Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Layer 111 Gaza

Radio 4 said the headline on the front page of today’s Independent is “WHY?”

Whereas The Guardian’s is “Gaza’s Day of Carnage - 40 Dead as Israelis Bomb Two UN Schools”.

Coincidentally, the first thing I did when I woke up this morning was take a break from reading Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’ from cover to cover and go straight to Chapter 21, “Losing The Peace Incentive: Israel As Warning.”

“Since 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion, [global] spending has been going up on both fighter jets and executive jets rapidly and simultaneously, which means that the world is becoming less peaceful while accumulating significantly more profits.

Today, global instability does not just benefit a small group of arms dealers; it generates huge profits for the high-tech security sector, for heavy construction, for private health care companies treating wounded soldiers, for the oil and gas sectors, - and of course for defence contractors.

The scale of the revenues at stake is certainly enough to fuel an economic boom. Lockheed Martin, whose former vice president chaired the committee loudly agitating for war in Iraq, received $25 billion of US taxpayers dollars in 2005 alone. [This] sum exceeded the gross domestic product of 103 countries, including Iceland, Jordan, and Costa Rica . . . [and] was also larger than the combined budgets of the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, the Small Business Administration and the entire legislative branch of government.

The recent spate of disasters has translated into such spectacular profits that many people around the world have come to the same conclusion: the rich and powerful must be deliberately causing the catastrophes so they can exploit them.

The truth is at once less sinister and more dangerous. An economic system that requires constant growth, while bucking almost all serious attempts at . . . regulation, generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological or financial. [!!!!!!!!!]

The appetite for easy, short-term profits offered by purely speculative investment has turned the stock, currency and real estate markets into crisis-creation machines . . . [!!!!!]

Our common addiction to dirty, non-renewable energy sources keeps other kinds of emergencies coming: natural disasters . . . and wars waged for control over scarce resources, which in turn create terrorist blowback . . .

Given the boiling temperatures, both climatic and political, future disasters need not be cooked up in dark conspiracies. All indications are that simply by staying the current course, they will keep coming with ever more ferocious intensity.[!!!!!! - this was written in pre-credit crisis 2007] Disaster generation can therefore be left to the market’s invisible hand. This is one area in which it actually delivers.

Large oil companies have bankrolled the climate-change-denial movement for years . . . Several influential Washington think tanks . . . are heavily funded by weapons and homeland security contractors, which profit directly from these institutes’ ceaseless portrayal of the world as a dark and menacing place, its troubles responsive only to force. The homeland security sector is becoming increasingly integrated with media corporations, a development with Orwellian implications.

It certainly makes sound business sense. The more panicked our societies become, convinced that there are terrorists lurking in every mosque, the higher the news ratings soar, the more biometric IDs and liquid-explosive-detection devices the complex sells, and the more high-tech fences it builds.

If the dream of the open, borderless “small planet” was the ticket to profits in the nineties, the nightmare of the menacing, fortressed Western continents, under siege from jihadists and illegal immigrants, plays the same role in the new millennium.

The only prospect that threatens the booming disaster economy on which so much wealth depends - from weapons to oil to engineering to surveillance to patented drugs - is the possibility of achieving some measure of climatic stability and geopolitical peace.

Israel and the Standing Disaster Apartheid State

The ever-adaptable market has changed to fit the new status quo - instability is the new stability. In discussions of this post-9/11 economic phenomenon, Israel is often held up as a sort of Exhibit A. Wars and terrorist attacks have been increasing, but the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange has been rising to record levels right alongside this violence. Israel’s economy has never been stronger, with 2007 growth rates rivalling those of China and India.

What makes Israel interesting as a guns-and-caviar model is not only that its economy is resilient in the face of major political shocks such as the 2006 war with Lebanon or Hamas’s 2007 takeover of Gaza, but also that Israel has crafted an economy that expands markedly in direct response to escalating violence.

The reasons for Israeli industry’s comfort level with disaster are not mysterious. Years before US and European companies grasped the potential of the global security boom, Israeli technology firms were busily pioneering the homeland security industry, and they continue to dominate the sector today.

