Israel as a Cancer on Palestine…

May 13, 2009

 Many times, when people are discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they use terms such as ‘holocaust’, ‘genocide’, ‘apartheid’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’.  Although these are descriptive in many ways of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are ‘used’ terms—they are connected to a different situation in a separate time and historical context in most people’s minds—and the recycling of these terms ends up creating more confusion and arguments than anything else. 

 The Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs its own, unique term that accurately and comprehensively describes the situation.  In the case of Israel, I believe that one could describe it as a ‘cancer’.  Before explaining why cancer is an appropriate term, it’s important to review why ‘used’ terms aren’t helpful in a conversation about Israel and Palestine.

 ‘Used’ Terms:

 Let’s start with why using the term Holocaust to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is problematic and ultimately inaccurate.  In the Holocaust, 6 million European Jews were killed in a perverse effort to completely destroy a specific ethnic and religious group by a planned and deliberate program of extermination. 

 Now, any rational pro-Palestinian person should agree that although Israel seems to have a distinct lack of respect for Palestinian lives—made all the more clear by their latest offensive on Gaza: Operation Cast Lead, Israel is still not actively trying to bring about the ‘ultimate destruction of Palestinians as an ethnic and religious group’.  Israel may be trying to make life so horrible for Palestinians that they all leave Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but they are certainly not shipping off Palestinians en masse to death camps. 

 Although Gaza could easily be described as a ‘ghetto’, this term is closely connected to the holocaust, along with ‘final solution’.  Any terms that are related to the holocaust should not be applied to Palestine or any other situation.  Whether it is a similar situation or not, these are ‘loaded’ terms that conjure up a great deal of emotion and anger by referring to a different time and historical context.     

 Genocide is also a term that has been used to describe what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, and although it is accurate in some ways, it is still not the most comprehensive term.  Usually, when anyone talks about genocide, the situation that comes to mind is Rwanda in 1994.  Rwanda was a very obvious case of genocide according to the UN definition, which is:

“Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

 With respect to the genocide of Palestinians by Israel, the clearest case is Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip.  In the latest conflict there, Operation Cast Lead, that began on December 27, 2008, over 1,300 Gazans were killed—almost half were women and children.  According to International Law, in order for this tragedy to legally fit the definition of genocide—instead of qualifying as a war crime or mass murder, the unconcealed intent to destroy the population, as well as the action, must be apparent. 

 The action of genocide did take place in Gaza, but because Israel can technically say that they were ‘at war’ and that their purpose was self-defense, the intent to commit genocide is not there.  Israel has stated that the intent of the war was to debilitate or destroy Hamas, not the civilian population.  Therefore, the necessary requirements to qualify Israel’s mass murder in Gaza as genocide are not necessarily met.  However, many people believe that although the civilian deaths were not part of Israel’s stated goal in Gaza, it was done with some kind of intent.    

 Another way that Israel’s actions in Gaza could qualify as genocide is its blockade that severely limits international aid—which most Gazans are completely dependent on.  The amount of food, clean water, and other basic supplies available to the people of Gaza is completely inadequate because of the blockade.  Israel also limits the amount of electricity that reaches the Gaza Strip—this has contributed to the disintegration of basic infrastructure in Gaza.  It has caused a collapse in the water and sanitation departments of Gaza.  Hospitals cannot function properly without a constant, reliable source of electricity.  These are just a few of the ways that the blockade is contributing to the ‘physical destruction’ of Gazans; which is part of the definition of genocide.

 However, again, Israel’s stated intent for the blockade is not to cause the physical destruction of the civilian population in Gaza, but to limit Hamas’ power in the name of self-defense.  Again, the action is there but the overt intent is not.  The blockade at least qualifies as collective punishment—which is against international law, but unfortunately it is not a clear-cut case of genocide according to the legal definition. 

 Israel’s policies and offensives are, without a doubt, contributing directly and more often indirectly to the deaths of many Palestinians—and in this way Israel’s actions do fit the definition of genocidal actions.  But unlike typical cases of genocide, it is not the stated goal of Israel to destroy the Palestinian people as a national, ethnic, or religious group; and it is a much slower, more insidious process.

 Apartheid—according to the UN definition, is any act “committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” 

 In the South African apartheid, no black person was allowed to have citizenship.  Although there are Arab citizens of Israel, it is a second-class citizenship to say the least.  Arabs and Israelis in Israel attend separate and unequal schools, use different roads, and ride separate bus lines—the Arab facilities in Israel are almost always inferior to those of the Jewish Israelis.  In Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, it is clear that the Jewish Israelis have established and maintained domination over the Palestinians.

