Of Pirates and Emperors

Jerusalem, July 2014. By Diego Filiu.

This article is a response to “Europe is Making a Mistake by Recognizing Palestine Now“.

St. Augustine in his “City of God” talked about a meeting between Alexander the Great, and a pirate whose fate brought him before the court of Alexander who was at the time sailing the Mediterranean with his fleet. Up until then, Alexander had regularly executed them, but the winds of change blowing from the Maghreb, made him want to question his unwilling visitor.

By Vukasin Potic

So he asked the poor pirate, “How dare you molest the seas?” At first, the pirate was probably struck by the chance given to him to explain himself, thought, and responded: “How dare you molest the World? Because I do it with a small boat, I am called a pirate, but you, with your fleets, are called an emperor”. The pirate was wise enough to elucidate the power dynamics and how they shape our worldview. When we, the powerful do it, it’s legitimate warfare, when they, the betrodden do it, it’s piracy. The latter are but a mere reflection of the former. The pirate did the same thing Alexander was doing, and continued to do. His fellow pirates remained pirates, and Alexander continued to plunder with impunity, until his death, until “a tomb now suffices him for whom the world was not enough”, as it now says above his dead and rotten body.

Does Israel have a permanent population? Yes it does, and so does Palestine. Does Israel have a defined territory? Like Palestine, it does not. We the pirates, must then ask Alexander, which Israeli state precisely does he recognize.

So let us, the “supporters of Palestinian state”, us, “the detached from the realities within the region”, and us who ”display a profound lack of knowledge on international law”, try to make our case, in the court of Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great asks us “which Palestinian state precisely [we] aim to recognize”. Alexander recognizes Israel, and we ask him, how is it that you recognize Israel by applying the same criteria you did to us, but not Palestine, herself. Does Israel have a permanent population? Yes it does, and so does Palestine. Does Israel have a defined territory? Like Palestine, it does not. We the pirates, must then ask Alexander, which Israeli state precisely does he recognize. The residents of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the latter being the other side of the Green Line, are subject to military rule. Theoretically speaking, the lucky ones living West of the Line, are enjoying their full democratic rights, as the citizens of Israel, while those living East of the Line, are Israelis living under a military dictatorship. Paradoxically, those living under the military dictatorship enjoy disproportionately higher funding from the democratic side, than those found in the democracy themselves! On average, settlers receive 2,695 shekels per year compared to just 1,1892 for those living in the periphery, that is, outside of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, who get 1,684 shekels. Furthermore, does Alexander recognize the State of Israel without the settlements, the form which the international community, bar the United States, Palau, Nauru, and Marshall Islands, recognizes? Or does Alexander’s Israel reach the Jordan River? Or Iraqi Euphrates, maybe? Does occupation even exists? No legal text in Israel has her Eastern border defined. “Palestine has few clearly defined borders”, the pirates are told, yet they continuously affirm the “pre-1967 borders”. Even the worst of them, like Khaled Meshaal.

Alexander then turns to government. His pirate (fair enough), going by the name of Mahmoud Abbas, enjoys the support rate of 38%. When did a leader of a state enjoy the support of the majority of the people? Lets not talk about Hollande’s 19% in February, or the fact that 78% of voters say they do not trust French President, nor Obama’s this-weekly average of 42%, nor his thee-day low average of 38%, nor shall we juxtapose this with the fact that since 1938, the average for U.S presidents has been 53%. We still see them in office, and they are not planning on leaving. States are merely centers of power, and unfortunately, the approval ratings of the patrons sitting on top, never brought them down. What would their power be worth, if they are unable to exercise it? Benjamin Netanyahu, whom the West sees as the leader of Israel, enjoyed as any other leader, fluctuations in his approval ratings. Quoting his low point of 38%, and the fact that 50% of Israelis were dissatisfied with him, did not prevent Netanyahu to allow new settler units to be built in the West Bank, contrary to what some polls suggests are the wishes of the Israeli public.

But what about Israel’s $3 billion in annual aid by the United States? Why is Israel among the OECD countries with the highest inequality rates?

