Israel/Palestine: The Inside Story
Thirty years ago, the Oslo Accords between Israelis and Palestinians were signed. There was widespread fanfare and jubilation. There was Clinton standing between Rabin and Arafat bringing them together at the White House. It was a new dawn. Finally, peace in the Holy Land. The pundits and the pols told us it was a miracle. Where is that miracle today? The chance of a viable independent Palestinian state has become a pipe dream. Israeli oppression of Palestinians is not random but systemic. Land that was to be part of a Palestinian state has been seized for Israeli-only settlements. Washington enables Israeli policies. While there has been some shift in U.S. public opinion the ruling political class ignores the realities on the ground.
The 1993 Oslo Accords between Israelis and Palestinians. You might recall the scene. Arafat, Rabin and Clinton at the White House beaming away and shaking hands. It was a euphoric moment. Peace and stability were at long last at hand. Did that happen? Take a look at a map. Oslo enabled greater Israeli control and expansion of colonies, euphemistically called settlements. There is no peace process rather it should be called an annexation/occupation process with an ever-shrinking possibility for a viable independent Palestinian state. And Washington? One administration after another went along with this charade. And the beleaguered Palestinians and their woeful leaders? They are to be grateful if they have a few malls, direct traffic and collect garbage. Rarely in the history of diplomacy has there been such a one-sided outcome as Oslo. Recorded at UCLA. This never-before-broadcast marks the 30th anniversary of Oslo and the 20th anniversary of Edward Said's death on September 25, 2003.
Fifty Years have passed since Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War resulting in the longest military occupation in modern times. And on the ground there has been a radical shift in demographics because of the settlements. What began as a few scattered outposts has now mushroomed into vast sub-divisions and cities with Jewish only road networks connecting them make it difficult for Palestinians to travel. About 600,000 Israelis now live beyond the country's 1967 borders. The Palestinians are being squeezed into ever smaller and smaller enclaves, isolated and without sufficient water. The settlements, illegal under international law, are a key obstacle to the resolution of the conflict. But Israel continues to expand them. Each new house makes the possibility of a just peace more remote. And Washington makes it all possible with its ongoing economic, military and diplomatic support for Israel. Interview by David Barsamian. Recorded at KGNU.
The conflict over Palestine is a century-long war involving a settler-colonial movement–Zionism–which succeeded in forming a national entity–The State of Israel. The term settler colonialism may not be well known but it accurately describes what has happened to multiple regions of the world from Ireland to Canada and from New Zealand to Palestine where indigenous populations have been subjugated and displaced. In the case of Palestine, the Zionist movement was supported by superpowers, first Britain and then the U.S. President Truman was told by State Department diplomats that an overtly pro-Zionist policy would harm U.S. interests in the Middle East. To them, Truman said, “I am sorry gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”
For decades in political discourse and popular culture, Palestinians were often typecast as bloodthirsty killers. As the great Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said once ruefully observed, “Palestine is a thankless cause, one in which if you truly serve, you get nothing back but opprobrium, abuse, and ostracism. How many friends avoid the subject? How many colleagues want none of Palestine’s controversy? How many bien pensant liberals have time for Bosnia and Somalia, Rwanda and South Africa and Nicaragua and human and civil rights everywhere on earth, but not for Palestine and Palestinians?” There are signs that may be changing. A new generation of activists has breathed fresh energy into the question of Palestine. The BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, has attracted more and more adherents. The pendulum is shifting. Interviewed by David Barsamian. Recorded at KSFR.
Occupation has a corrosive and corrupting effect not just on the occupied but on the occupiers as well. The British learned this in Kenya as the French did in Algeria and maybe the U.S. did in Iraq. People don’t like to be occupied. Thus, severe measures are employed to keep them controlled. Israel is a case in point. Palestinians have endured more than five decades of occupation. They have been subjected to land seizures, destruction of homes and fruit trees, torture, checkpoints, curfews, barriers, collective punishment and extrajudicial killings. In terms of the tactics of repression Israel is no different from other occupiers. But there is one crucial difference: U.S. support. Washington has given over the years more than $130. billion in aid to Israel. That’s more than any other country gets by far. The U.S. by its largesse enables the occupation.