 In addition to the general definition of ‘apartheid’, there are certain acts that are clearly defined in the UN resolution that qualify a situation legally as apartheid.  In Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, almost all of the examples listed in the resolution are being carried out by Israel against the Palestinians.  One specific example from the resolution on apartheid is “any legislative measures…calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic, and cultural life of the country…[or to prevent] the right to freedom of movement.” 

 In Israel, Arab political parties have been banned from Israeli elections—this is one aspect of an apartheid society.  Economically, there is very apparent discrimination against Arabs in terms of employment.  Israel is more than willing to exploit Palestinians for cheap labor, but not willing to give them the same opportunities in the professional sector.  Over half of impoverished families in Israel are Arab—a statistic that means even more when you consider that Arabs make up only about 20% of the population of Israel. 

 Socially and culturally, Arab and Jewish Israelis live separate lives.  This is especially apparent in Jerusalem, where most Arabs live in East Jerusalem and most Jews live in West Jerusalem—East Jerusalem is much poorer while West Jerusalem seems almost European in terms of the social life and the much higher disposable income of the people. 

 And finally, because of the ID system for Arabs in Israel and Palestine, freedom of movement is not guaranteed.  Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are essentially in a jail, there is almost no way for them to leave the territory.  Even those with serious diseases such as cancer, who cannot get the treatment they need in Gaza, are usually not given the permit to leave for treatment by Israel—‘for security reasons’.  Only a small amount of Arabs the West Bank have the type of ID necessary to ever leave the territory—even to enter Jerusalem.  And inside the West Bank, there are hundreds of checkpoints between cities and villages that make it extremely difficult and humiliating to travel from one part of the West Bank to the other for school, work, or simply to visit family and friends.

 Basically, when a country describes itself as a ‘Jewish State’, and there are citizens living there who are not Jewish—the citizenship of non-Jewish people is going to be second-rate.  And for the Palestinians not living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip can easily be compared to South Africa’s Bantustans—they are ‘self-governing’ but economically stagnant. 

 In South Africa, the Bantustans were deliberately separated from each other in an attempt to keep them from becoming united and therefore more powerful economically and otherwise.  For Palestinians, the same is true in the separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, both territories from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, and of course communities within the West Bank are becoming more and more isolated by checkpoints, illegal Jewish settlement blocs, and the wall. 

 Although apartheid is descriptive of many aspects of life for Palestinians and is a more powerful word to describe Palestinian life than just calling it an ‘occupation’, it is still not comprehensive enough as a term to describe all the ways Israel affects Palestinian life. 

 Ethnic Cleansing—according to the UN definition is described as “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group.”  In effect, it is a combination of forced deportation and genocide.  This term was created for the conflict that took place in the former Yugoslavia, in which 110,000 lives were lost and 1.8 million displaced from 1992-1995.  So in any conversation, this is most likely the first example of ethnic cleansing that will come to mind.

 We have already discussed the ways Israel’s policies and offensives qualify as genocide.  With respect to the forced transfers of people, in Israel Avigdor Lieberman’s political party—Yisrael Beiteinu is calling for a forced land transfer of the Arab population in Israel.  This is in addition to the forced transfers that took place earlier in the occupation after the wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973.  Israel is worried about the Arab population living in Israel eventually outnumbering the Jewish population and gaining political power.

 In 2003, Benjamin Netanyahu described the Arab Israelis as a “time bomb.” And Israeli historian Benny Morris called them “an emissary of the enemy that is among us.  They are a potential fifth column.  In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state.  So that if Israel finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then…I can see an expulsion situation.”

 So with the forced land transfers and the events in Gaza which qualify as genocidal actions, Israel could be said to be carrying out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.  However, again, Israel has not stated ethnic cleansing as their intent—even as they carry out the required actions.  Another way the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia differs from that of Palestine is how quickly it was carried out; just a few years.  For Palestinians, ethnic cleansing has been going on for decades. 

 All of these ‘used’ terms are connected to events other than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the minds of most people.  Overall, Israel has committed parts of the definitions of all of these terms, but somehow always manages to stay in a ‘grey area’ in terms of breaking international law, and consequently escapes any kind of legal punishment for their actions.  Even though each term may be descriptive of some parts of what Israel has done to the Palestinians, none of them is individually comprehensive.  Also, the terms refer to situations in which the action taken against ethnic groups was an obvious, planned policy of the hostile government that was carried out quickly.  Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians is slower and much less obvious, but ultimately just as destructive.  The best term for Israel’s effect on Palestine is cancer.