Israel has 350 corporations dedicated to selling homeland security products, and 30 new ones entered the market in 2007. From a corporate perspective, this development has made Israel a model to be emulated in the post-9/11 market. From a social and political perspective, however, Israel should serve as something else - a stark warning.

The fact that Israel continues to enjoy booming prosperity, even as it wages war against its neighbours and escalates the brutality in the occupied territories, demonstrates just how perilous it is to build an economy based on the premise of continual war and deepening disasters.

Israel’s current ability to combine guns and caviar is the culmination of a dramatic shift in the nature of its economy over the past fifteen years, one that has had a profound and little-examined impact on the parallel disintegration of the prospects for peace. The last time there was a credible prospect of peace breaking out in the Middle East was in the early nineties, a time when a powerful constituency of Israelis believed that continued conflict was no longer an option.

Two factors that contributed to Israel’s retreat into unilateralism are little understood and rarely discussed, both related to the unique ways that the Chicago School free-market crusade played out in Israel.

One was the influx of [up to a million] Soviet Jews, which was a direct result of Russia’s shock therapy experiment. The other was the flipping of Israel’s export economy from one based on traditional goods and high technology to one disproportionately dependent on selling expertise and devices relating to counterterrorism. Both factors were greatly disruptive of the Oslo process: the arrival of Russians reduced Israel’s reliance on Palestinian labour and allowed it to seal in the occupied territories, while the rapid expansion of the high-tech security economy created a powerful appetite inside Israel’s wealthy and most powerful sectors for abandoning peace in favour of fighting a continual, and continuously expending, War on Terror.

[Thanks to Yeltsin] Over the course of the 1990s, roughly 1 million Jews left the former Soviet Union and moved to Israel. They now make up more than 18% of Israel’s total Jewish population . . . It would be the equivalent to all of Greece moving to France.

This demographic transformation upended the [peace process’s] already precarious dynamic. Before the arrival of the Soviet refugees [the Israeli economy] could no more survive without Palestinian labour than California could run without Mexicans. Roughly 150,000 Palestinians left their homes in Gaza and the West Bank every day and travelled to Israel to clean streets and build roads . . . Each side depended on the other economically . . .

Then, just as Oslo came into effect, this deeply interdependent relationship was abruptly severed. [There was] a new pool of cheap labour. Suddenly, Tel Aviv had the power to launch a new era in Palestinian relations. On March 30, 1993, Israel began its policy of ‘closure’, sealing off the border between Israel and the occupied territories, often for days and weeks at a time, preventing Palestinians from getting to their jobs and selling their goods. Closure began as a temporary measure, ostensibly as an emergency response to the threat of terrorism. It quickly became to new status quo, with territories sealed off not just from Israel but from each other, policed through an ever more elaborate and demeaning system of checkpoints.

1993 . . . was the year the occupied territories were transformed from run-down dormitories housing the underclass of the Israeli state into suffocating prisons. In this same period, between 1993 and 2000, the Israeli settlers living in the occupied territories doubled their numbers. Israel also continued to claim key water reserves in the West Bank, feeding the settlements and diverting scarce water back to Israel.

Israelis . . . elected Ariel Sharon and started building what they call the security barrier, and Palestinians call the Apartheid Wall . . .

[There was] a 10.7% increase in military spending, partially financed by cutbacks in social services. The government also encouraged the tech industry to branch out from [ICT] into security and surveillance. It was the perfect marriage of the Likud Party’s hawkishness and its radical embrace of Chicago School economics . . .

Israel’s pitch to North America and Europe was straightforward: the War on Terror you are just embarking on is one we have been fighting since our birth. Let our high-tech firms and privatised spy companies show you how it’s done.

The country’s defence exports in 2006 reached a record $3.4 billion, making Israel the fourth largest arms dealer in the world, larger than the UK. Its technology sector, much of it linked to security, now makes up 60% of all exports.

Len Rosen, a prominent Israeli investment banker, told Fortune magazine, “It’s security that matters more than peace”. It is not an exaggeration to say that the [global] War on Terror industry saved Israel’s faltering economy, much as the disaster capitalism complex helped rescue the global stock markets.

