Barbarians at the gates

“No-one is innocent in a guilty society”

— Ghada Samman

Zionism is in intensive care –” dependent on the oxygen of support from the Jewish Diaspora and drip fed funds by the United States. Given the human and financial toll, it is legitimate to query whether the apparent purpose of Zionism today –” to satisfy the Jewish sense of belonging and the wackier elements of the Christian Right –” is worth the price. Are the pain and suffering and the political blowback of doing the bidding of these two groups and a handful of settlers worth the decimation of the indigenous Palestinian population, as well as the loss of Jewish lives?

The occupation of Palestinian land, and the harsh methods employed to maintain it, have corrupted Israeli civil society. Poison, which entered the body politic and infected the head, now contaminates the nation as a whole. The Prime Minister is mired in financial scandals, the police act as conduits for the sale of stolen Israeli cars to West Bank Palestinians and soldiers forge links with mafia gangs to supply weapons to militants in Nablus and Jenin. Tax evasion is endemic and increasing numbers of Israelis –” those with dual nationality –” choose to live abroad. Why do Israeli Jews put themselves through all this? Why do they ignore the obvious alternative – a dynamic, secular state incorporating Jews and Palestinians with equal rights for all? Why do they insist on clinging to the concept of Zionism – a concept, which should have been buried along with the other nineteenth century colonial adventures?

Ten days ago I traveled south from Jenin to Jerusalem down the fertile funnel of the Jordan Valley – parched, rocky hills on my left, indistinct in the heat filled haze, and mountains to my right, dazzling bright in direct, early summer sunlight. I should have been inspired. I was not. Instead I was ashamed –” ashamed that Britain with its Balfour Declaration of 1917 is the architect of Palestine’s misfortune, ashamed that even now – when Palestinian suffering is apparent to the world –” Britain does so little to help. It felt wrong that I – a Brit – could slip comfortably away from Jenin, at a time of my choosing, while the victims of Balfour remain incarcerated.

The day before my departure, one man was killed and another wounded in a targeted killing. No warning roar from an approaching tank’s engine, and no ominous clink of heavy metal tracks, just an Israeli assassin’s bullet fired from an apparently innocuous Palestinian truck piled high with boxes of chickens. One more day in Jenin.

A system of barter has developed in the town. With the economy dead and the remaining funds leeching into the Israeli economy to pay for electricity, oil, gas and other essential supplies, Palestinians are running out of money. Rents are unpaid, shops give extended credit and much of the business done by street coffee salesmen and falafel makers is given away free. Most shocking of all – old people have started to beg.

We forget how sophisticated Palestinians are. The demonisation process has continued for so long that we no longer remember they possessed, until recently, the best educational system in the Middle East. Cultured, clever and skilled, these are the people the Israelis are attempting to return to the stone age.

The Palestinian refuge is religion and the clerics are taking advantage. Israeli occupation and oppression encourages fundamentalism and Israel should be the first to remember how dangerous that is. After all, it was Israel, who funded Hamas in its early stages. The aim then was to divide and fragment Arafat’s Fatah power base by introducing a new dynamic into the arena. Israel surely cannot wish to repeat that mistake.

While Islamic ardor is being fanned by the actions of the state, the Jewish authorities have embarked on a process of rearranging their relationship with the Christian churches. In an article published in the Christian Science Monitor, Jane Lampman quotes an official at the Latin Patriarchate, who says “all indications point to the fact that the church is slowly being strangled”. The comment is given weight by reports that the Israeli government has withheld visas for dozens of religious workers and is in the process of reviewing the charitable status of various groups. In spite of official protestations to the contrary, it seems likely that the action is coordinated and systematic and that the objective is to make life difficult for Christian institutions.

Later on Jane Lampman provides another telling quote; this time from the Rev. David Jaeger, a representative of the Holy See. He says “In the Catholic world there is a growing view that Israel has deliberately framed a policy to hurt the church”. Anecdotal evidence, however, indicates that evangelical churches are excluded from this policy.

Why? What reasons would the Israeli government have for behaving in such a way?

The answer is that the traditional churches are viewed by officialdom to be sympathetic to Palestinians, whereas the evangelical institutions are often fervently pro Israel and supportive of Zionist policies.

The smothering of criticism from religious quarters, the racism increasingly engrained in Israeli society, and the fascism apparent in Likud government policies are indications of the way the future is being shaped. The Zionist dream of Greater Israel may be on life support, but it is not yet dead. The Iraq war is part of a process. It is an Israeli war and others are planned to follow. The time has come for the world to wake up –” the Barbarians are already at the gates.