the prime minister to finally respond to calls for comment? (Their is no further comment needed. Shall we tell you again? THE SETTLEMENTS ARE ILLEGAL.

We might expect such a lack of transparency and accountability from our new besties, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela, but for proud puncher New Zealand, it is of grave concern. (Once again, the arrogant attitude we have witnessed from Israelis for decades.) 

Juliet Moses is an Auckland-based lawyer and member of the New Zealand Jewish Council.

How Israeli settlements have reached a crucial juncture – Griff Witte.

Through eight years of escalating criticism from the world’s most powerful leader, Israeli construction in these sacred, militarily occupied hills never stopped. Thousands of homes were built. Kilometres of roadway. Restaurants. Shopping centres. A university.

And here in Shiloh, a tourist centre went up, with a welcome video in which the biblical figure Joshua commands the Jewish people to settle the land promised to them by God. Israeli settlements may be illegal in the eyes of the UN Security Council and a major obstacle to Middle East peace in the view of the Obama Administration. But every day they become a more entrenched reality on land that Palestinians say should rightfully belong to them. As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unravelling.

And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate.

Already, Israel has a right-wing Government that boasts it is more supportive of settlement construction than any in the country’s short history. Within weeks, it will also have as an ally a US president, Donald Trump, who has signalled he could make an extraordinary break with decades of US policy and end American objections to the settlements.

The combination has delighted settlers here and across the West Bank who express hope for an unparalleled building boom that would kill off notions of a Palestinian state once and for all.

NZ Herald 

When Jews light the Hanukkah candles, they should remember their own history and stand up to Israel over illegal settlements – Michael Segalov. 

Though the story of the Maccabees fighting their oppressors took place thousands of years ago, disputes over who should control swathes of land in Israel and Palestine are pressing and pertinent to this day.

Following last week’s United Nations Resolution 2334, which describes Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “illegal” and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, the Israeli government has made its position clear: settlements in the occupied territories will continue growing, and any states who criticise this are making a “declaration of war” against Israel. Ambassadors have been; meetings with leaders have been cancelled; Israeli aid to Senegal has been stopped.

This latest resolution isn’t much of a development in the history of the region. Back in 1967, Resolution 242 was passed by the UN Security Council calling on Israel to withdraw its military from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. But after years of inaction from many of the world’s most powerful nations, the significance of this latest warning to Netanyahu’s government can’t be underestimated.

The vast majority of Jews living in Britain simply don’t support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

It’s now more evident than ever that the occupation of the Palestinian territories must come to an end.

The voices of the Jewish diaspora must now join in this growing crescendo calling for the occupation to end.

The Independent 

The two-state solution in the Middle East – The Guardian. 

For decades, the two-state solution has been held up by the international community as the only realistic deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its basis is two separate states, Israel and Palestine, living peacefully side by side on the land between the western bank of the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. This territory would be divided broadly along the pre-1967 armistice line or “green line” – probably with some negotiated land swaps. Jerusalem, which both sides want as their capital, would be shared.


Past negotiations have failed to make progress and there are currently no fresh talks in prospect. The main barriers are borders, Jerusalem, refugees, Israel’s insistence on being recognised as a “Jewish state” and the Palestinians’ political and geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians demand that the border of their new state should follow the green line, giving them 22% of their historic land. But Israel, which has built hundreds of settlements on the Palestinian side of the green line over the past 50 years, insists that most of these should become part of Israel – requiring a new border which would mean, according to critics, the annexation of big chunks of the West Bank. Land swaps could go some way to compensate but negotiations have stalled on this fundamental issue.

Jerusalem is another obstacle. Israel has said it cannot agree any deal which sees the city shared or divided between the two sides. The Palestinians say they will not cede their claim and access to their holy sites, all of which are located in East Jerusalem, on the Palestinian side of the green line.

The Palestinians have long insisted that refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants should have the right to return to their former homes, although many diplomats believe they would settle for a symbolic “right of return”. Israel rejects any movement on this issue.

Israel insists that the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”. The Palestinians say this would deny the existence of the one in five Israeli citizens who are Palestinian.

Any potential deal is complicated by the political breach between Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, and the geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza.

The Guardian 

Trump intervenes to sideline Obama over Israeli settlements – The Guardian. 

Donald Trump appears to have intervened with two foreign governments in a move aimed at sidelining Barack Obama over a UN security council resolution criticising Israel’s settlements.

