Stateless! The Core of the Palestinian Crisis (Juan Cole Video)

My talk at the Jerusalem Fund (the 2013 Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture with Dr. Juan Cole)

The Jerusalem Fund & Palestine Center:
Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture with Dr. Juan Cole

This is the transcript

The Palestine Center
Washington, DC

Dr. Juan Cole:
Well thank you very much Yousef for that warm introduction. Thank you to the Jerusalem Fund for this prestigious invitation. It’s a great honor and pleasure for me to be here and to address you.

I want to make an argument about the character of the Palestine issue. I’m not going to argue that it’s a unique problem but I am going to argue that it’s almost unique in contemporary affairs, and that there are some aspects of it that explain why it is so seemingly intractable. I’m going to start with an increasingly important field of study, citizenship studies. There are journals now devoted to it; it’s become a big thing in academia. My colleague at the University of Michigan, Margaret Somers, wrote an important book on citizenship not so long ago. And as she points out, Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958 wrote: “Citizenship is man’s basic right, for it is nothing less than the right to have rights. Remove this priceless possession and there remains a stateless person disgraced and degraded in the eyes of his countrymen.” So Warren is drawing here implicitly on the work of Hannah Arendt but this is the key point that I want to make today. Citizenship is the right to have rights. People who lack citizenship in a state ipso facto have no right to have rights.

Now citizen-ness, the quality of being a citizen, is of course not one data point, not one thing. And it exists as with all social phenomena on a spectrum. You know, it’s like coolness. It can be more or less cool. There are attributes that contribute to one’s coolness. And speaking as an expert, so citizen-ness likewise is on a spectrum. Somers brings in a number of things that make for citizenship the intersection with the state: how strong is the state, how much recognition by the state is there of a particular group as citizens, the relationship to the market. So I come from the Detroit area where there is a very large number of young people in Detroit who have no access to the market. They don’t live where there are jobs; they’re not suited to the jobs that are in their neighborhoods, if there are any. They’re disconnected to the market and Somers argues that that’s also, you know, a problem of citizenship, of full citizenship. And then civil society: non-governmental organizations of various sorts, how thick are they are the ground, how interactive are they with local people. So Somers argues that what we discovered after the Katrina Hurricane was the very large numbers of people in New Orleans [were] not actually citizens very much. They had low levels of citizenship in American terms, the state didn’t really do much for them, they weren’t connected to the market, etcetera, etcetera. So as I said, she wants to put this on a scale of low to high.

Now if we took the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Jordanians as a test case and looked at their relationship to these three factors, I’m just, this is notional, I don’t have weak numbers behind these charts but if we just thought about it, the Israelis have a relatively strong state, and the Israeli citizens have a strong relationship to that state. Obviously the Palestinian Israelis don’t have as much citizenship as Jewish Israelis but they do have rights of citizenship. For instance, the Israelis set things up so that they only recognize municipalities if they have been incorporated in a certain way and they don’t give permission to a lot of the Palestinian Israeli villages to incorporate and without that permission then they can’t repair and get permits and so forth. In fact, there are some of them that the Likud party in the 1970s came to and said we’ll recognize you as proper Israelis municipalities only if you’ll vote for us. So there’s a reliable Likud vote to this day in some of places. But on the whole and by and large, the Israelis have citizenship and they have a strong state. Obviously it is a country with a vigorous market and a strong relationship of people to that market, very active non-governmental organization sector and I think across the board in this regard. So the Israelis, they have one-third, one-third, one-third, that’s a normal distribution for citizenship according to Somers.

And then the Jordanians, you know their state is weaker. The Palestinian Jordanians are not as connected to it as the East Bank Bedouin population and they have couple hundred thousand Iraqis and now ten percent of the country is Syrian and so it’s a mess but the Jordanian citizens, you know, do have citizenship so it’s not as robust as a citizenship category as in Israel but it’s there. And then the market is complicated in Jordan because so much of it is off the books. But if you counted the black market [laughing] then people are pretty connected to it. And then there’s a fairly lively NGO scene. So what would say the Jordanian chart is a little distorted from Somers’ point of view, weaker state, strange kind of market, and so forth but still all three categories are there.

