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(en) ZNet Book Interviews - ISRAEL/PALESTINE: How To End the War of 1948 by Tanya Reinhart*

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 19 Aug 2003 16:10:19 +0200 (CEST)

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Znet: Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, is about? What is it trying to communicate?
Tanya Reinhart: Israel backed by mainstream Western media - describes its war
against the Palestinians as a war of defence, a necessary response to Palestinian
terror, a noble instance of the global war against terrorism. It is amazing how
still now, after two years of massive Israeli destruction of the Palestinian society,
so little is known about the real facts of how this war developed, and what Israel's
role in it is. The first aim of this book is to bring these facts to light.
The book follows Israel's policies over the three years since Ehud Barak became prime
minister, until the summer of 2002the darkest period in the history of Israel so far.
Based on information available in abundance in the Israeli media, we can track a shift
of policy right at the start of this period
- a shift away from the Oslo conception, which
dominated since 1993. This is, of course, a long
story, documented in detail in the book, but let me
give you the gist of it.

Ever since the Palestinian territories were
occupied in 1967, the Israeli military and political
elites have deliberated over the question how to
keep maximum land (and water) with minimum
Palestinian population. A simple solution of
annexing the heavily populated Palestinian land
would have created a "demographic problem" - the
fear that a Jewish majority could not be sustained.
Therefore, two basic approaches were formed. The
Alon plan of the Labor party proposed annexation of
35-40 percent of the territories, and either a
Jordanian rule, or some form of autonomy for the
rest of the land, to which the Palestinian residents
will be confined. In the eyes of its proponents, this
plan represented a necessary compromise. They
believed it would be inconceivable to repeat the
"solution" of the 1948 Independence war, when
much of the land was obtained "Arab-free",
following mass expulsion of the Palestinian
residents. The second approach, whose most vocal
spokesman was Sharon, strived to get more. In its
extreme realization it maintained that it should be
possible to find more acceptable and sophisticated
ways to achieve a “1948 style" solution. It
would only be necessary to find another state for as
many Palestinians as possible. "Jordan is Palestine"
was the phrase Sharon coined in the 1980's.

In 1993, in Oslo, it seemed that the Alon plan
triumphed. This was enabled also by Arafat's
cooperation. In the past, the Palestinians always
opposed the Alon plan, which robs them of much of
their land. But in 1993 Arafat was about to loose
his grip on Palestinian society, with endless protest
over his one man rule, and the corruption of his
organizations. An apparent "smashing victory"
seemed the only thing that could save him in power.
Behind the back of the local Palestinian negotiating
team headed by Haider Abd al-Shafi, Arafat
accepted an agreement that leaves all Israeli
settlements intact even in the Gaza strip, where
6000 Israeli settlers occupy one third of the land,
and a million Palestinians are crowded in the rest.
As years went by since Oslo, Israel extended the
"Arab-free" areas in the occupied Palestinian
territories to about 50% of the land. Labor circles
began to talk about the "Alon Plus" plan, namely -
more lands to Israel. However, it appeared that they
would still allow some Palestinian self-rule in the
other 50%, under conditions similar to the
Bantustans in South Africa.

On the eve of the Oslo agreements, the majority
of Israelis were tired of war. In their eyes, the fights
over land and resources were over. Haunted by the
memory of the Holocaust, most Israelis believe that
the 1948 war of independence, with its horrible
consequences for the Palestinians, was necessary
to establish a state for the Jews. But now that they
have a state, they just long to live normally on
whatever land they have. Like the majority of
Palestinians, the Israeli majority let itself be fooled
into believing that what we were witnessing were
just "interim agreements" and that eventually the
occupation will somehow end, and the settlements
wiil be dismantled. With this conception of what is
ahead, two third of the Jewish Israelis supported
the Oslo agreements in the polls. It was obvious
that there was no majority for any new war over
land and water.

