Sunday, October 21, 2012

Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories


Apartheid, colonialism and international law in the occupied Palestinian territoriesThis review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

Flouting international human rights law and international humanitarian law, Israel's occupation of Palestine veers towards the illegal and illegitimate. Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Pluto Press, 2012) evaluates Israel's belligerent occupation and violation of international law, with particular reference to colonialism and apartheid practices, as well as the international community's alienation from doing anything concrete about Israel's illegalities, thus ensuring the state's strategy of establishing a deviating narrative.

Israel's near-irrevocable occupation exhibits demographic control. Land purchase, forced displacement of Palestinians, political marginalisation and exclusion from labour created instability for Palestinians, who sought to form a culture of resistance to combat a collective construction of Jewish identity on occupied land. Zionism deconstructs the culture of resistance to "violence of the resistance", thus obscuring its own illegal practices and oppression within the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).

Whilst international law provides general obligations for states to end colonialism and apartheid, enforcement is incongruous. Colonialism is not considered a crime and carries no individual criminal responsibility. Whilst international humanitarian law declares the occupying power's responsibility towards "protected persons", excluding Israelis, human rights law demands a general protection for people under its control. Israel has conveniently neglected international human rights law in order to preserve Jewish identity and promote a series of "peace talks" which are dominated with security concerns, thus diverting attention from the realities of colonialism and apartheid in the OPTs.

The book acknowledges arguments by the international community brought against accusations of colonial and apartheid practices - some render the practice obsolete, others associating it with European domination over non-white lands. Another viewpoint excluding consideration of colonialism and apartheid is the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. However, the obliteration of Palestinian's right to self determination is equivalent to colonial practice. As the Declaration on Colonialism (1960) states, "The subjection of people to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the UN and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and cooperation." Apartheid has been defined as a systematic oppressive system over minority groups - declared a crime by the Apartheid Convention (1973).

Yet, despite Israel's negations with regard to its practices of colonialism and apartheid, its laws and actions suggest otherwise. The World Zionist Organisation's Jerusalem Programme sets the scene for systematic racial discrimination as it describes "settling the country as an expansion of practical Zionism." Besides declaring the state of Israel as "the creation of the entire Jewish people" and insisting on immigration rights for every Jew, Palestinians have been excluded by laws distinguishing between citizenship and nationality.

The book delves further into Israeli policies marginalising Palestinians. The overstepping of stipulated boundaries allocated to Jews is referred to as "administered" or "disputed" in order to avoid implications alluding to the right of self-determination. Land appropriation and management was a conscious action destined to deprive Palestinians of political unity. The Zionist Master Plan explicitly advocates in favour of land seizure: "The best and most effective way to remove any shred of doubt regarding our intention to hold Judea and Samaria forever is a rapid settlement drive in these areas." The Gaza Strip is affected by occupation relics. Despite troops being withdrawn from the territory in 2005, Israel still maintains control over the airspace, territorial waters, borders and population records.

Notably, the book delves into Israeli law to produce evidence of apartheid. Israel practices legal segregation. Whilst Jews are held accountable through civil law procedures, military legislation rules Palestinians in the OPTs. The military is authorised to commit serious human rights violations, including land seizure and destruction of villages, defined by Israel's military law as a "humanitarian undertaking". Further, mass detention of Palestinians is encouraged. Military legislation deems it legal to detain Palestinians for up to two years before being brought to trial, resulting in mass incarceration. Torture has not been abolished from Israeli law and is considered an act of omission "performed in good faith". The assassination of Palestinians suspected of "terror activities" is also legal and considered a necessity by the Israeli authorities, owing to the supposed difficulty of arresting suspects.

Besides the legal ramifications to the detriment of Palestinians, Israel also contributes towards their destruction by limiting water, electricity, fuel and medicine. According to the book, despite there not being enough evidence to construct a case for genocide, there is intent to fragment the Palestinian community physically, coupled with labour exploitation, destruction of schools and curfews destined to annihilate any process of culture recuperation.

Israel's tenacity towards apartheid practices has been strengthened by the international community's lenient stance towards the resulting atrocities. Although Israel emerges as the main perpetrator, there is no doubt that the failure to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing criminal process against Palestinians contributes to the illegalities. This necessitates a rethinking of roles and obligations of the international community with regard to oppressor powers. So far, there has been a trend of manipulation which seems destined to ingrain itself more deeply - an inhumane show of support in favour of oppressive governments in order to further the divide between the oppressor and the oppressed, which then relies of a network of regulations and conventions which are cited and rarely applied.

It is not without evidence that in his book The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians? Guglielmo Verdirame departs from the premise that the United Nations violates human rights. The creation of refugee camps and endorsing a restriction of freedom of movement resonates in Beyond Occupation, albeit in different circumstances such as the denial of the right to return to Palestine, restricted working and trade conditions, separate road networks for Palestinians and heightened border control. The United Nations has failed the Palestinians by hesitating time and again to take the necessary measures to combat Israel's violations. As the book states, "Failure by the United Nations to combat apartheid when it is in a position to do so is no different from a failure to prevent genocide."