But if we came to the Palestinians, their situation of citizenship is obviously deformed. There’s no state. They’re lacking an entire section of the column. And then their market is not very robust and of course in Gaza there is no market to speak of, the Israelis have Gaza under siege. There’s no airport, there’s no harbor, and the Israelis don’t permit the Palestinians in Gaza to export most of what they make, some strawberries, off of which the Israelis take a cut. But mostly the export market doesn’t exist in Gaza. So the market and the separation wall and the politics of the neighboring states are such that the Palestinians don’t have a strong relationship to the market, they don’t have a state at all, there are a lot of NGOS, and so for the Palestinians, the NGO sector is the one place where there’s a little glimmer maybe of some citizenship. But that’s weird. And that’s unexampled in the world. There’s no other group of people that look like that. In the world, right now.

So this problem of citizenship and the Palestinians of course goes back to the early 20th century. The Palestinians, the Iraqis, and the Syrians were recognized after World War I as Class-A Mandates, coming out of the old Ottoman Empire. The League of Nations had a paternalistic rhetoric that nations were kind of like people and they were at various ages of development. So the Syrians, Iraqis, and Palestinians were sixteen. You know, they’re just about ready to get a driver’s license, not ready to vote yet. The League of Nations actually talked about them as adolescents. I mean, there was a paternalistic juvenilization of people. You know and George W. Bush said the Iraqis were just about ready to take off the training wheels, so what, they were three? That rhetoric is not new. I mean, you’ve heard things like that in 1920 after WWI as well from the Europeans. So the French and the British were designated to be their mentors, you know how Robin is Batman’s ward so they were supposed to grow them up to the point where they could stand on their own feet.

Well, not everybody in the world was a Class-A mandate, there were Class-B mandates so you know, the Syrians, the Iraqis, and the Palestinians were relatively well thought of by the Europeans in this regard. And so they thought, well there’d be a period of mandatory rule by the Europeans and then eventually they’ll be independent. And that was the charge. Unlike previous colonizations, which were just looting, when the British went into India, there were no promises they were going to “mature the Indians” they were mainly just interested in taking money out of the country. In this case, they were given a responsibility to set these countries up on their own feet and let them become proper members of the League of Nations. It was complicated in the case of Palestine because of the Balfour Declaration in the course of World War I, this “crack-pot” Englishmen who thought Jews ruled the world wanted to make the Jews happy so that the British would win World War I and therefore promised them a homeland in Palestine without saying what a “homeland” was and promising at the same time that it wouldn’t “inconvenience” the Palestinians. You see why I used the word “crack-pot”.

And so the mandatory documents about Palestine from the League of Nations are weird in the sense that all the other charters for the Mandatory states talk about this process of standing them up on their own feet and so forth, but in Palestine there is a lot of language about the Jews of which at that time there weren’t very many. The Italians and the French if you go back in correspondence to the League of Nations pressed the British on this. They said you can’t just disregard the rights of the local people.

The problem of stateless-ness in the early twentieth century was severe. Nations as a matter of course used statelessness as a ruthless political tool. And so when the White Russians lost the Rebellion against the new Soviet regime, the Soviets took away their citizenship in the millions. The Armenians were deprived of citizenship. The Hungarians were deprived of citizenship. The Spaniards on the Left who fought Franco, when they lost, they often were denaturalized. They were half a million Spanish without citizenship, I think Picasso was one of them and the French gave him citizenship. So of course it was a policy of the Nazis when they came to power to start depriving people of citizenship. We tend to forget this now that millions of Europeans in the 1930s were deprived of their citizenship, they were denaturalized, they were left without the right to have rights.

Hannah Arendt points out that with regard to the Nazis this policy of denaturalizing people, or leaving them without citizenship rights, was a demonstration project. That is to say the Nazis began by thinking that Gypsies and Jews and other groups are flotsam and the scum of the earth and a kind of infection in the body politic, and by taking away their citizenship, they demonstrated that they’re scum. So Goebbels said that depriving the Jews of citizenship made the Jews the scum of the earth and he said, you know, let’s see – everybody’s criticizing us how we treat our Jews, but will they take them? Does America want them? Does Britain want them? And of course they didn’t once they were stateless. So by marking them as non-German as taking away German Jews’ citizenship, the Nazis were then demonstrating the wothlessness of their Jews.

