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Occupation magazine - Commentary

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Week 2356 of Occupation
By: Daniel Breslau
Occupation Magazine
6 August 2012

Romney: “Culture” makes Israel richer than the Palestinian Authority
To appreciate the almost sadistic callousness of Mitt Romney’s infamous July 30 comments in Jerusalem, you need to take the perspective of Palestinians. Stand in the shoes of people driven from their homeland sixty-four years ago, dispersed and stateless, with an embryonic state now reduced to fragmented bantustans under a permanent military occupation. Now this multi-millionaire parachutes into the holy city that is being gradually cleansed of your presence to flatter his equally detached and even wealthier audience as he solicits their contributions to his campaign. He first dissolves your grievances by treating Israel and Palestine as though they are two countries competing on a level playing field, not oppressor and oppressed. And then he explains the results of this invidious comparison (actually the ratio of Israeli to Palestinian per capita GDP is not 2 to 1, as Romney stated, but 20 to 1) by Israel’s cultural superiority. By implication, your abject conditions are only the result of your own cultural deficiencies.

That is racism of the classic type: denying a relationship of domination by treating it as the result of inherent traits of dominant and dominated. Cultural explanations, used this way, do the exact same work as biological theories of race.

The Romney campaign has attacked the journalistic standards of the Associated Press who broke the story, saying that the agency pulled a few statements out of the overall context of the speech. The comments were like those Romney makes back in the US all the time, they said, using comparisons of the US and Mexico, or Ecuador and Chile. That Romney included those comparisons, which are also pretty offensive, does not negate the fact that the Israel-Palestine comparison was very emphatically thrown into the mix for his Jerusalem speech.
The rest of the context, an inept exercise in amateur social science, fails to cast the reported statement in a kinder light. The gist is that since the gap between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, or between the US and Mexico for that matter, can’t be explained by differences in the natural endowments of geography, climate and natural resources, the only remaining explanation is “culture.” Forget about hundreds of years of colonialism, imperialism designed to prevent economic development, and in the Palestinian case, exile, theft of natural resources, military occupation, and deliberate suppression of trade. No, it must be culture.

But if culture is supposed to explain a country’s economic success, shouldn’t it also explain that country’s behavior in other respects? If the positive achievements are the result of culture and cultural differences, so must be the more dubious accomplishments. By Romney’s logic, ethnic cleansing, occupation, colonization, and apartheid must also culturally-encoded traits.
Israel moves to clear the residents of the South Hebron hills

Is militarism also part of Israel’s exalted culture? Military imperatives justify the destruction of communities and livelihoods of those who have no say. Israel is proceeding with the demolition of eight villages in the South Hebron Hills. A population of 1500 is to be displaced, their homes destroyed. They will be allowed to visit their agricultural lands once weekly and for the few weeks of the year that the army is not conducting exercises there.
Israel claims the evacuees are squatters, and on those grounds dismisses their claims to their homes. The villages in question, Khirbet al-Majaz, Khirbet al-Tabban, Sfai, Khirbet al-Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba, and Kharoubeh, have existed since the mid-1800s.

Another village in the same region, Zanuta, is also facing possible demolition orders, as the Civil Administration is claiming its residences are built on top of an archeological site. As the journalist Amira Hass has reported, Israel routinely allows Jewish settlements to coexist with archeological sites of much greater importance than that at Zanuta.

These threatened demolitions follow the June court order to level the nearby village of Susiya, where a number of Palestinian families live in makeshift tents and tin-roofed structures on their own land. While Israel allows the settlement outposts that have sprung up in the area without permits to connect to the water supply and electric grid, the town that Palestinians have inhabited since Ottoman times are allowed no such access. Israel refuses to prepare a development plan for the village, and now declares many of the structures there illegal for lack of a plan. The case against Susiya has been spearheaded by the Regavim organization, with the ironic purpose of “preventing illegal seizure of national land resources.”

There is no doubt that this assortment of pretexts for demolishing these nearly 200-year-old villages, are just that, pretexts for an ethnic cleansing of the area. The nearby settlements have for years sought to expand into the lands of these villages, and we are no in the midst of a major push by the military authorities to help them realize that goal.

Peace Now identifies huge tracts of Waqf land expropriated for settlements
According to documents obtained by Peace Now, and reported to Ha’aretz, Israel has been taking land belonging to the Islamic religious trust, the Waqf, and using it for settlements and the separation wall. The Palestinian Authority and the Waqf have claimed that 55,000 dunams (over 13,000 acres) of Waqf land, most of it in the Southern Jordan Valley, north of Jericho, and are working to obtain its return. The land includes the entire areas of the settlements of Na’aran and Yitav, and most of the settlement of Nativ Hagdud.

Like the expropriation of privately-owned Palestinian land, this theft of Waqf land is illegal under Israeli law. Israeli, however, considers “state lands,” which were designated as such while the West Bank was under Jordanian control, to be free for the taking, as long as they are in area “C,” under Israeli military administration. The distinction, however, has nothing to do with international law, nor international morality, since the appropriation of private or Waqf property is hardly more injurious than the seizure of public lands belonging to the Palestinian people for the development of their future state.

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