- "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in
rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -
neither more nor less."
- "The question is," said Alice, "whether
you can make words mean so many different things."
- "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which
is to be master - that's all."
- --Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (1871)
- The lexicon of Israel and its Western lobbyists constantly
needs parsing to know just what is meant. Most glaringly is the term "settlers",
which suggests peaceful pioneers wishing to integrate with the locals.
In Israel, the word "settlers" is a loaded term, for they are
"aggressive squatters, half a million of them in over 100 illegal
colonies - ugly blots on an otherwise lovely landscape ... who terrorise
local villagers, vandalise their crops, pollute their land and harass their
children," as described by Stuart Littlewood. The Fourth Geneva Convention
forbids that an occupying power transfer parts of its own civilian population
into the territory it occupies.
- Most recently we saw casual reference to native Christian
and Muslim Palestinians as an "invented people". US Republican
presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich revived this insult, repeating Gold
Meir's quip in 1969 to The Sunday Times. At the time, Israel was basking
in its devastating victory in the 1967 war, occupying all of Palestine
and Sinai. The eternal Sinai Bedouin are fortunate that Meir didn't have
enough time - or gall - to claim that they too are a mere figment of some
anti-Jewish schemer's imagination. Their cousins in the Negev desert are
now being expelled to make way for 10 Jewish settlements "to attract
a new population to the Negev".
- Meir was extrapolating on her more famous phrase, also
recorded in the same Sunday Times interview, that Palestine was "a
land without a people for a people without a land". Not only is this
a cruel lie, one intended to justify theft of a people's land, but it is
a case of plagiarism, as it was Lord Shaftsbury, an early enthusiast of
using a Jewish state in the Middle East as an imperial beachhead, who first
used the phrase in 1839.
- Meir surely knew this, just as she knew that it is not
the Palestinians, a people who can trace their heritage back to the time
of the Prophet Mohammed or further, but the Israeli people who are the
"invented" ones. Israeli citizenship is barely 60 years old,
and Israelis are a disparate lot, made up most of East European and Russian
immigrants and Arab Jews, most of whom do not share a common language or
even religious practice. The Russian immigrants, many of whom are not even
Jewish, are defiantly secular.
- Even worse than invented people are "unpeople",
a term George Orwell coined in 1984 (1948) to refer to the complete elimination
of people by vaporising them, leaving no trace. Israel's growing arsenal
of nuclear and white phosphorus bombs actually bring this reality uncomfortably
close for Palestinians and other Arab neighbours of Israel.
- Noam Chomsky points out that in October, Western media
applauded the release of IDF prisoner Gilad Shalit, kidnapped in 2006 -
during an illegal Israel attack on Gaza - in exchange for a thousand Palestinians,
kidnapped for, well, simply being unpeople in the wrong place at the wrong
time. One almost thinks the Israelis like to randomly jail thousands of
these unpeople as collateral to retrieve the few "real people"
caught in criminal acts, and then pride themselves that one Jew is more
precious than a 1000 Arabs.
- What about the claim of the representative of the Arab
Higher Committee to the United Nations in May 1947, who said "'Palestine'
was part of the province of Syria" and that, "politically, the
Arabs of Israel were not independent in the sense of forming a separate
political entity." Yes, the very notion of a nation state is a 19th
century concept, and arose only as a result of imperialism spreading around
the world, with the result that there are two kinds of nationalism - the
empire's, built on racism and exploitation of the Third World (hence "Rule
Britannia" and "the Jewish State") and the national liberation
movements in the periphery (hence Palestine). So, when it comes down to
it, we are all invented peoples, one way or another.
- Another lexical sleight-of-hand that Palestinians have
to fight is the now standard reference to "Jews versus Arabs",
which should be "Jews versus Muslims and Christians" or rather
"diaspora Jewish colonisers versus native colonial subjects",
as many Jews are of Arab origin and "Jewish" in the first place
refers to a religious affiliation. There is no Jewish nationality, despite
Stalin's decision to create one in the 1930s, just as there is no Muslim
or Christian nationality, but rather a Jewish faith.
- Even many Western Jewish critics of Israel such as Independent
Jewish Voices say one thing and mean another. For them, fighting anti-Semitism
is the primary goal. Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) state that
they "extend support to Palestinians trapped in the spiral of violence
and repression" because they "believe that such actions are important
in countering anti-Semitism". In other words, even as they use words
critical of Israeli atrocities, they effectively condone Israeli actions
(as long as they are not too atrocious). Given that these critics are a
tiny group, they act "to vindicate the Jewish people of crimes committed
by the Jewish State in the name of the Jewish people".