And so ironically enough Mandatory Palestine, Palestine under British rule, served this function of being a refuge for stateless Jews at this point and in fact, this was one of the arguments that proponents of Jewish immigration to Palestine made. So for instance in 1938, 1939 when you had a British McDonald White Paper after the 1936 to 39 Palestinian uprising, which argued that henceforward Jewish immigration in Palestine should be limited, there was an outcry among the Zionists in Europe at that time that in 1939, the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia was taken over by the German Nazis and they denaturalized a hundred thousand Jews there. And people said, where will they go if you don’t let them go to Palestine? So Palestine was a solution to the increasing statelessness of the European Jewry.
Let me stop at this juncture and consider some possible twists or objections on this theory of citizenship that many people have said to me, well there are lots of people in the world who don’t have proper rights – so for instance undocumented immigrants. Well, undocumented immigrants don’t have rights of citizenship in the country where they are because they’re undocumented, haven’t gotten there legally. But they still do have citizenship. And the United States deports 400,000 of them a year back to their countries of origin, where they are citizens. When Palestinians are deported from the West Bank by the Israelis, where are they deported to? Gaza or Jordan, Cyprus? Not to their country. They’re not really being deported in the technical sense of going back to your country of origin, right? They’re being expelled to other places. They’re still stateless. So the situation of the Palestinians is not like that of undocumented workers because they’re stateless and undocumented workers mostly are not stateless but they just don’t have citizenship in the place where they’re working.

Then people say, well what about the Basques and the Kurds and the Catalans? They have the citizenship they have. Well I agree that that’s a little bit unfortunate not to have the citizenship that you want, but it’s different from not having any at all. So the Turkish Kurds may suffer some disabilities from being Kurdish in Turkey but they still are Turkish citizens. They vote. In fact, they’re influential in the elections and they have the ability to work and so forth. So that’s different, an aspiration for separatism is a different situation than statelessness. It’s not the same thing.

And then there are citizens of states that don’t amount to much. I mean, I don’t know how much good it does you to be a Somali citizen. And then there was Iraq under American rule, what kind of a citizen were you there? But still it doesn’t have the same implications for you as statelessness.

Statelessness means the complete lack of citizenship in a recognized state. It means you don’t have a passport; you have a laissez-passé. That means a lot of countries won’t accept the laissez-passé. It means you can’t travel freely, you don’t have constitutional protections, you often can’t get a work permit, your property is not secure because people can take it away from you and you don’t have access to national courts that could adjudicate those disputes. It’s different.

So after World War II, this problem of the inter-war period of millions of stateless was resolved. And the bias in international law was against people being denaturalized against statelessness. And so statelessness became rare. Out of seven billion human beings today, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights estimates perhaps twelve million are stateless. Of those, there are 90,000 Bidun in Kuwait, tribes that used to wander amidst states and then got caught on the Kuwaiti side of the border and can’t move now and are not recognized by the emir as Kuwaiti, although, the Kuwaitis have hired them as their policemen. I guess the Emir figures they won’t be loyal to other tribes.

And then 300,000 Syrian Kurds were denaturalized by the pre-Baath, it was Arab nationalists anyway, in the 1960s which have grown to now probably over a million and people have alleged to me that the situation of Kurds under the Baathis in Syria, say in the 1990s, was actually worse than the situation of Palestinians, both were stateless in Syria.

You know, people get caught; there were a hundred thousand Taiwanese in Japan in 1971 when japan unrecognized the Taiwanese government. For all purposes, the Taiwanese in Japan suddenly became stateless. But that’s been resolved over time.

But the very largest group of stateless people in the world, the largest single group, are the Palestinians. And you all know in this audience very well that the story, there were over a million Palestinians in 1943 in Mandatory Palestine, about half a million Jewish settlers who had bought up out about seven percent of the land but then in 1947-48 the British prepared to withdraw, a civil war broke out between the two communities in which the Yishuv, the budding community that became Israel conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, which displaced them in very large numbers, probably on the order of 730,000, out of the 1.3 million Palestinians of that time, were displaced. Many of them went to the West Bank or Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, a few in Egypt. And of course those who were displaced to the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, many of them were again displaced.