But the ideology of war over land never died out
in the army, or in the circles of politically influential
generals, whose careers moved from the military to
the government. From the start of the Oslo
process, the maximalists objected to giving even
that much land and rights to the Palestinians. This
was most visible in military circles, whose most
vocal spokesman was then chief of staff, Ehud
Barak, who objected to the Oslo agreements from
the start. Another beacon of opposition was, of
course, Ariel Sharon.

In 1999, the army got back to power through the
politicized generals - first Barak, and then Sharon
(the book surveys their long history of
collaboration). The road was open to correct what
they view as the grave mistake of Oslo. In their
eyes, Sharon’s alternative of fighting the
Palestinians to the bitter end and imposing new
regional orders may have failed in Lebanon in 1982
because of the weakness of “spoiled Israeli
society”. But now, given the new war
philosophy established through U.S. military
operations in Iraq, Kosovo, and, later, Afghanistan,
the political generals believe that with Israel’s
massive air superiority, it might still be possible to
execute that vision. However, in order to get there,
it was first necessary to convince the "spoiled"
Israeli society that, in fact, the Palestinians are not
willing to live in peace, and are still threatening
Israel's very existence. Sharon alone could not
have possibly achieved that, but Barak did succeed
with his "generous offer" fraud.

By now, much was written already about Barak's
non-offer in Camp David. Nevertheless, a careful
examination of the information in Israeli media
reveals more about the extent of the fraud, and a
chapter in the book surveys all the details. In fact,
Barak's Camp David was the second round of his
mastery of deception of public opinion. Several
months before, he did the same with Syria, letting
Israelis and the world believe that Israel is willing
to withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan
Heights. In the polls, 60% of the Israelis supported
enthusiastically dismantling all settlements in the
Golan Hights. But the end of this round of peace
negotiations was just the same as the later end of
the negotiations with the Palestinians. Israelis
became convinced that the rejectionist Asad i
would not be willing to get his territories back and
make peace with Israel. Since then, the possibility
of war with Syria has been in the air. Military
circles explain openly that "Hezbollah, Syria and
Iran are trying to trap Israel in a 'strategic ambush'
and that Israel has to evade that ambush by setting
one of its own... The circumstances could be
created during or near the end of an American
offensive against Iraq" (Amir Oren, Ha'aretz, July 9,

On September 28, 2000, Sharon, with Barak's
approval, threw a match into the boiling frustration
which was accumulating in Palestinian society, with
his provocative visit to Temple Mount/Haram
al-Sharif. The massive security forces that
surrounded him used rubber bullets against unarmed
demonstrators. When these events triggered
further demonstrations the next day, Barak
escalated the shooting and ordered Israeli forces
and tanks into densely populated Palestinian areas.
By all indications, the escalation of Palestinian
protest into armed clashes could have been
prevented had the Israeli response been more
restrained. Even in the face of armed resistance,
Israel's reaction has been grossly out of proportion,
as stated by the General Assembly of the UN,
which condemned Israel's "excessive use of force",
on October 26, 2000.

Israel defines its military action as a necessary
defense against terrorism. But in fact, the first
Palestinian terrorist attack on Israeli civilians inside
Israel occurred on November 2, 2000. That was
after a month during which Israel used its full
military arsenal against civilians, including live
bullets, automatic guns, combat helicopters, tanks,
and missiles.

What is particularly astounding is that most the
military plans underlying Israel’s actions in the
coming months, had already been conceived right
at the start, in October 2000 including the
destruction of the Palestinian infra structure ("Field
of Thorns" plan). The political strategies aimed at
discrediting Arafat and the Palestinian Authority
were also ready right from the start. Barak's
political circles prepared a manuscript known as the
"White Book", which announced that Arafat had
never deserted the "option of violence".