Recorded at Seattle Pacific University.
2 CDs Israeli general and later prime minister Ariel Sharon said of the Palestinians: “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich out of them. We’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians and then another strip of Jewish settlements, right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years’ time neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.” Sharon said that in 1973. Today, there are more than 600,000 settlers in the occupied territories. They are facts on the ground, as the Israelis like to say. All of the settlements are outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders, and are unambiguously illegal under international law. Thomas Friedman, in The New York Times, says the settlements constitute “a tacit annexation of the West Bank,” and then he adds, “and is not winning Israel friends in Europe or America.” This event was presented by the Lannan Foundation.
Outrage follows outrage in Israel and Palestine. Yesterday’s atrocity is quickly forgotten as a new one occurs. There is a dizzying vortex kidnappings, stabbings, killings of teenagers and rabbis, attacks on synagogues and mosques, rockets, invasions, bombings, curfews, collective punishment, and demolition of homes. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, contravening international law, continue unabated. Occasionally, Washington says they are “unhelpful.” But there are no consequences. U.S. policy, meek rhetoric aside, enables settlements. The so-called peace process is dead. The Palestinians feel hopeless and desperate. Their prospects for a viable state seem more remote than ever. The prescription for more violence is in place. Can these polarized and deeply divided communities live together or are they destined to be in perpetual conflict? What would constitute a just and lasting peace?
The level of ignorance and lack of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian issue is quite extensive. Israel is a strategic ally of the U.S. and a military and economic power in its own right. All true. The Palestinians? Well, they are an irritant. Why don’t they just go away, move someplace else? They had their chances for statehood but they botched them. The actual realities on the ground? Uh, can we change the subject? The many so-called peace processes and road maps have led to dead ends for the Palestinians. They watch as more and more of their land and water are seized by Israel. Sixty percent of the West Bank, which is supposed to be part of a Palestine state, is under Israeli control. Most of the settlements are there. Given the situation, what will the future hold? Lecture followed by David Barsamian interview.
Since mid-September, tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets across the country to protest the government's treatment of girls and women and in particular mandatory dress codes. These historic demonstrations center on women's socio-political rights and democratic governance in Iran. The government has brutally responded. Hundreds have been killed, including children. Many thousands have been arrested. Despite the regime's violent crackdown, protests have only widened. Demonstrators are shouting "Death to the Dictator." The Islamic Republic of Iran, now in its 43rd year, has never faced such sustained and widespread opposition. Can it remain in power? The slogan of the protest movement is Zan, Zendegi, Azadi/Woman. Life. Freedom. Interviewed by David Barsamian. Recorded at KGNU.
The Middle East is in turmoil. The hope and promise of the 2011 Arab Spring are now a distant memory. The toppling of the decrepit Mubarak regime in Egypt was greeted by many Egyptians with joy. But that elation didn’t last long. Since 2014, Egypt is ruled by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Sisi has changed his uniform for an Armani suit. If you criticize him and his regime you can easily land up in jail or worse. There is something like 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt. In terms of freedom of the press, Egypt ranks 168th out of 180 countries. That doesn’t seem to bother Washington. Cairo is a major recipient of U.S. aid and is a lucrative market for Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrup Grumman weapons sales. Meanwhile, off the radar screen is the ongoing Saudi/UAE bloodbath in Yemen. Interview by David Barsamian. Recorded at the Middle East Studies Association annual conference.
Autocracy: concentrated power in the hands of a few. The U.S. is linked to a network of Arab autocracies led by sultans, emirs, and military dictators who are called “allies” and “partners.” Politics and economics make for strange bedfellows. Perhaps none is stranger than the one with the feudal regime of Saudi Arabia. The Washington/Riyadh axis goes back to 1945 when FDR met King Saud on a U.S. destroyer in the Suez Canal. The deal was struck. The U.S. would protect the Saud monarchy and in return, American corporations would have access to Saudi oilfields. In the decades since ties between the two countries have remained close. Today, the U.S. has been supporting the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has resulted in almost 400,000 dead and millions hungry. Interview by David Barsamian. Recorded at the Middle East Studies Association annual conference.