We take a place like Lebanon. The Palestinians who came into Lebanon grew over time demographically, the UN estimates on the order of 400,000-450,000, probably they are less because many of them surreptitiously emigrated to Europe in the meantime. But in any case, however many there are, most still live in camps. Lebanese law does not allow them to have property rights. For the most part, there’s been a slight adjustment of this but for the most part, they can’t get work permits, they can’t get business permits. I mean you visit the Palestinians in their camps in Lebanon and they’re in jail, they’re like prisoners. They can’t get out. Other countries won’t accept their travel documents for fear that they’ll stay.

The camps themselves are lawless. You think about a place, it’s a place that the Lebanese sovereignty doesn’t really extend very far into. So it’s not as if there are police. And people organize these militias for self-protection but the militias can be predatory and some guys can get guns and prey on others. So it’s a horrible situation and it’s been going on now since 1948. I visited the former Palestinian camp of Nahr-el-Bared. I met an old man there who told me the story of how in 1948 he was with his mother in an apartment in Haifa and the Zionists came and told them to leave at gunpoint. So they went north and they waited there on the Lebanese border to go back and then of course Ben-Gurion announced that he would close the borders and they couldn’t go back. And they were there for a year. And then the UN put them on trains and took them up to Tripoli, very far away from their home. And they’ve been there ever since in camps. So Nahr-el-Bared was a camp. And because frankly, of the lawlessness of camp life, nevertheless there are some opportunities there that don’t exist elsewhere for unregulated commercial exchange, let us say. And so over time Nahr-el-Bared started to have some money and there was a lot of commerce there, maybe some commerce that couldn’t be conducted elsewhere. People gentrified their buildings and there were shops and it became a town of 70,000 and it was a relatively nice town. But then because there’s no police and there is lawlessness and so forth, in the middle of the last decades about 50 guys formed a gang and started robbing banks in Tripoli, which angered the Lebanese government. And then these guys [who] were robbing banks, for reasons that I can’t entirely understand, announced they were an Al-Qaeda affiliate. What do you get from doing that? I mean, does Al Qaeda give you a gold star or what benefit is there in saying that? Well, I know the downside is that all of a sudden Dick Cheney’s on the phone with the Lebanese government saying “you have to go in there.” And anyway these guys were robbing banks and causing trouble so the Lebanese army invaded Nahr-el-Bared, a civilian settlement of 70,000 people. I’m showing slides of it, it’s destroyed now. It’s gone. People are again refugees and their living in pre-fab UN little apartments. The old man who had been expelled from Haifa took me by the arm and brought me to one of the rooms and there were two old women there on oxygen and he said, “Is this a way to live?”

So when you’re stateless, you don’t have the right to have rights. So everything is unstable. It’s a little bit like being a child of an alcoholic abusive family. They suffer from everything always being interrupted. You never know what’s going to happen, you can’t make plans, let’s go for a picnic today but then the picnic doesn’t happen because the parent got drunk. Well, if you’re stateless you don’t really know what’s going to happen to you. Your property is unstable, your rights are unstable. Even if you were stateless and you get citizenship, your citizenship is unstable. So Jordan gave citizenship to the West Bank Palestinians at one point and then because of the Rabat Accords after Israel conquered it, they took the Jordanian citizenship back away. They just denaturalized about 30 or 40 thousand Palestinians from Gaza in Jordan.

So if you were stateless, the stigma of statelessness seems to attach to you even if you get citizenship and then that is unstable and can be taken back away. Then you never know when you’ll be refugees again. Palestinians in Gaza, on the other hand, were not granted Egyptian citizenship, were ruled by Egypt 1949 to 1967. And then directly ruled by Israel from 1967 to 2005, during which the Israelis thought it would be a good idea to try to put Israeli settlers into this densely populated resource-poor area. Since 2005, the Israelis felt like they couldn’t really protect those settlers and so took them back out, but they didn’t make any agreement with the Palestinians in Gaza about the post-withdrawal situation, leaving the Palestinians in limbo. They have no harbor, they have no airport, they had an airport, the Israelis bombed it. It’s hard to take off if there are holes in the tarmac.