 Israel as a Cancer on Palestine

 The medical definition of the word cancer is “a class of diseases in which a group of cells display uncontrolled growth (beyond the normal limits), invasion (intrusion on and destruction of adjacent tissues), and sometimes metastasis (spreading to other locations in the body).  These are three ways that a cancer changes from being benign—which is self-limited, does not invade, and does not metastasize, and becomes malignant or harmful. 

 If Israel was a cancer on Palestine, it would definitely be a malignant cancer.  Israel has shown uncontrolled growth (beyond the normal limits) in the Israeli settler communities that have been established illegally on Palestinian land.  Currently there are 121 Israeli settlements and 102 Israeli outposts built illegally in Palestinian territory—and instead of removing these settlements as required by International Law or at least stopping their growth as agreed upon in the Annapolis framework, the settlements are actually growing at a rate of 4-6% per year.  Just like cancerous cells cause destruction in the body, these settlements are destructive to the Palestinians and the peace process in many ways.   

 The Israeli government has little control over the settlers and what they do—and many settlers will use violence against the Israeli military as well as the Palestinians to remain on ‘their’ land.  Some settlers terrorize Palestinians living in nearby villages by harassing, beating, and sometimes even killing them. 

 If a settlement is built next to a village, the settlement will usually take over the main road connecting that village to larger Palestinian cities nearby and establish it as a “Jewish-only” road—forcing the villagers to drive on sometimes impassable roads that can take them hours longer to reach their destination.  The settlements essentially act like cancerous cells in the West Bank, they cut off Palestinian communities from each other, isolating them and taking the resources they need in order to survive.  Settlements are usually built near important resources such as water and agricultural land—so in addition to taking Palestinian land; they take the means of their livelihoods as well.

 Israel invades and causes destruction on Palestinian land in other ways as well.  The most obvious and destructive form of Israel’s invasions of Palestinian land are the offensives and wars Israel has waged.  Operation Cast Lead was one of the bloodiest wars Israel has launched on the Palestinians since the beginning of the Occupation.  In addition to causing major physical destruction in terms of the amount of people who were killed and the almost complete demolition of Gaza’s infrastructure, these invasions also cause severe psychological damage to Palestinians—especially the children.

 Another way Israel violently invades and causes destruction on Palestinian life is the raids it conducts inside Palestinian territories.  In the West Bank alone, there are raids almost every night by the Israeli military, especially in the refugee camps, in which they arrest many Palestinians.  About 20% of the population of the occupied Palestinian Territories is imprisoned—making them one of the most imprisoned peoples in the world, and not even by their own government.  In addition to the arrests, they sometimes harass, intimidate, or beat friends and family of wanted people in an attempt to get information about them.  Finally, Israel carries out extra-judiciary assassinations of Palestinians they define as ‘militants’ in Palestinian territories.   

 Israel invades and intrudes on Palestinian life by their control of movement of people and goods in and out of the territories.  In Gaza, Israel has gone beyond simply controlling the borders; they have established a blockade on the territory—not allowing the people of Gaza to leave unless given a special permit (which is extremely rare).  The amount of food and other basic supplies allowed in is completely inadequate for the people’s needs.  Because of the blockade, Gaza’s economy and infrastructure have completely collapsed. 

 In the West Bank, there is no blockade, but Israel still controls all movement of people and goods in and out of the territory.  Inside the territory, Israel restricts movement through the use of almost 700 ‘closure obstacles’.  These are defined as trenches, partial and full checkpoints, earth walls and mounds, road-blocks and barriers, and road gates.  It can take hours for a student living in a village that is really only 15 minutes away from the University to get through the checkpoints to get to class, and hours on the way home as well. 

 In addition to this, checkpoints also make access to health care extremely complicated.  There are many cases of Palestinian women giving birth at checkpoints because they were not allowed through and there are cases of people dying because they were stopped at the checkpoint and therefore denied access to the health care they needed.  These checkpoints and closure obstacles are intrusive on Palestinian lives, they are inside Palestinian territory and they make traveling difficult and humiliating. 