The preface suggests the general reader might, on first glance, find the book too daunting as it relies heavily on a discussion of legal frameworks. However, the book explains legal ramifications meticulously, rendering this treatise a compelling read with an authoritative conclusion - the various facades of complicity and irresponsibility consolidating Israel's belligerent occupation; an occupation which should have been denounced as illegal, had the international community not been so intentionally alienated.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Politics of Indignation: Imperialism, Post Colonial Disruptions and Social Change

Book Review: Politics of Indignation – Imperialism, Post Colonial Disruptions and Social Change, Peter Mayo, Zero Books, 2012
This review was first published in Irish Left Review here.

By imparting a consciousness of human struggle against neoliberal violence and its ramifications, Politics of Indignation provides a discourse which seeks to disrupt the process through which citizens have become fodder for imperialist powers to consolidate a destructive political system.

Capitalism created a culture of oblivion, distorting international solidarity through globalization. The fragmenting of human rights discourse alienated the scope of internationalism, thus enabling imperialism and the media to create an imaginary platform of unity which strives to consolidate divergences, geopolitical stereotypes and control over freedom. Mayo discerns a flow of coercion which, through playing upon concepts such as citizenship, identity and the value of humanity, threatens to rupture unity within the oppressed.

With human rights fast becoming a bargaining tool in the hands of oppressive institutions, citizens’ indignation at the manipulation is increasing and social movements are gaining momentum. The state’s transformation from provider of welfare to a market regulator deprives many citizens of basic fundamental freedoms and necessities, such as education, housing and health care. The transformation from necessities to commodities exploits the people as mere puppets whose sole worth is to prop up governments thriving upon the plunder of natural resources and the eradication of culture in order to create a stereotype that can be modified with each imperialist aim.

Chile’s September 11, in 1973 paved the way for an onslaught upon Latin American countries. The US aided military coup brought an end to an established system of parliamentary democracy. The torture and disappearances inflicted upon Chileans reverberated in other Latin American countries, creating both a challenge to authenticate history and a struggle to recover dignity within countries engulfed by capitalist policies. Chilean market reforms ushered by Milton Friedman privatised education, resulting in poor quality education for low income families and indigenous people which is being challenged by the student movement and their protests in favour of free quality education for all.

The US’s September 11, in 2001 brought about devastation for thousands of people within the country due to the terror attack, as well as in the Middle East through the US War on Terror. Wars and the subsequent military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq on the pretext of hunting down terrorists devastated the countries and the region. Terror suspects – a number of them being dispensable bargains for militias far removed from terrorist activities, ended up tortured in notorious prisons such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Whilst imperialist powers and the media lauded the wars, human rights violations existed within a vacuum in which the perpetrators were neither held accountable nor responsible.

Mayo portrays how the Cuban revolution and the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua were demonised, despite the reforms in education and healthcare. Educators in Nicaragua were targeted aiming to prevent the spreading of revolutionary pedagogy. In Cuba, health and educational reforms took on an internationalist approach, with doctors and educators providing assistance in various countries and amongst minority communities. Despite US efforts to undermine the Cuban revolution through counter revolutionary operations, Fidel Castro persisted in a worldwide revolutionary commitment, offering aid to countries and communities ravaged by war or natural disasters.

The book emphasises the significance of education to combat the imperialist attitude of disregarding human value. Creating a public space for education as opposed to neoliberal experiments would combat imperialism and its political violence manifested in various spheres, such as state violence, violence against minorities, the annihilation of indigenous cultures, the prohibition of protests and commemoration of workers’ struggle. Mayo describes how the workers’ struggle should become a focal point of internationalism, especially considering that right wing policies wield the power to fragment the workers’ struggle through exploiting their fears and displace their collective aspirations.
“Unless such an education strategy is developed, it is more likely that the working class people become attracted to the populist right wing and often neo fascist discourse that plays on their fears and leads to further segmentation and antagonism among workers on ethnic lines.”
Neoliberalism also created a global culture of incarceration, as seen in the case of migrants. Whilst globalization trends necessitate migration, migrants tend to become victimised repeatedly after leaving their countries of origin. The affirmation of ‘the other’ embodied by migrants facilitates the host state’s repressive policies of detention and marginalisation. Mayo insists that education should incorporate and promote “a critical and genuine anti-racist education.” With regard to indigenous communities, it is essential that the West stops projecting its education principles as the only viable solution in order to reap profits from the plundering of natural resources and human labour.

The importance of implementing education “as a public and not a consumer good” is brilliantly portrayed in the chapter entitled Education and the MDGs. The United Nation’s eight goals with regard to education have been accepted by many countries. However, many of these same countries are embroiled in a global oppression which prevents their achievement. The arms trade, war and conflict, and institutions such as the IMF and the World Trade Organization persist in exploitation and endorsement of imperialism; strengthening the previous history of colonialism, fuelling conflict between tribes and enhancing the conditions for social injustice.

Mayo insists that education cannot assume neutrality. An education system which allows oppressors to consolidate their reign with the aim of accumulating profits at the expense of humanity needs to be met with an opposite philosophy – one that embraces social obligations and defends the social sciences in order to liberate education and ensure the survival of culture in order to contribute in a tangible manner towards social justice. “Education is not an independent variable.” Hence, isolating education from social processes is an error that imbues education with powers above its role, giving rise to the hypocrisy of tolerance instead of aiming for inclusion.

A striking aspect of the book is its graceful sequence and absolute respect towards history and the masses’ narratives. Mayo’s writing reinforces a commitment towards education and revolutionary struggle in an authentic manner – a profound philosophy determined in its denunciation of the treachery perpetrated by global, imperial violence.