Then the Bush administration thought it would be a good idea to hold elections in 2006 and insisted on letting Hamas run. When Hamas won, the Bush administration and the Israelis connived in overthrowing the Hamas government and succeeded in doing so in the West Bank but not in Gaza. Now the Western press, whenever it talks about Hamas in Gaza talks about it having made a coup there. I believe it may have been the other way around? Like, the coup was over on the West Bank, these guys were elected but in any case, to punish the Palestinians for voting for Hamas and of course, not all the Palestinians in Gaza voted for Hamas, 50 percent of the Palestinians in Gaza are children but to punish all of the Palestinians in Gaza for voting for Hamas, Israeli subjected them to a blockade from 2007. The Israeli Ministry of Defense actually sat down and figured out each adult person needs 2200 calories and how many trucks of food would you let in everyday to keep them svelte? Not starving to death but not with any baby fat, either. No chocolate for the children. This is creepy! This is weird. I mean, it’s repulsive! Actually one of my victories in life was that I called it “creepy” at my blog and the National Review at one point published an article trying to refute me and it quoted me as saying that the blockade is “creepy”. So I inserted that meme into the National Review, even though they were trying to wiggle out of it.

So this is a population that has been without citizenship for 61 years and apparently if you’re without citizenship, you not only don’t have a right to have rights, you don’t have a right to have chocolate, or more than 2200 calories a day. Your body becomes an experimental field for planners on the part of your enemies. On the West Bank, as I said, the Jordanians did grant citizenship to the Palestinians but after 1967, and after Jordan and the Arab League recognized the PLO as the Palestinian spokesman, Jordanian citizenship ultimately was revoked and so they’re formally stateless.

So the implications of this are that they lack control because what does a state do? It controls land, water, air. If a North Korean MiG flew over San Diego, all hell would break loose. Why? It would have penetrated the airspace of the United States of America, the federal government. The airspace is owned by the government. If an Israeli plane flies over the West Bank, eh? Not a state. If substantial water resources, river or something, were expropriated by Canada, there would be trouble because that’s America’s water, it’s owned by the federal government. But if 85 percent of the water on the West Bank is diverted to Israeli settlers, that’s alright because there is no Palestinian state. The water doesn’t belong to anybody. It’s a no-man’s land.

States control immigration. I said the United States nowadays deports 400,000 people a year for coming here without proper procedures or documentation. It was a million a year not so long ago. It’s really a vast bureaucracy. But the Palestinians would deport somebody, how? There are lots of undocumented people on the West Bank, but their state is behind them.

Aquifer rights are interfered with. The Israeli settlers can dig their tube wells deeper than the Palestinians and cause the aquifer to fall and so the old wells of the Palestinian villages dry up. The Israelis have set up a vast network of checkpoints, of special highways in which Palestinians can’t drive. They’ve made it difficult to get from one part of Palestine to the other. There must be a whole class of post-modern novelists [who] should write about the class of Palestinians born at checkpoints because their mom couldn’t get through in time to the hospital. So there’s difficulty of travel, lack of speedy hospital access, of course there aren’t proper medical facilities for many diseases in Gaza and Palestinians in Gaza have to apply to the Israeli government to get permission to get out of the Gaza strip for treatment. And in a few cases the permission hasn’t quite come in time. They’re stateless, they have no right to have rights; they have no right to have medical care.

So Palestinians rate low on citizenship state. One of the re-posts to my argument sometimes, well there’s the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians have a state, it’s just not a very good one. Well the Palestine Authority doesn’t look like a proper state in most regard; it doesn’t have control of the things that a state controls. So Palestinians rate low on citizenship state, they rate low on access to or incorporation into a market. There is some civil society although that’s circumscribed by the Palestine Authority and by the Israelis.