 Israel also invades and causes destruction on Palestinian land and life by the construction of the wall.  It is being constructed illegally inside the internationally agreed upon green line.  The construction of the wall amounts to the theft of Palestinian land, in addition to being environmentally destructive.  The wall is built regardless of what may be in its way—it has bisected or completely surrounded Palestinian villages that are built on land Israel wants.  The villages that have been completely surrounded by the wall are sometimes left with only one small door with which people and goods can move through and it is controlled by Israelis who sometimes leave the door open for only a few hours a day.  These villages are being isolated and gradually left with no means to survive by this cancerous wall—which consumes and destroys everything in its path.

 Israel intrudes and causes environmental destruction by having no restrictions on the settlers living in the West Bank about waste, sewage, or industrial pollution.  Settlements, usually built near Palestinian villages or cities and many times built above them on the hills, sometimes send their sewage and waste right through the village or into the nearby water supply.  In this way, they are causing environmental damage and in an attempt to coerce the Palestinians into leaving the area.  In terms of industrial pollution, Israel actually offers tax incentives to Israeli industries to move to the West Bank and places fewer restrictions on pollution in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  Consequently, many of the most environmentally destructive companies move to the West Bank.

 The final stage of a malignant cancer is metastasis—spreading to other locations of the body.  This growth has been shown in the amount of settlements and outposts built illegally on Palestinian land.  As they increase in number, the destruction they cause in the West Bank does as well.  They essentially cut off West Bank communities from each other, leaving them isolated and economically stagnant.  

 Curing cancer depends on the type of cancer it is, malignant or benign—Israel is a malignant cancer because of the many ways it invades, intrudes upon, and destroys Palestinian lives.  Success rates of curing cancer also depend on the location and stage of the cancer.  As a cancer, Israel could be said to have spread almost completely throughout Palestinian lands, and it has had 40 years to establish itself there. 

 The most obvious way to treat a malignant cancer is through surgery—to remove it as completely as possible from the body.  However, this only works if the cancer has not metastasized—spread to other parts of the body.  Israeli policies and settlements have spread throughout too many parts of Palestine to simply ‘remove them’.  Therefore, following an Ahmedinejad-like proposal of ‘pushing Israel into the sea’ is an insane and immoral proposal. 

 So, barring surgery, chemotherapy is another option for curing cancer.  Chemotherapy works by destroying fast-dividing cancerous cells that have spread through the body, but has many painful side effects.  In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this treatment could be described as the peace process working to stop the growth of illegal settlements and remove all of the settlers.  However, the violence that breaks out between the settlers and anyone who tries to remove them from their settlements can be intense.   Just like a mature cancer is less responsive to the treatment, Israel’s government has matured over 40 years, is well-established in Palestinian territory, and is not responsive to the kind of peaceful process Palestinians have tried so far. 

 An example of this is the Oslo Accords and the Annapolis peace conference—illegal settlements were supposed to be stopped and a plan for creating an independent Palestinian state was put forth.  However, Israel has not honored either agreement in any real way and, worse, has continued to allow settlements to expand in the West Bank.     

 Radiotherapy is another way to treat cancer.  Instead of removing or killing the cancer, its aim is to simply control the growth of the malignant cells.  It is used to relieve the symptoms and prolong life living with cancer.  This would be the most logical and ultimately successful kind of treatment for the kind of cancer Israel is on Palestine.  Instead of destroying the cancer, the growth of the cancer is controlled and the symptoms on the body can begin to be relieved. 

 It is no longer possible for Palestine to be what it was before Israel was established. However, it is possible for both to exist independently, side by side.  A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be found in the past—unfortunately much of the land that has been lost to the Palestinians by the wall and settlements will probably never be voluntarily returned by Israel. 

 The most important and ultimately effective solution is for each side to accept each other’s right to exist and for Israel to stop invading more of Palestinian land.  No more settlements can be built on Palestinian land.  The wall must honor the internationally agreed upon 1967 borders.  Invasion and intrusion by Israeli settlers and military on Palestinian land must stop.  In this way, Israel’s growth as a country and as a malignant cancer upon the Palestinian people would be controlled. 

 If Israel and Palestine can come to an agreement on a two-state solution and recognize each other’s sovereignty, Israel can change from a malignant cancer to a benign one—one that does not invade, metastasize, or cause destruction.  Once Palestine is established as a sovereign country and is no longer a territory occupied by the Israel, the symptoms and side-effects of 40 years of invasion and occupation can begin to be relieved and both countries can be healthy, secure, and in peace. 







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