Amid the propaganda, a theme that had already
emerged in October 2000 was the analogy linking
present circumstances to the war of 1948. Major
General Moshe Ya'alon, then deputy chief of staff
(and the present chief of staff), explained that "this
was Israel's most critical campaign against the
Palestinians, including Israel's Arab population,
since the 1948 war - for him, in fact, it is the
second half of 1948" (Amir Oren, Ha'aretz,
November 17, 2000). After two years of brutal
Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, it is hard to
avoid the conclusion that the leading military and
political circles in Israel that produced this analogy
still believe that "the second half" - a completion of
the ethnic cleansing that started in 1948 - is
necessary and possible.

My second aim in the book is to show that
despite the horrors of the last two years, there is
still also another alternative open to end the war of
1948 the road of peace and real reconciliation. It is
amazing how simple and feasible would be to
achieve that. Israel should withdraw immediately
from the territories occupied in 1967. The bulk of
Israeli settlers (150,000 of them) are concentrated
in the big settlement blocks in the center of the
West bank. These areas cannot be evacuated over
night. But the rest of the land (about 90% - 96% of
the West bank and the whole of the Gaza strip)
can be evacuated immediately. Many of the
residents of the isolated Israeli settlements that are
scattered in these areas are speaking openly in the
Israeli media about their wish to leave. It is only
necessary to offer them reasonable compensation
for the property they will be leaving behind. The rest
- the hard-core “land redemptions” fanatics -
are a negligible minority that will have to accept the
will of the majority.

Such immediate withdrawal would still leave
under debate the 6 to 10 percent of the West bank
with the large settlement blocks, as well as the
issues of Jerusalem and the right of return. Over
these, serious peace negotiations should start.
However, during these negotiations Palestinian
society could begin to recover, to settle the land
that the Israelis evacuated, to construct democratic
institutions, and to develop its economy based on
free contacts with whomever it wants. Under these
circumstances, it should be possible to address the
core issue of what is the right way for two peoples
who share the same land to jointly build their

In Israel, the call for immediate withdrawal is
drawing some public support since Amy Ayalon
(former head of the security services) has openly
called for it, and was joined in February 2002 by the
Council for Peace and Security a body of about
1000 establishment members. To judge by the polls,
this plan has the support of 60 percent of the Jewish
Israelis. This is not surprising, as it is the same
majority that has been consistently supporting the
dismantlement of settlements since 1993. In a
Dahaf poll of May 6 2002, solicited by Peace Now,
59 percent supported a unilateral withdrawal of the
Israeli army from most of the occupied territories,
and dismantling most of the settlements. They
believe that this will renew the peace process, and
that this solution is the most hopeful of the options
outlined in the survey. This majority is, of course,
not represented at all by the political system, but it
is there.

(2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing
the book? Where does the content come from?
What went into making the book what it is?

I began writing the book during the first months of
the Palestinian uprising. It started as columns in
the Israeli Israeli paper Yediot Aharonont, and more
extended internet articles for Znet and Israel
Indymedia, that were following the events as they
took place. But I then extended the research into a
full coverage of the period. The first draft was
completed in February 2002, and appeared in April
in French as Detruire la Palestine, ou comment
terminer la guerre de 1948 (France: La Fabrique,
2002) The present English version covers also the
period between April and the summer of 2002, when
Israel entered its new and most cruel stage of the
destruction of Palestine, with its operation
"Defensive Shield," and the horrors in the refugee
camp of Jenin.

My major source of information is the Israeli
media. In the Israeli papers you can find much more
about what is going on than in any outside
coverage. One often hears statements interpreting
this as signifying that the Israeli media is more
liberal and critical than other Western media. This,
however, is not the explanation. With the notable
exception of courageous and conscientious
journalists like Amira Hass Gideon Levi, and a few
others, the Israeli press is as obedient as
elsewhere, and it recycles faithfully the military and
governmental messages. But part of the reason it is
more revealing is its lack of inhibition. Things that
would look outrageous in the world, are considered
natural daily routine.

