The Palestinian Center for Human Right’s latest round-up of Israeli actions on the ground is particularly interesting when you consider that the events documented took place during the UN Worldwide Conference on Racism.
This was the third world conference on racism, but the first the United States and Israel attended, albeit temporarily. Both countries boycotted the 1978 and 1983 conferences, citing in part anti-Israeli language. Both offered the same explanation at the current conference. Reparations for slavery and the injustices done to Native Americans presumably had nothing to do with the US withdrawal.
“[This] conference turned into a tribunal against Israel,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement, “The conference against racism turned into a racist conference against Israel.”
What gave this anti-racist conference the idea it could criticise Israel? Israel, after all, is a country to which any Jew in the world can emigrate! How much more inclusive can it get? And, after all, Israel was established as a solution to the worst example in history of what happens when a racist state decides to “solve” its “race problem”. They know better than any of us, surely!
Of course, when tenth generation Palestinian residents of Jerusalem decide to move out of the municipal boundaries of the city for six months or so, they are stripped of their citizenship. But what we, the people of the world, clearly don’t understand is that, because it’s Israel doing this it can’t be racism. No, it’s a form of tidy municipal management that fits Israel’s unique situation. We don’t understand it because we don’t live in the Middle East, where millions of people want to destroy us and as a result there have to be different rules.
This kind of point is exactly what the thoughtful columnists such as William Safire at The New York Times and Charles Krauthammer at The Washington Post have been so patiently trying to explain to us for years. And to think that it used to make sense to me that if Israel could only make friends with the Palestinians, this might end the conflict in the Middle East. Silly me.
If you think about it long enough, it almost makes sense. Which is exactly how the Africaans used to play it: apartheid is necessary, they used to say, because of the nature of blacks. They drew you in to ‘understanding’ their point of view by playing you off against internalised racist perceptions of blacks. This is why Israel spends millions of PR dollars trying to demonise the Palestinians, by making sure that no statement about Jews from any mosque pulpit in Palestine falls to the ground without having every drop of use squeezed out of it.
The point is that hate works because it contains seeds of truth. There’s no arguing, for example, with the veracity of the mosque pulpit statements, obsessively catalogued and distributed by pro-Israeli groups. But to argue they represent the sum total of how Palestinians feel about Israel, or that they are even representative at all, is as false as using the words of white racists to smear everyone from Texas.
Sowing these seeds only works if the person already sees Arabs as a malevolent mass, which is par for the course in the West these days. This is one reason that Anti-Arab racism should have been high on the agenda of the Western nations attending Durban. Instead we had to witness the spectacle of diplomats defending the indefensible at the expense of the powerless. It was revolting.
US congressman and member of the US delegation to Durban, Tom Lantos, added his condemnation of the various negative references to Zionism, the political ideology that systems — such as that faced by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem — exist to protect. Expressing particular dismay at the specific accusation that Israel practices “racial discrimination”, Lantos wasted no time during his spirited defence of Israel aquainting himself with the facts.
On the ground, Israel further underlined the ludicrousness of this assertion by killing two Palestinian activists without trial in a “targeted killing” that completely missed its target. Several bystanders were injured when one of the three helicopter-launched missiles used in the attack hit a city street. Israel did not apologise for or even acknowledge injuring the bystanders. Presumably this would be a different story had they been tourists. Well, American tourists at least.
The Durban conference, according to Lantos, should have been about horrible discrimination around the world. Instead, he lamented, with all this mistaken focus on Israel, it had been “hijacked by extremist elements for its own purposes.”
While the US and Israel bravely challenged these elements in Durban, mainstream Israeli forces on the ground used artillery shells, combat helicopters, surface-to-surface missiles and heavy, medium and light machine guns to indiscriminately shell extremist Palestinian cities. Eight extremist Palestinians, including an extremist physician and three extremist civilians, were killed as a result. Dozens of others, mostly extremist civilians, were injured.
Pulling out of the Durban conference, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that the US had tried to work “productively” despite all the unproductive criticism of Israel, adding a final wish that “it could have turned out more successfully.” Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces productively demolished seven houses during just one incursion into Rafah Refugee Camp in Gaza, successfully rendering 80 Palestinians homeless.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres underlined that Israel was pulling out of the conference because of “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments,” adding that the conference was “a farce.” And yet one more opportunity to make Israel accountable for the hell on earth it creates daily for Palestinians under its military occupation was neatly side-stepped.
During Peres’ previous terms as both foreign and prime minister in power, between the start of the “peace” process in 1993 until May 1996, Israel carried out more than 270 demolitions of Palestinian homes. In 1994, at another event with similarly and highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and slapstick elements as witnessed in Durban, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.