One of Israel’s most dubious inventions is a form of public relations generally unconnected to the truth. It is called hasbara, a Hebrew term that has no “real, precise” translation into other languages, according to a senior Israeli diplomat Gideon Meir.
The hasbara machine was cranked into action early in 2011. On New Year’s Eve, Jawaher Abu Rahmah collapsed from inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during the weekly protest against the massive wall that penetrates deep into her native Bilin, a West Bank village. After she died the following morning, the Israeli army spread malicious rumours – reported faithfully in some newspapers – that she may not have attended the demonstration and instead perished from cancer.
The practice of hasbara is not restricted to official organs of the Israeli state, as a recent article by Daniel Mariaschin from the Zionist lobby group B’nai B’rith illustrated (“Europe’s misguided meddling in Israel”, EUobserver, 5 January). In taking a swipe at 26 former office-holders who have appealed for EU sanctions against Israel if it does not halt the expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Mariaschin attempts to dress up several falsehoods as facts.
Mariaschin asserts that the signers of the appeal – including Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief for most of the past decade – “all know Israel well and are surely familiar with its desire for peace”. Yet he provides not one shred of evidence to prove that Israel, the world’s third highest spender on the military (as a proportion of gross domestic product) and the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear weapons, has a “desire for peace”.
He defends the construction of exclusively Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem by claiming that Jerusalem has been the “capital of Israel for 3,000 years”. This perception has no basis in international law. In 1980, the United Nations Security Council declared Israel’s claims over East Jerusalem to be “null and void”.
Just as absurdly, Mariaschin argues that Israel’s control over Jerusalem “enables Jews, Christians and Muslims each to freely worship at their own holy sites in the city”. Where was that magical freedom in 2010, when Israel sealed off crossings in order to stop Christians in the West Bank from celebrating Easter in Jerusalem?
And Mariaschin regurgitates the trite Israeli line that it “withdrew” from Gaza in 2005, only to be bombarded by rockets from Hamas. He neglects to mention that Hamas observed an Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel between June and November 2008. It was Israel which resumed the cycle of violence by attacking Gaza on 4 November that year, a day when the world was preoccupied with the election of a new American president. Israel’s dismantlement of its settlements in Gaza does not alter the area’s status; the 1907 Hague regulations make clear that a territory is occupied when a foreign power exerts “effective control” over it. As part of its determination to maintain control of Gaza, Israel has imposed a brutal blockade by land and by sea. Gaza’s fishermen, for example, are regularly fired at by Israeli naval vessels while doing nothing more sinister than trying to earn a living.
Nonetheless, I have some sympathy for Mariaschin’s observation that the Palestinian leadership “is on its way to betraying its own people”. If the “leadership” Mariaschin is referring to is the Palestinian Authority, then I would go further by saying that it has been engaged in a steady process of betrayal. A US diplomatic cable made public lately by WikiLeaks indicates that Mahmoud Abbas, the authority’s “president” (his mandate expired in 2009) was told in advance about Israel’s plans to bomb Gaza in late 2008 but that he was so fixated on the rivalry between Hamas and his party Fatah that he kept silent.
To its shame, the European Union has been pressurising Abbas to act as a quisling. The late scholar Edward Said drew a distinction between how Fatah has behaved in the occupied territories and the African National Congress behaved in South Africa. Even after the ANC was granted recognition by the apartheid regime, it refused to supply police “in order to avoid appearing as the white government’s enforcer,” Said wrote. This in stark contrast with the situation in the West Bank; during 2011, the EU will give more than €8 million to the Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (COPPS). This “mission” is confined to a sliver of the West Bank; Palestinian police trained under it may only arrest their kinfolk, not Israeli settlers on stolen land. In other words, the Palestinians are being required to police their own occupation – with unwitting assistance from the European taxpayer.
Shamefully, too, the EU has been helping Israel to hone a neo-colonial “divide and rule” strategy in the occupied territories. Catherine Ashton, the Union’s current foreign policy chief, has chosen Israel and the West Bank for her first working trip abroad this year. Although she met Fatah representatives, she refused to talk to anyone from Hamas, the victors of parliamentary elections in 2006 that official EU monitors deemed to be free and fair. The EU’s decision to ostracise Hamas – originally taken under pressure from Washington – does nothing to advance the search for peace to which the Union is rhetorically committed. Rather, it advances Israeli imperialism and the attendant dispossession of the Palestinians.
It is telling that senior politicians wait until they have left office before they criticise Israel. Before stepping down in 2009, Javier Solana exulted in how Israel enjoys a closer relationship with the EU than any other state outside the Union’s borders. Participating in EU programmes ranging from archaeology to enterprise promotion, Israel is a member of the Union, without being a member of its institutions, Solana noted.
The widespread public revulsion in Europe at how Israel treats the Palestinians as subhuman is not shared by our leaders. True, they feign concern every so often from one side of their mouths. From the other, they give Israel all the support it needs to keep subjugating an entire people.
·First published by EUobserver (www.euobserver.com), 7 January 2010