Saturday, November 28, 2009

Israel: Just Another Middle Eastern Autocracy

In a propaganda piece in today's Age, Isi Leibler (described as "a former leader of the Australian Jewish community who now lives in Israel") writes as follows: "Israel remains the only democracy in the region; 20% of its inhabitants are Arab citizens, who enjoy equality of rights, freedom of expression and elect their representatives to the Israeli parliament. By contrast, Israel's despotic neighbours are autocracies or dictatorships which deny freedom of religion and many other basic human rights." (Cowardly bias blights attitudes on Israel, 28/11/09)

This particular Zionist cliche is, of course, a staple in the mainstream media, and my earlier posts on the subject can be viewed by clicking on the relevant tag below.

Ilan Pappe, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (among other titles) and currently the chair of history at Exeter University, tackles it head on in his insightful contribution (The Mukhabarat State of Israel) to the recently published anthology, Thinking Palestine (ed Ronit Lentin, 2008). Outta the way, Isi!:

"[The role of the Israeli army and secret service testify] that Israel [is] a mukhabarat state, a local Arab and Middle East variant of the oppressive state. Politically, the mukhabarat (secret service) state exists mostly within the Arab world (although there are similar states elsewhere). Such a state is characterized by an all -pervasive bureaucracy and ruled by military and security apparatuses (Entelis 2005). The variants of this model range from robust to liberal autocracies, and the span is wide enough to include Israel. What characterizes such states is the sustainability of their security establishment (the mukhabarat) in the face of internal challenges and external pressures. This sustainability is ensured by a strong connection to an outside power: 'the mukhabarat state cannot long endure, if it lacks the financial resources to pay its soldiers, purchase arms, upgrade equipment, maintain supplies, and acquire externally-gathered intelligence data' (Entelis 2005:1)... Readers versed in the critique of Israel are familiar with its depiction as 'an army with a state'. This is actually a common reference to the mukhabarat state of Algeria, about which it was written that 'every state has an army but in Algeria the army has a state', describing the deeply enmeshed linkage between the state and the security apparatuses (Bellin 2004: 144). This is not dissimilar to the bold attempt by several critical Israeli sociologists to define Israel as a militarist society (Ben-Eliazer 1995; Erlich 1987; Karmi & Rosenfeld 1989). The role of the army or security apparatuses in these studies appears to be... part of the state's foundation and raison d'etat... The [non-democratic founding] ideology and colonialist reality produced a state in which the army and security apparatuses reign not in exceptional circumstances, but as a rule. While the militaristic model mobilizes Jewish society, as a typical mukhabarat state it oppresses the Palestinian population... In Israel, martial law is the legal and political reality for almost all its Palestinian citizens at any given time, directly or indirectly. The authoritarian, rentier militaristic state of the Arab world is a model that better corresponds, historically and theoretically, with the state within the State of Israel: the state of the Palestinians within the Jewish state. However, as argued by others before me (see, eg Ram 1993), it is a hybrid with another model, the settler-colonial state, which can be presented as a mixture of an Arab post-colonial model and a colonialist model such as Apartheid South Africa... My argument is that the Israeli paradigm is a colonialist and post-colonialist mixture, a political outfit of a settler state ruling through a mukhabarat state."

Pappe charts in Israel's history an "escalating cycle which carries the potential to end the pretence and the false inclusion of Israel in the western democracy frame of analysis":

"The first wave was in 1948, leading to the rights to own land and water and to buy and sell land being denied to the Palestinians by law, as was the right for full citizenship. This was followed by discrimination in every aspect of life, while welfare, education and protection from abuse of the law were all practised systematically and efficiently but not legalized. The second wave was legislation through the imposition of the Emergency Regulations on the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip in 1967 that denied basic human and civil rights to the millions who lived there. It began with ethnically cleansing 300,000 Palestinians and then constructing the oppressive regime we are familiar with today. All this was achieved without undermining Israel's membership in the exclusive democratic club. The third wave... concerns greater Jerusalem, defined as one-third of the West Bank, where potential Palestinian citizens of Israel have lived since it was officially annexed to Israel in 1967. A set of municipal regulations, town planning ordinances and other municipal legislation enabled the ethnic cleaning of the 200,000 Palestinians who live there - an operation that needed time and has not yet been completed at the time of writing (40% have already been transferred; see report on East Jerusalem at And there is a fourth wave of legislation that began in 2001. A series of parliamentary initiatives led to new discriminatory laws, among them 'The Nation and Admittance to the Country Law' which disables any reunion of Palestinian couples living on either side of the Green Line and of families separated for whatever other reason. In practice it is a means of preventing the return to the homeland of any Palestinian who 'overstayed' abroad. Other laws institutionalized discrimination in the realms of welfare and education (including the secret service's right to determine the employment of school principals and teachers). And finally, there are the laws, already mentioned, equating opposition to the Jewishness of the state with treason." (pp 164 -168)

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