It is not a coincidence that the Israeli state’s decision to put ‘counterterrorism’ at the centre of its export economy has coincided precisely with its abandonment of peace negotiations, as well as a clear strategy to reframe its conflict with the Palestinians not as a battle against a nationalist movement with specific goals for land and rights but rather as part of the global War on Terror - one against illogical, fanatical forces bent only on destruction.

As has been the case on previous Chicago School frontiers, Israel’s post-9/11 growth spurt has been marked by the rapid stratification of society between rich and poor inside the state. The security buildup has been accompanied by a wave of privatisations and funding cuts to social programmes that has virtually annihilated the economic legacy of Labour Zionism and created an epidemic of inequality the likes of which Israelis have never known. In 2007, 24.4% of Israelis were living below the poverty line, with 35.2% of all children in poverty - compared with 8% of children twenty years earlier.

Clearly the Israeli economy no longer had reason to fear war . . . In 2006, the year of the devastating war with Lebanon and also the bloody escalation in the West Bank and Gaza following the election of Hamas, Israel’s overall economy grew by a staggering 8 percent - more than triple the growth rate of the US economy in the same period. The Palestinian economy, meanwhile, contracted by between 10 and 15 percent in 2006, with poverty rates reaching close to 70 percent.

This recipe for endless worldwide war is the same one that the Bush administration offered as a business prospectus to the nascent disaster capitalism complex after September 11. It is not a war that can be won by any country, but winning is not the point. The point is to create ‘security’ inside fortress states bolstered by endless low-level conflict outside their walls. In a way, it is the same goal as the private security companies have in Iraq: secure the perimeter, protect the principal.

Baghdad, New Orleans and ‘Sandy Springs’ provide glimpses of a kind of gated future built and run by the disaster capitalism complex. It is in Israel, however, that this process is most advanced: an entire country has turned itself into a fortified gated community, surrounded by locked-out people living in permanently excluded red zones. This is what a society looks like when it has lost its economic incentive for peace and is heavily invested in fighting and profiting from an endless and unwinnable War on Terror. One part looks like Israel; the other part looks like Gaza.

In April 2007, US soldiers began implementing a plan to turn several volatile Baghdad neighbourhoods into ‘gated communities’, surrounded by checkpoints and concrete walls, where residents would be tracked using biometric technology.

After it becomes clear that Baghdad is never going to be Dubai . . . Plan B is to settle into another Colombia or Nigeria - never-ending war, fought in large measure by private soldiers and paramilitaries, damped down just enough to get the natural resources out of the ground, helped along by mercenaries guarding the pipelines, platforms and water reserves.

It has become commonplace to compare the militarised ghettos of Gaza and the West Bank, with their concrete walls, electrified fences and checkpoints, to the Bantustan system in South Africa, which kept blacks in ghettos and demanded passes when they left . . . But the Bantustans were essentially work camps, a way to keep African labourers under tight surveillance and control so they would work cheaply in the mines. What Israel has constructed is a system designed to do the opposite: to keep workers from working, a network of open holding pens for millions of people who have been categorised as surplus humanity.

This discarding of 25 to 60 percent of the population has been the hallmark of the Chicago School crusade since the ‘misery villages’ began mushrooming throughout the [South American] Southern Cone in the seventies. In South Africa, Russia and New Orleans the rich build walls around themselves. Israel has taken this disposal process a step further: it has built walls around the dangerous poor.


ISBN 978-0-141-02453-0

“The only book of the last few years in American publishing that I would describe as a mandatory must-read. Literally the only one."-Rachel Maddow

I’m not only advocating that everybody should go out and buy a copy of The Shock Doctrine, I suggest that everyone buys a second copy and gives it to a friend, with the proviso that the friend also buys a copy and passes it on to a friend, and so on.

We may not all agree with every single word in the book, but we can use it as the basis for a damn good discussion and debate.


You also need a copy of Today’s G2, or you should download from the Guardian’s website its main article, which is by Oxford professor of international relations, Avi Shlaim. In case you might wonder whether Naomi is given to exaggeration or hype, it’s important to recognise that Prof. Shlaim makes the same points and draws the same conclusions.