So one of the things you’ve seen in the past couple years is that the Palestine Authority which has now changed its name to just Palestine, I approve, has gone to the United Nations and asked for the status of an observer state. Some journalists have said they asked for recognition of the state, as a state. This is not true, they already believe that they were a state, they weren’t asking for recognition of that. They were asking for a particular kind of status that the UN would just call the “observer state status”. It’s enjoyed previously only by the Vatican. The United States and Israel fought tooth-and-nail against this. And of course the United Nations Security Council hasn’t signed off on it but the General Assembly now last fall did recognize them in this way. And the reason that the Palestinians wanted this status is that as international law has evolved, you now have an International Criminal Court, there begin to be because of the Statute of Rome, some ways of adjudicating certain kinds of sorts of torts, of wrongs done by a state, one state to the people of another that can only be accessed by another state. That is to say, in the law, standing is very important, you have standing to sue, you have standing to participate in a legal settlement of some sort. And the Palestinians being stateless did not have standing in international law. That’s another problem with being stateless. No tort can be committed against you because you have no standing or no tort can be adjudicated.

So what Palestine was doing in seeking UN observer state status was to begin to establish standing to pursue tort cases against the Israelis, who daily are breaking international law, they’re breaking the Hague Convention of 1907, they’re breaking the Geneva Convention on Occupied Territories of 1949 daily. They’re also contravening large numbers of UN Security Council Resolutions. At one time or another, the Americans have occasionally let things through but it’s quite a body of UN Security Council resolutions about Jerusalem, about the West Bank and so forth, which the Israelis disregard. And so there is a set of cases to be made but the Palestinians were not able to make that case as long as they didn’t have standing, as long as they didn’t have this state observer status. And as you can tell, I think that this is exactly the right strategy. It is the strategy of beginning to establish Palestinian claims on citizenship.

The statelessness of the Palestinians is virtually unknown as an issue in the United States. If you did a poll on Americans, are Palestinians without citizenship rights, almost none of them would know this. And on the other hand, everybody in the Middle East knows it. So it is one of the problems of course for American foreign policy. The American foreign policy towards the Palestinians on the whole and by and large, is to screw them over. Not because the United States hates Palestinians although maybe some officials do, but because it pleases their ally, Israel, to have these policies. So the Wikileaks revelation of State Department cables about Israeli policy and the blockade of Gaza demonstrate that these Americans and the US Embassy in Tel Aviv were gung-ho. They were perfectly willing to help half starve the Palestinian children in Gaza. I was taken aback by the language of these cables, they were very harsh, they may as well have been written by the Likud party. And I’m sure there are officials in the US government who know the score and so forth, but practically speaking and de facto, the US is complicit in the Palestinian statelessness and in keeping them in that status. And this obviously causes problems for the US in the region and nobody can understand why the US would want to do that to these poor people.

Well what is the end game here? What is the solution? I’m arguing that it’s unacceptable in international law, in international diplomacy to have four and a half million people permanently kept in a status of statelessness, which is to say kept in a status where they have no right to have rights, taken off the human rights table, altogether. It’s unacceptable for that to continue. So when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel comes out and says, it’s not the time yet to establish a Palestinian state, that needs to be translated. What does it say? It’s saying Palestinians must remain stateless for the time being. They must remain without rights for the time being. Well that’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable for any group of people to be deprived of basic human rights. I think, not so much in the United States, but in the world at large this problem is coming to the fore and people are beginning to mobilize. So you begin to see entire governments like the government of Ireland, the government of Norway, beginning to highlight this issue. There are moves among some European countries to raise the status of the Palestinian representation in the country to that of full embassy status. What does that do? It recognizes a Palestinian state, it’s one more step towards recognizing the Palestinians as having citizenship.

There are increasingly boycotts of, especially of West Bank Israeli enterprises that are making money off the exploitation of the statelessness of the Palestinians and I expect those boycotts to grow. Israel does 50 percent of its foreign trade with Europe and the Israeli economy is actually quite fragile and very dependent on international trade, and international technology transferring. If the European countries have a meeting on technology, they invite the Israelis. That gradually could end if the Israelis go on like this as people become more and more aware; the Israelis are actively depriving so many people of citizenship rights.

