Society Closing Down

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Review of 'Politicide', Baruch Kimmerling, Verso £15 and 'Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict', Norman G Finkelstein, Verso £15

The Palestinian question is the key political question of our time. The nature of the Israeli state and its relationship to the rest of the world is central to US imperialism. Israel is the linchpin of the Project for a New American Century. Consequently the arguments burn with a ferocious intensity.

Both Politicide and Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict are worthy studies, weighing in on the anti-Zionist side. Of the two Politicide has more literary value. Author Baruch Kimmerling coined the term to mean 'the dissolution of the Palestinians as a legitimate social, political and economic entity'. It's a neat reduction of the phrase 'ethnic cleansing'.

Politicide is a history of Israel interwoven with a biography of Ariel Sharon. No biography is abstract from a wider picture and bigger narrative. However, 'King Arik', folk hero to many in Israel, has a leading role in the saga. Since the formation of Israel in 1948 he has played a significant role in episodes of military aggression and direct politicide against the Palestinians.

The book opens with a short introduction, outlining Israel's 'drift towards fascism', citing reductions in freedom of expression, increasing military involvement in politics, the centralisation of executive power, and the institutional demonisation of Arabs and in particular Palestinians as 'the other'. While I don't think these add up to a classical definition of fascism, it is a vital snapshot of a society closing down. Day to day life for Palestinians is easily the more harrowing, but as a safe haven for Jews Israel is the last place anyone would want to resettle to. For a self proclaimed 'Israeli patriot' trying to 'open the eyes of a benevolent and humanistic people' it must be all the more distressing.

Ariel Sharon first rose to prominence as an officer in the Israeli army in the 1950s. He was active during the Suez crisis in 1956, and the 1967 and 1973 wars. He became known as a gung-ho commander with more than half an eye on his own personal glory. During the 1973 conflict it was his ambition to cross the Suez Canal that led to many Israeli casualties but boosted his fledgling political career. He was minister of defence during the second Israeli attempt at politicide, the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which culminated in the massacre of civilians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps by the Christian Phalange militia, overseen by the Israeli army.

The outcry all over the world, including in Israel, at the slaughter of Palestinian civilians led some to favour 'the apartheid option', as Norman G Finkelstein describes it, over expulsion and politicide.

Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict is a demolition job on Zionist theory. The bulk of the book is dedicated to smashing particular Zionist studies and assumptions. In many ways it's vital reading. Finkelstein's attack on Joan Rivers' From Time Immemorial, which tries to prove by manipulation and selective reading that the majority of Palestinians by 1948 were in fact Arab immigrants is well argued. However, in another sense, it's about as gripping as an argument over population statistics can be.

More satisfying are the chapters giving an overview of the conflict, in particular the introduction that comes with the new edition. We discover details of the mighty alliance protecting Israel in the UN - where the US lines up with Nauru, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. We hear gruesome accounts of Operation Defensive Shield, where ambulances, medical staff and children were shot 'for sport', where Palestinian males aged 15 to 50 were rounded up and arrested, where the Palestinian ministry for education was broken into, everything destroyed, and urine and faeces left everywhere. The most incredible, eye-popping part is a quote from an Israeli soldier who operated a bulldozer during the Jenin massacre: 'I wanted to destroy everything. I begged the officers... to let me knock it all down, from top to bottom... For three days, I just destroyed and destroyed... '

Image... was written in 1995 and ends with a description of the 'Bantustanisation' of the remnants of Palestine. Since Ariel Sharon's rise to power it seems politicide may be on the cards once more.