A resolution drafted by Egypt had demanded Israel halt all settlement activities in occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians and declared that existing settlements “have no legal validity”.

However, the vote on passing the resolution was abruptly postponed by Egypt on Thursday amid a series of contacts between Israel, Trump and his transition team and Egypt, which culminated in Trump calling Egypt’s President, Abdel Fatah al-Islam.

Details of the contacts emerged on Friday morning as Israeli officials disclosed that the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had contacted Trump’s transition team on Thursday seeking help after learning that the US delegation at the UN, under the instruction of Obama, might not veto the resolution.

The Guardian

Packing the barrel. A Dangerous Choice for Ambassador to Israel – NY Times. 

In appointing David Friedman as the next ambassador to Israel, Donald Trump voiced a desire to “strive for peace in the Middle East.” Unfortunately, his chosen representative would be far more likely to provoke conflict in Israel and the occupied territories, heighten regional tensions and undermine American leadership.

Mr. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has represented the president-elect in matters involving Atlantic City casinos, has no diplomatic experience, unlike nearly every American ambassador who has served in this most sensitive of posts. That might not be quite so alarming if he didn’t also hold extremist views that are radically at odds with American policy and with the views of most Americans.

Mr. Friedman has doubted the need for a two-state solution, under which Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side in peace. Ignoring international law and decades of policy under Republican and Democratic administrations, he has endorsed continued Israeli settlement of occupied territory in the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 war. Mr. Friedman has gone so far as to endorse even the annexation of some of that land, where Palestinians hope to build a state of their own.

New York Times

The thieving hypocrisy of the Jewish State. Israeli bill legalising outposts approved. 

Israel’s ministerial committee for legislation has approved a controversial draft bill aimed at legalising wildcat Jewish settlements built on private Palestinian land

The bill approved unanimously stipulates that the Government could order the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land. 

NZ Herald

Chief thieving bastard Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Palestinians demand UK apology for 1917 Balfour Declaration that pledged British support for the creation of Israel. 

Growing calls for formal apology over letter that gave formal British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine almost a century ago.

A campaign demanding that the UK issue a formal apology for supporting the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East almost a century ago is growing in popularity after the launch of a new parliamentary petition.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Jenny Tonge hosted an event at the House of Lords announcing the launch of the Palestinian Return Centre’s (PRC) initiative to pressure the UK government into acknowledging its role in “almost a century of Palestinian suffering” and the UK’s wider colonial impact on the region last Tuesday.

If the petition (currently pending approval) reaches more than 100,000 signatures, parliament will have to consider a debate on the subject. 

The independent 

“Tens of thousands of Women March for Peace for Israel & Palestine -Women Wage Peace”. 

YouTube

Fifa must ban these Israeli settlement teams, if it wants a level playing field. 

FIFA rules prohibit a member association holding competitions on the territory of another without permission. Six Israeli clubs are playing in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Guardian 

Pink Floyd “Reunite” in Support of Gaza Activists

“David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters stand united in support of the Women of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla”

Earlier this week, the Israeli Navy intercepted the Women’s Boat. Thirteen activists, including Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, were aboard the intercepted ship. PitchFork

Shimon Peres’ “Hallucinations of Peace”

At the rightwing rallies they called him and Rabin “the criminals of Oslo”, and blamed them for the waves of terror that buried a thousand Israelis once the agreement collapsed. As though the Palestinians, had the agreement never been signed, might have continued living submissively and in perfect passivity under Israeli occupation for all eternity.

The hatred for Peres at the time may have been due in part to the fact that he, with the crispness of his oratory, with that rare ability he had to stoke hope, to open a window to the future, made the suspicious, war-scarred Israelis believe, for a short time, and completely against their instincts, that there is an actual chance for a better future, a future of peace. As though our willingness to be seduced into Peres’s vision of a new Middle East was, Israelis felt, a betrayal of our war-torn and horror-ridden fate, which we carry in our flesh throughout our tragic history. And when the Oslo accords crumbled, when the hope that we had momentarily allowed ourselves to cultivate was dashed, he was not forgiven.
Peres’s entire being stood facing the future. In a country that is being sucked ever deeper into a mythological, religious and tribal narrative, he turned towards the universal, towards science, rationality and the democracy of open information. He cast himself as an anchor on the seabed of the future, the distant, invisible, imagined, utopian and optimistic future, and began tugging himself towards it. David Grossman, The Guardian