Omar Shakir is the Israel-Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch. He is the author of that organization’s A Threshold Crossed report. Prior to working for Human Rights Watch, he was a Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. He investigated human rights violations in Egypt, including the Rabaa massacre.
Edward Said, an internationally renowned Columbia University professor, practically invented the field of post-colonial studies. His great works Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism have been translated into many languages and are widely used in colleges and universities. The New York Times called him, “one of the most influential literary and cultural critics in the world.” As one of the few advocates for Palestinian rights in the U.S., he was the target of vilification, death threats and vandalism. The Economist said he “repudiated terrorism in all its forms and was a passionate, eloquent and persistent advocate for justice for the dispossessed Palestinians.” He was a trenchant critic not just of Israeli policies, but also of Arafat, the corrupt coterie around him and the despotic Arab regimes. He wrote: “While I have always advocated resistance to Zionist occupation, I have never argued for anything but peaceful coexistence between us and the Jews of Israel once Israel’s military repression and dispossession of Palestinians has stopped.” Though invited, he refused to attend the September 1993 White House signing ceremony of the Oslo agreement. He denounced it saying “What Israel has gotten is official Palestinian consent to continued occupation.” He felt strongly that intellectuals had a special responsibility to speak out against injustice, challenge power, confront hegemonic thinking, and provide alternatives. His friend Noam Chomsky said of him, “Said was one of the most remarkable and influential intellectuals of the last half-century. Much of his immense effort and talent was dedicated to overcoming the insularity, prejudice, self-righteousness, and apologetics that are among the pathologies of power and defending the rights of the victims.” His memoir Out of Place won the New Yorker Book of the Year Award. His two books of interviews with David Barsamian are The Pen & the Sword and Culture & Resistance. Edward Said died in New York in 2003.
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel and The 51-Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. He is a senior writer for Alternet, and his articles have appeared in The Guardian, The Nation, The New York Times, and other newspapers and journals.
Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. His articles appear in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and many other journals. He is the author of Palestinian Identity, Brokers of Deceit, The Iron Cage and The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.
Miko Peled was born in Israel to a prominent Zionist family. His grandfather signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence. His father, Matti Peled served as a general in the 1967 war. He is an advocate for Palestinian rights and lectures widely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is the author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine and Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.
Gideon Levy was born and lives in Tel Aviv. He is a columnist and member of the editorial board of Ha’aretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, where he has covered the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for more than 30 years. The author of The Punishment of Gaza, he has received several awards for his work including the Olof Palme Prize for his “courageous and indefatigable fight against occupation and violence, and for a future Middle East characterized by peaceful coexistence and equality for all.”
Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. He directed Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel and is the author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
Ali Abunimah is an internationally recognized Palestinian-American journalist. He is co-founder and director of the Electronic Intifada, an independent online news service on Palestine. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Guardian. He is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and The Battle for Justice in Palestine.
Marie Ranjbar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Colorado–Boulder. Her research examines social movements in Iran and integrates feminist political geography with critical human rights and decolonial feminist theory.
Sarah Leah Whitson is the Executive Director of DAWN, Democracy for the Arab World Now. Previously, she was executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division from 2004 – 2020. She has led dozens of advocacy and investigative missions throughout the region, focusing on issues of armed conflict, accountability, legal reform, migrant workers, and human rights. She has published widely on human rights and foreign policy in the Middle East in international and regional media, including The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post, and Foreign Policy.
Rami Khouri has reported on the Arab region for decades. He is a senior fellow with the Middle East Initiative at the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He was the Founding Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut in 2006-14. He was Executive Editor of the Beirut Daily Star and before that Editor-in-Chief of The Jordan Times. His articles appear in major newspapers around the world.