Neocolonial Invitation to a Tribal War (Noam Chomsky)
- News for Anarchists & Activists:
Published on Monday, August 13, 2001 in the Los Angeles
Neocolonial Invitation to a Tribal War
by Noam Chomsky
"What we feared has come true," Israeli sociologist Baruch
Kimmerling writes in Israel's leading newspaper. Jews and
Palestinians are "regressing to superstitious tribalism....
War appears an unavoidable fate," an "evil colonial" war.
This prospect is likely if the U.S. grants tacit
authorization, with grim consequences that may reverberate
There is, of course, no symmetry between the "ethno-national
groups" regressing to tribalism. The conflict is centered in
territories that have been under harsh military occupation
since 1967. The conqueror is a major armed power, acting
with massive military, economic and diplomatic support from
the global superpower. Its subjects are alone and
defenseless, many barely surviving in miserable camps.
The cruelty of the occupation has been sharply condemned by
international and Israeli human rights groups for many
years. The purpose of the terror, economic strangulation and
daily humiliation is not obscure. It was articulated in the
early years of the occupation by Moshe Dayan, one of the
Israeli leaders most sympathetic to the Palestinian plight,
who advised his Labor Party associates to tell the
Palestinians that "you shall continue to live like dogs, and
whoever wishes may leave." The Oslo "peace process" changed
the modalities, but not the basic concept. Shortly before
joining the Ehud Barak government, historian Shlomo Ben-Ami,
a dove in the U.S.-Israeli spectrum, wrote that "the Oslo
agreements were founded on a neocolonialist basis." The
intent was to impose on the Palestinians "almost total
dependence on Israel" in a "colonial situation" that was to
be "permanent." He soon became the architect of the latest
Barak government proposals, virtually identical to Bill
Clinton's final plan.
These proposals were highly praised in U.S. commentary; the
Palestinians and Yasser Arafat were blamed for their failure
and the subsequent violence.
That presentation "was a fraud perpetrated on Israeli ...
and international ... public opinion," Kimmerling writes
accurately. He continues that, a look at a map suffices to
show that the Clinton-Barak plans "presented to the
Palestinians impossible terms." Crucially, Israel retained
"two settlement blocs that in effect cut the West Bank into
pieces." The Palestinian enclaves also are effectively
separated from the center of Palestinian life in Jerusalem;
the Gaza Strip remains isolated, its population virtually
Israeli settlement in the territories doubled during the
years of the "peace process," increasing under Barak, who
bequeathed the new government of Ariel Sharon "a surprising
legacy," the Israeli press reported as the transition took
place early this year: "The highest number of housing starts
in the territories" since the time when Sharon supervised
settlements in 1992, before Oslo. The facts on the ground
are the living reality for the desperate population.
The nature of permanent neo-colonial dependency was
underscored by Israel's High Court of Justice in November
1999 when it rejected yet another Palestinian petition
opposing further expansion of the [Jewish] city of Maale
Adumim established to the east of Jerusalem, virtually
partitioning the West Bank.
The court suggested that "some good for the residents of
neighboring [Palestinian villages] might spring from the
economic and cultural development" of the all-Jewish city.
While they try to survive without water to drink or fields
to cultivate, the people whose lands have been taken can
enjoy the sight of the ample housing, green lawns, swimming
pools and other amenities of the heavily subsidized Israeli
Immediately after World War II, the Geneva Conventions were
adopted to bar repetition of Nazi crimes, including transfer
of population to occupied territories or actions that harm
civilians. As a so-called high contracting party, the U.S.
is obligated "to ensure respect" for the conventions.
With Israel alone opposed, the United Nations has repeatedly
declared the conventions applicable to the occupied
territories; the U.S. abstains from these votes, unwilling
to take a public stand in violation of fundamental
principles of international law, which require it to act to
prevent settlement and expropriation, attacks on civilians
with U.S.-supplied helicopters, collective punishment and
all other repressive measures used by the occupying forces.
Washington has continued to provide the means to implement
these practices, refusing even to allow observers who might
reduce violence and protect the victims.
For 25 years, there has been a near-unanimous international
consensus on the terms of political settlement: a full peace
treaty with establishment of a Palestinian state after
Israeli withdrawal, an outcome that enjoys wide support even
within Israel. It has been blocked by Washington ever since
its veto of a Security Council resolution to that effect in
It is far from an ideal solution. But the likely current
alternatives are far more ugly.
Philosopher and social critic Noam Chomsky is author of "A
New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor, and the
Variable Standards of the West" (Verso, 2000)
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