For example, on April 12, 2002, following the
Jenin atrocities, Ha’aretz innocently reported
what “military sources” had told the paper:
”The IDF [Israeli army] intends to bury today
Palestinans killed in the West Bank camp… The
sources said that two infantry companies, along
with members of the military rabbinate, will enter
the camp today to collect the bodies. Those who
can be identified as civilians will be moved to a
hospital in Jenin, and then on to burial, while those
identified as terrorists will be buried at a special
cemetery in the Jordan Valley.” Apparently, no
one in Israel was particularly concerned at the time
about issues of international law, war crimes and
mass graves. Israeli TV even showed, the evening
before, refrigerator trucks that were waiting outside
the Jenin camp to transfer bodies to “terrorist
cemeteries”. It was only after international
attention began to focus on Jenin that this
information was quickly concealed and reinterpreted
using any absurd reasoning to explain that nothing
of the sort had ever happened. This is how the
respectable analyst Ze’ev Schiff of
Ha’aretz later summarized the event:
“Toward the end of the fighting, the army sent
three large refrigerator trucks into the city.
Reservists decided to sleep in them for their air
conditioning. Some Palestinians saw dozens of
covered bodies lying in the trucks and rumors
spread that the Jews had filled trucks full of
Palestinian bodies.” (Ha’aretz, July 17,

(3) What are your hopes for Israel/Palestine
How to End the War of 1948? What do you hope it
will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the
effort and aspirations you have for the book, what
will you deem to be a success? What would leave
you happy about the whole undertaking? What
would leave you wondering if it was worth all the
time and effort?

In the present political atmosphere in the US and
Europe, anybody who dares express criticism of
Israel is immediately silenced as an anti-Semite.
Part of the reason why the Israeli and Jewish lobby
has been so successful in forcing this accusation is
the massive lack of knowledge about what is really
happening. Without the facts, the dominant
narrative remains that Israel is struggling to defend
its mere existence. Attention focuses only on the
horrible and despicable Palestinian terror, so that if
you criticize Israel, you are accused of justifying
terror. My hope, then, is to give the readers the
weapons to face such accusations a detailed
knowledge of the facts.

My second hope is to restore hope. As I said, a
sane and rational solution is still possible. People
have managed in the past to move from a history of
bloodshed into peaceful coexistence, Europe is
being the most well known example. After two
years of horror, a majority in both the Israeli and
Palestinian people is still willing to open a new
page. I show this in detail in the book, and I end the
book with the story of the many Palestinian and
Israeli activists who are struggling together for the
only future worth living a future based on basic
human values. What is needed to give hope a
chance is for the people of the world to intervene
and stop the Israeli military Junta, which does not
even represent the Israeli majority.

Finally, and perhaps most important, I try to give
some picture of the Palestinian tragedy the best I
can from my privileged position as a member of the
oppressing society. With the U.S. backing, and the
silence of the Western world, there is a serious
danger that what we have seen so far is only the
beginning, and that under the umbrella of a war in
Iraq, the Palestinian people may be destined to a
choice between annihilation or a second exile.
Arundhati Roy’s description of the situation in
Afghanistan at the time seems so painfully
applicable to what the Palestinians are enduring:
“Witness the infinite justice of the new century.
Civilians starving to death while they are waiting to
be killed.” My biggest hope and plea is - save
the Palestinians! Make ‘stop Israel!’ a part
of any struggle against the US war in Iraq. If the
governments of the world will not do that, my hope
is that the people of the world still can.

Tanya Reinhart
Ed. Note copied from internet:
Tanya Reinhart is a long timer anarchist activist. She is
also a professor of linguistics and cultural studies at Tel
Aviv University and at the University of Utrecht. She is
most well known academically for her contribution to theoretical
linguistics. In 1994, following the Oslo agreements˜which she
viewed as a painful deception of the Palestinian people˜and the
setting of a sophisticated Apartheid regime, she turned to
political writing. She has had a regular critical column in the
biggest Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, as well as many articles
on the Internet and international fora. For more information,
visit Reinhart's web site at http://www.tau.ac.il/~reinhart.

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