Then “a state so divided in its political agenda cannot claim recognition”, is thrown at us. However, the argument dissolves in mid-air, as Alexander presumes unity in political agenda to be a crucial element in the game of politics. But what about the political spectrum that represents the various opinions represented within the society? Is there the right one all should adhere to? Within the Israeli domain, we have Israel Beitanu, advocating for population transfer; we have Habayit Hayehudi, proposing one Israeli state up to the river Jordan, with Palestinian autonomy, rather than integration; we have Likud and Labor who do not themselves know what they want; and we have Meretz voicing out their support for the immediate recognition of the state of Palestine. Is politicide without a precedent in Israel? Let us morn and remember Yitzhak Rabin, and the peace that could have been, and condemn Yigal Amir, whose opposition to Oslo was voiced out by the current governing pary, Likud, and its chief Benjamin Netanyahu, and the rising star, Moshe Feigilin, who shot and killed what seems to be the only hope for ever reaching peace.

We turn to death. We weep in unison over the deadly attack on a group of Jewish people in their place of worship and over the 3-month-old baby whose cart was run over. Alexander stops weeping, and the pirates continue to weep over the death of a man, killed on his roof, away from the clashes with the Israeli forces. We weep over the many nameless victims of the Summer War, while Alexander says it is their fault they died. They died on the altar of their political leaders, we are told. So did the many civilians in the wars of the Partizans who freed Europe of the yoke of Nazi occupation, and the governments fighting Nazism did indeed recognize them as the legitimate governments of their people. Had there been no resistance, this article would have been written in German, and no Gypsy, Slav, or Jewish person, among others, would have been able to read it. It is our duty to lay the wreath on the graves of those tortured by poverty, ostracized by the official press, and other Alexanders of the world, and those that died in vain. We must acknowledge the occupation, and the right of those under it to resist it (a right given to them by international law).

People have the right to fight those who oppress them, and they will choose any means, as long as their goals are themselves justified. That was the practice employed by the Yishuv’s Stern Gangs, LEHI’s, and other Israeli militia vying for Israel’s independence that came in 1948.

Gazans are indeed living in grave condition. We only need to look at the vivid photography that flows out of Gaza City, Rafah, and the camps, to see their misery. Hamas may have “finances of about 1 billion”, and the European Union may have pledged $568 million in aid, which constitutes a half of reported Hamas’ finances, not as Alexander states “a ridiculously small drop in the bucket”. The world pledged further $5.4 billion for Palestinians, yet to be delivered, and yet it will not be enough to rebuild Gaza, nor to solve the conflict and lift the occupation. But what about Israel’s $3 billion in annual aid by the United States? Why is Israel among the OECD countries with the highest inequality rates? Why does every one out of five live in poverty, with the rate being 11.3%? Why are Israelis choosing to leave Israel over the prices of food and housing? Why is the economy shrinking? Yet, the military budget increases to NIS 57 billion, close to $15 billion, without the $3 billion in US aid, and including a one time payment of NIS 4.3 billion? Building up the state based on military expenditures could backfire, both politically and economically. How is it that the ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was charged with 6 years for corruption? Why was Israel among the most corrupt of OECD countries last year?

People have the right to fight those who oppress them, and they will choose any means, as long as their goals are themselves justified. That was the practice employed by the Yishuv’s Stern Gangs, LEHI’s, and other Israeli militia vying for Israel’s independence that came in 1948. The violence ostensibly stopped following the independence, and Israel’s recognition as a state. Why is it that Palestine will continue to be imbued in violence, terrorism and blood bath following their potential recognition as a state? Did the recognition of the State of Israel make countries that did so accomplices in the various atrocities committed by then leaders of the resistance and later future Prime Ministers and Presidents? Palestinian leadership, however cantonized, accepts Israel as reality. However, it is the other side that continues to live in denial. Israelis and Palestinians do not need more violence. We are entering 48th year of the occupation, and the violence it entails, on both sides, will worsen by the day, if it continues for another year.

So Alexander, “to prevent horrific images and gruesome murders like those during the latest war in Gaza” and alike, Israel must end the occupation. It must disengage from the territories fully and unilaterally, and let the Palestinian pirates breathe. Israel must free Palestine, in order to free itself.

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