I know some of you may feel strongly about the need for a two-state solution, the need for a Palestinian state of the West Bank and Gaza. But frankly, I think the time has probably already passed when that’s plausible. There are so many settlers in the West Bank, it looks like Swiss cheese and it’s not gonna happen. And then what’s left is probably long-term apartheid, which, however, is not stable. I don’t think that the world will put up with apartheid forever. So there will be increasing boycotts, increasing pressure, increasing economic problems. Ultimately it seems to me very likely that you end up with a single state. I’m not arguing for it, I’m not saying it’s desirable, I’m not saying it’s the best outcome but I think somebody has to give citizenship to the Palestinians. Increasingly, the only one that could plausibly do that is the Israelis and the Israelis increasingly own all of Palestinian territory so they’re responsible for the people that live on that territory even though they don’t think they are. I don’t really care how this problem is solved, from my point of view, it’s all the same to me. The important thing, as you can tell is that I insist, the Palestinians must end up with the right to have rights. Thank you.

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia and has given numerous media interviews on the war on terrorism and the Iraq War. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (2009), and his Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East was published in 2007.

Cole was the recipient of the Hudson Research Professorship in 2003, the National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 1991, and the Fulbright-Hays Islamic Civilization Postdoctoral Award in 1985-86. In November 2004, he was elected president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and in 2006 was the recipient of Hunter College’s James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Since 2002, he has published the blog Informed Comment.

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.

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7 Responses

  1. I remember, not so long ago, that Israelis would say: If only the Palestinians would protest peacefully they would get a fair deal.

    Now that the Palestinians are pursuing peaceful avenues of protest, UN resolutions, the BSD movement, and peaceful marches, all that we hear from the Israelis are complaints that they are attempting to delegitimize Israel.

    It leads me to wonder, what do the Israelis want? They objet to violent resistance: OK, I understand. They also object to peaceful resistance: isn’t that what they wanted? Of course we know what they really want: an ethnically/religiously pure state with no undesirables in sight: pretty ugly. It is the Israelis delegitimizing themselves.

  2. Arab Israelis are de facto stateless due to the clever legal loopholes that they create to deny Arabs rights of citizenship.

    For instance, eligibilty for government benefit programs in Israel is conditioned on having a family member acquire service in the Israel Defense Forces. Since universal conscription exists for Israeli Jews (with limited exceptions)and almost no Arabs serve in the IDF (with notable exception of the Druzes) this means, as a general rule, Jewish Israelis have access to benefits from Israeli government social welfare programs and Arab Israelis do not.

    The Kingdom of Jordan and the United Nations have tried to administer and fund educational and social programs to assist Palestinians under occupation, however Jordan had largely curtailed these efforts.A number of Isreali civil rights organizations have criticized Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians, including Yesh Din, the Israeli Coalition Against Housing Demolitions, Machsom Watch, and B’Tselem.

    In the sixty-five years of the existence of Israel, only one Arab Muslim has ever sat in the Israeli cabinet an no Arab has ever sat in the powerful foreign relations or defense committees of the Knesset.

    Of course, Arabs living in the Occupied Territories have no voting rights in Israeli government elections and are governed by the Civil Administration, a division of the Israel Defense Forces headed by a brigadier general, that imposes martial law upon Arabs in the West Bank. The West Bank is divided into military districts governed by an Israeli army colonel who acts as a district governor.

    West Bank Palestinians are tried in military tribunals administered by the Israel Defense Forces. Fifteen years may be added to a criminal sentence for disrepect exhibited to the tribunal and conviction rates of Arab youhs exceed 99%. Jewish setttlers in the West Bank, in contrast, have their court cases heard in civilian courts within Israel.

    Israel also uses a “adminisrative detention” system to hold Palestinians it has suspicions are engaged in subversive activity but does have sufficient proof to level criminal charges against. As many as 6,000 Palestinians have been held at one time using this legal process. This type process was described in the “Gulag Archipelago” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as being implemented in the Soviet Union during the Lenin and Stalin eras.

    Israel is a de facto apartheid state.

  3. What has puzzled me most about the situation most of my adult life is how a people who endured so much in WWII (and historically in general) turn around and visit some of the treatment similar (certainly not all, but some) to that they suffered at the hands of their oppressors: ethnic cleansing, ghettos, violent expulsion, gross discrimination, deprivation of basic rights and necessities.

