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Incitement against Palestine: Israel not ready to give up ‘villa in the jungle’

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: AP

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: AP

US Secretary of State John Kerry spent last week testing the waters with Israelis and Palestinians over his so-called framework agreement – designed to close the gaps between the two sides. But the issues he is trying to resolve appear more intractable by the day.

As he headed to the region, Israel’s hawkish cabinet ministers gave their blessing to legislation to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swath of the West Bank that might otherwise be the Palestinian state’s economic backbone and gateway to the outside world.

To underscore their point, the interior minister, Gideon Saar, a close friend of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, led a group of rightwing politicians on a tour of the valley during which they held a dedication ceremony for a new settlement neighbourhood.

In a speech there, the deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, averred that the Jordan Valley must remain under “Israeli sovereignty forever”. Without it, Israel would return to what he called the “Auschwitz borders” before the 1967 occupation began.

On Sunday, as Kerry left, the defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, added a new condition: peace was impossible, he argued, as long as the Palestinians and their schoolbooks “incited” against Israel, even quoting from a government-compiled “Palestinian incitement index”.

The hyperbole overshadowed two Israeli surveys that might one day provide a yardstick by which to judge an equivalent “Israeli incitement index”.

An opinion poll revealed that nearly two-thirds of Israeli Jews believe the conflict’s Palestinian narrative – including the nakba, the great dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 to create Israel – should be taught in schools.

This flies in the face of Netanyahu’s own view. His government passed a law in 2011 effectively banning public institutions from giving a platform to nakba commemorations.

The other study, following an experiment in a handful of schools, demonstrated that, when Jewish students are exposed to spoken Arabic at an early age, between 10 and 12, they hold dramatically less hostile and stereotypical views of Arabs. Currently, many Jewish students never learn Arabic.

With the experimental programme employing teachers from Israel’s large Palestinian minority, the study noted that for most of the Jewish children it was the first time they had developed a close relationship with an Arab.

The education ministry, however, was reported to have waved aside the findings and is apparently failing to fund the existing, small programme, let alone expand it.

This is no oversight. Successive Israeli governments have carefully engineered the structure of Israeli society to ensure that Jewish and Palestinian citizens, the latter comprising a fifth of the population, are kept in separate linguistic, cultural, educational and emotional worlds.

The reasoning is not hard to discern. The last thing Israeli leaders want is for Jewish and Palestinian citizens to develop shared interests, forge friendships and act in solidarity. That would start to erode the rationale for a Jewish state, especially one premised on the supposed need of the Jews to defend themselves from a hostile world – “the villa in the jungle”, as former prime minister Ehud Barak once characterised Israel.

In short, a Jewish state’s future precisely depends on the anti-Arab stereotypes inculcated in young Israeli minds.

It may not therefore be coincidental that, as Israel has faced increasing pressure over the past 20 years to make peace, the separation of Jews from Palestinians has entrenched.

Today most Israeli Jews rarely meet a Palestinian, and especially not one from the West Bank or Gaza. It is easy to forget that before the 1993 Oslo accords, many Israeli Jews regularly ventured into Palestinian areas, to shop, eat and fix their cars. Palestinians, meanwhile, were evident in Israeli communities, even if only as builders or waiters.

It may have been a very unequal, even colonial encounter, but nonetheless it made it hard for Israelis to demonise their neighbours.

Such contacts are now a distant memory. And that is precisely how leaders like Netanyahu want to keep it.

Inside Israel, the direction of policy is the same. In recent weeks, the government has insisted on raising the electoral threshold in a barely concealed effort to rid the parliament of Arab parties. Legislation is also being revived to tax into oblivion human rights organisations, those that give a voice to Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.

Last weekend Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, argued that a peace agreement must include disappearing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens by transferring their homes to a future, very circumscribed Palestinian state.

Palestinian legislator Ahmed Tibi’s complaint that Palestinian citizens were viewed by Israel’s leaders as nothing more than “chess pieces” goes to the heart of the matter. It is easy to dehumanise those you know and care little about.

Israel’s separation policy – and its security justifications – requires not only that Jews and Palestinians be kept apart, but that Palestinians be confined to a series of discrete ghettos, whether in the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza or Israel.

These divisions are the cause of endless suffering. A recent study of Gaza, the most isolated of these ghettos, found that a third of Palestinians there were physically separated from a close relative. Israeli-imposed restrictions force Palestinians to forgo marriages, learn of relatives’ deaths from afar, miss college courses, and lose the chance for medical treatment.

The prioritising of Israelis’ security over Palestinians’ freedom was a central weakness of the Oslo process, and the same skewed agenda pollutes the current peace talks.

In a commentary for the Haaretz newspaper last week, a leading general, Gadi Shamni, set out at length the many military reasons – quite apart from political ones – why Israel could never risk allowing the Palestinians a viable state. On the army’s best assessments, he argued, Israel would need to control such a state’s borders and much of its territory, including the Jordan Valley, for a period ranging “from 40 years to forever”.

