Saturday, October 25, 2008

I was looking forward to reading Neve Gordon's Israel's Occupation (University of California Press). Gordon has written critical pieces about Israeli occupation before and I was expecting the treatment to be sharper and tougher. I was rather disappointed. First, there is a tradition in the so-called Israeli peace camp where Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is treated separately and apart from the history of Zionism and from the injustice that the very creation and continuation of the Israeli state represent. Had he put the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the context (in a first chapter for example) of Zionist history and doctrine, it would have made his book more acceptable politically. But the notion that you can discredit and delegitimize Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, while refraining from delegitimizing the Zionist project as a whole is like offering partial condemnations of cruelty and aggression. And the author--typical of Israeli scholarship, on the left and on the right--totally disregards what the Palestinians have to say in Arabic about the Israeli occupation of their lands, unless they wrote that in English. I was expecting him to cite the diaries of Khalil Sakakini (which were published in Hebrew) because Israeli scholars seem to think that this one token reference fulftil the quota of references to the opinions of the natives. I also was rather disturbed by his references to the West Bank and Gaza as "OT"--short for occupied territories. Again, it leaves the reader with the impression that this is a technical term for an Israeli mistake--no more. But there are things that are far more disturbing: on three or four occasions in this book, Gordon states that "Also worth notins is that the number of Palestinians who have been killed is relatively small in comparison with those killed during other military occupations." (p. xviii) Gordoan makes that point several times in the book. You want to ask him: so what is your point? Is this a call for Israel to kill more Palestinians? Furthermore, this argument is very weak but is consistent with his methodology whereby he separates the West Bank and Gaza from what is going on around them. You can easily say that as much as Israel never was reluctant to kill Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the comparison to other military occupations is falacious. Israeli subjugation of the West Bank and Gaza relied on killing Palestinians not only in the West Bank and Gaza but also in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and around the world. In other words, while Israel was occupying the West Bank and Gaza, it was also bombing refugee camps outside of the West Bank and Gaza, and it was invading and occupying and assassinating. And the author's failure to link developments togehter is a reflection of the shortsighted Israeli "peace camp" perspective. More disturbing, or equally disturbing is the author's claim that Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was benign at first and then deteriorated, or to put it in his own words, it went from aiming "to secure the existence and livelihood of the Palestinian inhabitants" to imposing the "politics of death" (p 2). He even refers to the Israeli crimes during the first Intifada as a combination of "trials and legal interventions" (p. 21). So the Palestinian civilians who were killed and injured in that Intifada were harmed by trials and court proceedings? He later tells you that restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were "not nearly as harsh as in later years" (p. 36). The author credits whatever economic development that occurred in the occupied territory in the early years to deliberate Israeli policies without relating economic conditios to the region as a whole (p. 51). I was quite apalled that the author refers to an Isareli policy of "restraint" in dealing with the occupied territories (p. 54). And when cattle is examined for tuberculosis, the author does not fail to credit the occupation (p. 63). And then Gordon said this about Israeli practices during the Intifada: "Nowithstanding the fact that more Palestinians were killed in those five years tahn in the previous twenty, it is important to emphasize that Israe adopted police-style methods to confront the Palestinian protestors."(p. 157) Do you see what I mean? And why does he have to say "it is important to emphasize"? But having said all this, and despite serious methodlogical problems that weaken the political value of the book, it does contain a useful cataglogue of Israeli Zionist methods of control and surveillance and subjugation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. So I recommend this book with caution and with the qualifications mentioned.