The only way to make sense of Israel's senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel's vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration's complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

Israel's settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.

America and the EU shamelessly joined Israel in ostracising and demonising the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.

As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes. Israel's propaganda machine persistently purveyed the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than antisemitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics and that Islam is incompatible with democracy. But the simple truth is that the Palestinian people are a normal people with normal aspirations. They are no better but they are no worse than any other national group. What they aspire to, above all, is a piece of land to call their own on which to live in freedom and dignity.

Aggressive American neoconservatives participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup.

Israel's cynical leaders could also count on apathy and impotence of the pro-western Arab regimes and on blind support from President Bush in the twilight of his term in the White House. Bush readily obliged by putting all the blame for the crisis on Hamas, vetoing proposals at the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire and issuing Israel with a free pass to mount a ground invasion of Gaza.

As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim.

The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, "crying and shooting".

Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This rule applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas, but Israel's entire record is one of unbridled and unremitting brutality towards the inhabitants of Gaza.

Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.

Israel's objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel's insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash.

This brief review of Israel's record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones.


This letter, from Sabby Sagall of the Camden Palestine Solidarity Campaign, appeared in yesterday’s Guardian:

Israeli leaders' claim to be merely defending their people from Hamas rocket attacks is disingenuous. Since Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 in what all observers described as free and fair elections, Israel has adopted three basic policies. First, adopting sanctions against the new Palestinian government, including withholding tax receipts and imprisoning 44 Hamas MPs. Second, tightening its blockade of Gaza in June 2007, after Hamas took power to forestall an attempted military coup by Fatah, backed by Israel and the US. Third, breaking the recent six-month truce by killing several Hamas activists on 5 November.

What other conclusion can we draw except that Israel is doing what it has always done - provoking the Palestinians, thus giving Israel the excuse for a disproportionate retaliation? Israel is attempting to destroy the Hamas government, as it once tried to eliminate the Fatah regime, so that it can then claim it has no partner for peace. Israel has never wanted peace except on its own terms - which do not include a viable Palestinian state. Short of this, it has always preferred a state of permanent semi-war. Meanwhile, the colonisation of the West Bank continues apace. This, and Israel's brutality towards the people of Gaza, indicates that its ultimate aim, which it has never abandoned, is a Palestine without Palestinians, completing the ethnic cleansing begun in 1948.


Primary Rules for Interesting Lessons - Guardian letters page.

And finally, two excellent letters on education, from yesterday’s paper.

I am surprised that your coverage of the chief inspector of schools, Christine Gilbert, and her comments about dull teaching failed to mention the main cause of why dull teaching occurs (Ofsted's new mission - to get rid of boring teachers, 5 January).

It is not because dull people become teachers. Most student teachers start out enthusiastic. The reason far more lessons are routine than when I trained as a teacher is that now there is in place a rigid tracking and testing regime that remorselessly marginalises creativity and fun. The whole Sats apparatus has been grotesquely wasteful and demotivating. Children are most engaged when lessons are challenging and fun. Being constantly drilled for tests causes the very disenchantment Gilbert highlights.

First, primary-school children should be liberated - as their secondary school counterparts have been - from this stultifying Sats apparatus. Second, a much more creative curriculum based on reading, inquiry and investigation should be introduced. The main responsibility for that shift lies with policy-makers rather than teachers.

Alan Gibbons


So the latest crackdown is on boring teachers, is it? This comes from a government that has done its best to remove every scrap of initiative and imagination from the teaching profession. Not that long ago teachers were free to write their own syllabuses to make them relevant to their pupils' abilities and interests, and were free to use any teaching style they wished. Now not only does the government, through the national curriculum, dictate the content of what must be taught but also the way in which it is taught (the sacrosanct three-part lesson). Of course it's boring.

And for Ofsted to criticise teachers for "endlessly preparing for tests", bearing in mind that the first Ofsted judgment on every school is based on its performance in these tests - well, it's enough to make you choke on your cornflakes.

Bob Epton
Brigg, North Lincolnshire

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