The reality is that no arrangement on earth can guarantee protection for those in the villa from the beasts lurking outside. Either it is time to abandon the villa, or to start seeing the jungle as a forest to be explored.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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12 Responses

  1. Citizen on January 9, 2014, 9:54 am

    Have you read excerpts from former S.O.D Gates on Bush Jr and Obama? His new book, now news all over TV news, reveals his tremendous concern that presidents were, are way too much ready to use war as a political tactic with no regard at all for our soldiers. Specifically, during his term under Bush Jr , he was very afraid POTUS would succumb to AIPAC’s yearning for war on Iran, and during his term under Obama, he was worried about the same thing. I guess the question now, is what about Hagel?

  2. Citizen on January 9, 2014, 10:19 am

    “The reality is that no arrangement on earth can guarantee protection for those in the villa from the beasts lurking outside.”

    Zionists are pragmatic. They will settle for another 40 years, and during that time work to assure Israel’s security eternally. The only question is, will Americans goys just keep paying for this? I think so. And so does Bibi. After all, he lived in ivy league America. Mass America demography are a pawn same as Palestinians. Show me any evidence this is not so?

  3. Citizen on January 9, 2014, 10:20 am

    The villa in the jungle. Makes me think of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

    • Mike_Konrad on January 9, 2014, 4:19 pm

      Makes me think of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

      Oh, the horror, the hora.

      I am a bad boy!

  4. seafoid on January 9, 2014, 10:24 am

    The whole system is so ludicrous. The average Israeli Jew has never met a Palestinian, a Jordanian, a Syrian, a Lebanese or a Masri, does not speak Arabic AND LIVES IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

    you couldn’t make it up.

    If Ben Gurion airport was somehow immobilised and Israelis were no longer able to travel to Europe or the US, what would become of the Jewish enclave ?

    The other thing is that Israeli agency in the region is fading. It’s not about what Israelis want any more. Unforeseen consequences is the name of the game.

  5. DICKERSON3870 on January 9, 2014, 1:37 pm

    RE: “Successive Israeli governments have carefully engineered the structure of Israeli society to ensure that Jewish and Palestinian citizens, the latter comprising a fifth of the population, are kept in separate linguistic, cultural, educational and emotional worlds… Today most Israeli Jews rarely meet a Palestinian, and especially not one from the West Bank or Gaza.” ~ Jonathan Cook

    “Rich People Just Care Less”, By Daniel Goleman, N.Y. Times, 10/05/13

    [EXCERPT] . . . In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them.
    Social distance makes it all the easier to focus on small differences between groups and to put a negative spin on the ways of others and a positive spin on our own.
    Freud called this “the narcissism of minor differences,” a theme repeated by Vamik D. Volkan, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, who was born in Cyprus to Turkish parents. Dr. Volkan remembers hearing as a small boy awful things about the hated Greek Cypriots — who, he points out, actually share many similarities with Turkish Cypriots. Yet for decades their modest-size island has been politically divided, which exacerbates the problem by letting prejudicial myths flourish.
    In contrast, extensive interpersonal contact counteracts biases by letting people from hostile groups get to know one another as individuals and even friends.
    Thomas F. Pettigrew, a research professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, analyzed more than 500 studies on intergroup contact. Mr. Pettigrew, who was born in Virginia in 1931 and lived there until going to Harvard for graduate school, told me in an e-mail that it was the “the rampant racism in the Virginia of my childhood” that led him to study prejudice.
    In his research, he found that even in areas where ethnic groups were in conflict and viewed one another through lenses of negative stereotypes, individuals who had close friends within the other group exhibited little or no such prejudice. They seemed to realize the many ways those demonized “others” were “just like me.” . . .


    P.S. ALSO SEE: Sigmund Freud: Narcissism of Small Differences & Judging Others –

  6. dimadok on January 9, 2014, 1:37 pm

    Except that 20% of Israel population are Arabs, hundreds of thousand of Palestinians work and visit Israel cities, are married to Israeli Arabs and meet Israelis on Jerusalem streets.
    What a nonsense of an article!!!

  7. Mike_Konrad on January 9, 2014, 4:17 pm

    Such contacts are now a distant memory. And that is precisely how leaders like Netanyahu want to keep it.

    I am the suicide bombings contributed to some of the distancing.

    • Sumud on January 10, 2014, 8:45 am

      Likewise the fact that Israel killed more than 10 Palestinian children for every Israeli child killed in the 10 years from the beginning of the second intifadah.

      Why is it Israelis so love to kill Palestinian children, Mike?

      Don’t bother answering, your post is a diversion.

      The separation of Israelis and Palestinians is policy, not a side effect of suicide bombings. You can’t demonise the other if your kids and their kids are friends.

  8. traintosiberia on January 9, 2014, 10:51 pm

    Separation and Its Discontents
    Toward an Evolutionary Theory of
    Anti-Semitism by Kevin mcDonald is a controverisal book and he is a controversial academic. Seapration underpinng the identity of Judaism is a central theme of teh book.

    But the fear of being gobbled and losing the identity by the surrounding animate objects (human and nohuman) are an interesting human quinessential fear but much more acutley expressed in the Jewish people throughout history from time of Jehu’s Judea to16-19th century Poland to current Palestine. The enemies take the forms and attributes of animals , opposition get the label of wild animal, ,animal get endowed the instinct of clever ,dishonest,super intellect of men with capacity to subterfuge

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