    It truly leaves one scratching one’s head. Instead of learning empathy and trying to come to a reasonable accommodation that will restore to the dispossessed in the region their rights and property, the Israeli government simply doubles down on a policy that at times resembles what they experienced for centuries under European governments.

    How could a Jewish state have ended up so blind to their own history as to do this to others? How does the Israeli government think this will end for them not ten, but 50 or 100 years down the road? What has been done to Palestine and the Palestinians is utterly reprehensible, deeply ignorant, and completely un-self-aware.

    • A number of the survivors of the Holocaust, like Menachem Begin, had a survival mentality that dictated practicality of force as a preferred instrument of control against the Arab populations.

      Many of the terror gang leaders, such as Begin and Yitzhak Shamir became post-independence political leaders -while other founding Jews of the State of Israel- such as Meir Vilner – adopted a conciliatory approach toward Arabs. Many of these ex-terror gang members joined the Likud Party.

      Since the 1970s, the conservative Likud bloc has largely dominated the Israeli government and has taken a hard line against Palestinian human rights.

    • Although I have often been very critical of the Israeli state at this forum, I would never say that the hypocritical behavior of the Israeli people is abnormal for human beings. I think the object lesson of Israel is that modern humans are as lacking in empathy as ancient barbarians and conquerors. The unusual thing that happened is that after WW2, the greatest victims of the Nazis were given a get-out-of-camp-free card, the right to solve their statelessness problem by being given an exception to the reinforced laws against imperialism and occupation, reinforced specifically because of the crimes of those Nazis.

      However, before the World Wars made most peoples desirous of having limits placed on their capability for depredation, we have many examples of the victims of oppression becoming monsters at the first opportunity. In ancient warfare that was a matter of course; the losers who survived the typical atrocities nursed their wounds and taught their children to build up for revenge, though this would obviously renew the cycle. The conquered people of Scotland and Ireland were damn fast to become murderous henchmen for their masters in the New World and Australia.

      And let’s not forget the ancient Hebrews themselves, unleashed from slavery, according to their holy word, to slaughter an endless succession of foreign communities under orders from Jehovah.

      If the memory of the World Wars and the fear of nukes is what taught most of the modern world a degree of restraint, what does it mean now that those with living memory of those dark days are dying off, that Hiroshima is now in the distant past, and the nation-states that actually erected international law are often said to be overshadowed by new forces greater and smaller? Will our inner beasts re-emerge?

  4. A group of prominent indigenous scholars recently wrote a letter of protest to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly (link to

    Growing up in Northern Arizona, I heard a great deal about the many difficult problems facing the Navajo Nation, but I would guess that most Americans know far more about Palestine and Israel than about the Navajo / Hopi land dispute and native rights issues which impact fellow citizens.

    President Shelly traveled to Israel last December and again in March. As much of the Navajo Nation is arid, he wanted to learn about desert farming techniques used by the Israelis. But his trip offended many natives who identify strongly with the Palestinian plight.

    Since Israeli politicians have since made a reciprocal trip to the Navajo Nation, I wonder if that visit made any of them consider the similarities between the experience of the Palestinians and the Native Americans? Does it make them realize that, at the very least, Palestinians ought to have what the Navajo have?

    The Navajo are U.S. citizens and Navajo tribal citizens; they have a voice as Navajo and as Americans. Their situation is not perfect, but the Navajo are certainly not stateless–and that in itself gives them hope for a better future.

    • If your numbers mean you can outvote me, you are a terrorist monster who must be deprived of all human rights. If your numbers mean you will never outvote me, but you can still pay taxes, you’re a citizen. That’s all the politicians of Israel and America need to know.

      What, you think humans aren’t wicked enough to have their consciences flipped on and off like a switch by a mathematical calculation? You think the appearance of “Voter ID” laws targeting minorities has nothing to do with the danger that those minorities can flip local elections?

      We may have consciences, but we will override them when our goodies are threatened. The Navajo are no threat to white people in general; if they have success in backing environmental and litigatory challenges that threaten the power structure, watch how fast that perception changes.

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