- So it is hardly any wonder that Egyptians are looking
closely these days at the meaning of the word "peace", as in
"peace between Israel and Egypt". An important part of the 1979
Peace Treaty was the clause that guaranteed "full autonomy" for
the Palestinians within five years. For 27 years, Israel has been violating
this clause. Instead of "full autonomy", three decades on, the
Palestinians are being called an "invented people", and the US
patron of this treaty is winking as Israeli leaders prepare to ethnically
cleanse this imaginary people.
- Following Egypt's revolution last year, the treaty immediately
became a political football, with just about all politicians talking about
revising or cancelling it. The alarm bells rang in Washington and Tel Aviv
and there are ongoing secret negotiations between the US and the Egyptian
military demanding ironclad assurances that the treaty will remain in force
before the generals hand over power to a civilian government. This was
confirmed last week by Egypt's most respected statesman and presidential
hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei, who told the Iranian news agency Fars, "The
negotiations were completely secret and confidential ... I believe that
the Americans wanted to ensure that the deals signed between Egypt and
Israel will remain intact if Islamists ascend to power."
- No Egyptians want a US-backed military coup in Egypt,
especially the Islamists. Hence, Salafist Al-Nour Party spokesman Yousry
Hammad was quick to tell Israeli radio that "the treaty is binding
because Egypt has signed it," while explaining that the Egyptian people
want to amend certain articles to enable Egypt to better control Sinai,
"and that we must be able to send aid to our Palestinian brothers
in Gaza without problems."
- Interestingly, the Muslim Brotherhood is more nuanced
in its political platform, referring to criteria for examining international
agreements based on Sharia law and the degree of Israel's compliance with
the agreement. Re-examining the treaty is embedded in the Freedom and Justice
Party's (FJP) platform and calls for any decision on the treaty by the
new parliament to be put to a referendum. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman
Rashad Al-Bayoumi says, "We weren't party to the peace treaty; it
was signed away from the Egyptian people and thus the people must have
their say." FJP Secretary-General Mohamed Saad El-Kataany reaffirmed
last week that the FJP respects all international treaties as long as they
achieve their goals. Which of course leaves the fate of the Camp David
Accords of 1979 very much in question, given Israel's violation of it for
the past 27 years.
- Nobel Peace Prize winner ElBaradei is dismissed by some
Egyptians as a liberal who served the US world order as head of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, though in fact he has called for former President
George W Bush and his cabinet to be tried by the International Criminal
Court for war crimes for the "shame of a needless war" on Iraq.
We must do this, he writes in his memoirs The Age of Deception: Nuclear
Diplomacy in Treacherous Times, to answer the question, "Do we, as
a community of nations, have the wisdom and courage to take the corrective
measures needed, to ensure that such a tragedy will never happen again?"
ElBaradei also warned Israel in April that as president he would consider
taking the ultimate "corrective measure": "If Israel attacked
Gaza we would declare war against the Zionist regime."
- If this liberal Egyptian politician is to be believed,
then a Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist dominated parliament will most certainly
support him, as would virtually all Egyptians. So all the US intriguing
with the military behind Egyptians' backs will not save Israel's bacon.
Nor will all the lexical sleights-of-hand about "settlers", "invented
people" and even soft Zionist criticism of Israel. And when the imperial
project of colonising Palestine by the invented Israeli people inevitably
ends, many of the latter will decide to dust off their European and American
passports, brush up on their French, Russian or American slang, and rediscover
their ethnic roots in the lands of their forefathers.
- No less an Israeli icon that Theodore Herzl wanted just
that. Herzl's original idea about ending anti-Semitism is found in his
diaries in a letter he wrote the pope offering to arrange a mass conversion
of Jews in Hungary as the beginning of a total conversion to Christianity
and complete assimilation of Jews into European secular society. When this
didn't pan out, he then turned to mass migration to Palestine as the fall
- For all the lexical gymnastics employed by Israel lobbyists,
Israel is really just the latest manifestation of the Jewish diaspora,
a colony, the brainchild of British empire and Jewish dreamers, and is
fated to remain so until it disowns its imperial origins and learns to
speak the local lingo, which just happens to be Arabic, not reinvented
Hebrew. Recall Humpty Dumpty's fate, despite his clever use of words in
the pursuit of power.
- Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/
You can reach him at http://ericwalberg.com/ His Postmodern Imperialism:
Geopolitics and the Great Games is available at http://claritypress.com/Walberg.html
- photos of Newt Gingrich and Gilad Atzmon