Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guest, and I say that every week but wow, this week it’s really true. You know, Juan Cole, I’m accused of giving too long introductions so I’m not going to do that, but this is the leading, I was going to say, academic expert on the Middle East, but the leading expert, period, end of sentence, at least in the United States, they probably got some sharper people in Spain and Italy. But I’ve known this guy for a long time. He came out of UCLA, studied under the great Nikki Keddie, who knew a lot about Iran when people didn’t want to know about Iran. He’s Arabic, fluent and all that. And what I really loved all these years, no matter what was happening, you were always calm and judicious and you really unravel complex things.
My favorite book of yours is on Muhammad, around the prophet of Muhammad and connecting what is known of his life as a trader to his own views and openness. And it’s a great demystifying book. But however, as a measure of how horrible things are in this region that you have covered, I read your article today and it was a different Juan Cole, you know, it was distributed by TomDispatch. It’s on your own Informed Comment site. We have it on ScheerPost. I hope everybody carries it. But you referred to Netanyahu as a fascist. And that was so… I don’t know it, it caught me, so explain it. Explain what you think is really going on there now. Well.
Juan Cole: Binyamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel, has throughout his political career, you know, acted as a pragmatist to some extent, and he’s made alliances with the center, even the left. But his political tradition, the intellectual background of his thinking in the Likud Party, which is the ruling party in Israel now really does have a fascist philosophical grounding. And it goes back to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, originally, Vladimir Jabotinsky, who was writing in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s , and who put forth this theory that, you know, the European Jews in Palestine, in British mandate Palestine, were colonizers and that the Arab population would never accept their colonizing Palestinian land, and that the only thing that one could do is to form an iron wall of militiamen essentially, and beat up the Arabs. And if they give you any guff, crush them. And eventually, when they saw that they couldn’t defeat the Zionist militias, they would maybe then grudgingly allow the Jews to have at least some part of Palestine.
That was Jabotinsky’s theory, and it became the bedrock of the Likud Party of the Betar Youth League. And it, you know, it gave rise because of the nature of the theory to some terrorism groups, terrorist groups, Irgun being the famous one which blew up the King David Hotel in 1946 in Jerusalem killing, I think, 96 people, including a lot of civilians, although it was targeted at British intelligence. And they, it was this group that shot up the village of Deir Yassin in 1948 with which other Jewish groups, the Haganah had made a kind of peace treaty. But the Irgun came in and just machine gunned these villagers down to encourage Palestinians to flee and ethnically cleansed, ethnically cleansed Palestine so that the Zionists could take it. And so that’s the background of the Likud Party. And in 1926, on the anniversary of the bombing of the King David Hotel, they held a celebration in Jerusalem commemorating this deed at which the British government was furious. And they issued a communique condemning Netanyahu and the Likud for celebrating this act of terrorism. So but, you know, it’s not actually not controversial to say that Netanyahu comes out of a fascist tradition.
Scheer: Well, having said that, but in the current context, there is an irony. Wasn’t Netanyahu who thought that he could use Hamas and use it as a divide-and-conquer wedge against the PLO. And the PLO was vulnerable because it was more secular and more advanced or [a] more open position to coexisting with Israel. And the irony here is that this Hamas group, which is now considered, you know, the most evil terrorist force in the eyes of the United States, I guess because we get along with Saudi Arabia, we get along with a lot of different players, and we don’t get along with Iran, which you’re quite an expert on. But nonetheless, Netanyahu thought he could work with Hamas, right, and live with them. And that’s backfired terribly.
Cole: Oh, yeah. Well, the Israeli backing for Hamas, which came out of the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which established itself in Gaza in the mid 1930s, didn’t really turn into a party militia of the Hamas sort until the late 1980s. And when the Israeli intelligence saw this happening, it wasn’t just Netanyahu, it was previous governments as well that saw an opportunity to split the Palestinians, because the Palestinians have been united under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is a multitude of parties and factions, many of them on the far left and with Fatah, which had been led by Yasser Arafat and is now led by Mahmoud Abbas being a kind of middle class, centrist party. And however, all of these parties inside the PLO umbrella were secular parties and Hamas was a Muslim fundamentalist movement. So Richard Sales, perhaps you knew him at the United Press International (UPI) started reporting in the late 1980s on the Israeli intelligence giving Hamas support in. Gaza as a way of of splitting the Palestinians.
And Netanyahu just continued this old policy. But by the time he was prime minister in 2006, the Bush administration had forced the Israelis to allow elections in the Palestinian territories. And the PLO, as usual, did well in the West Bank. But Hamas won in Gaza and then it won in some constituencies in the West Bank and it overall won. So Hamas became the government of the Palestinian Authority, which had been established in 1993 by the Oslo Accords. And this outcome was unforeseen by Bush, who had twisted Ariel Sharon’s arm to allow it, allow these elections and was unacceptable to the Israeli government, and I think ultimately even to the Bush administration. So it was a piece of political stupidity. You know, you don’t you don’t hold elections and invite people to run if you don’t approve of them winning because they might win. So the US and the Israelis made a coup against the Hamas government. The Israelis just went in and arrested a lot of the Hamas parliamentarians and they were able to overthrow Hamas in the West Bank and install the PLO, but they failed to overthrow the Hamas in Gaza. And so in 2007, as a result of this failure, the Israelis clamped very severe economic sanctions on Gaza. They had already destroyed its airport. They destroyed its harbor. It had no means of egress from sea or air or land. They surrounded it. They put in checkpoints, and they just wouldn’t let a lot of things in. And they destroyed its economy. You know, came to be 55% of people unemployed, youth unemployment, 70%.
But Netanyahu thought that although this was a horrible situation, that the Gaza problem and the Hamas problem were were contained and that Hamas would be happy running its little fiefdom in Gaza and Netanyahu could concentrate on stealing the rest of the Palestinian West Bank. And he brought into his government when he came back to power late last year, the most extreme. I mean, this is beyond fascism, the most extreme parties in Israel, the religious Zionists and the Jewish power. I mean, these people are terrorists and they some of them actually have been on the State Department terrorism watch list, not allowed in the United States in the past. And he brought them into the cabinet. He made one of these guys, the minister of national security. It put the other in the finance ministry and then gave him responsibilities as a civilian for overseeing the Palestinian West Bank. And both of these ministers who are extremists were also squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank and wanted to steal the rest of it to bring in more settlers. And one of the reasons that Hamas gave for the horrible atrocities that it inexcusably committed on October 7th was this push for literally for annexation by Israel of of the Palestinian West Bank. And they also instanced repeated Israeli attacks on the congregants at the Al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem, which is the third holiest site for the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world.
Scheer: So where are we in this? Because the, look, if there was a large segment of the Israeli public that was in opposition to Netanyahu, they were demonstrating and so forth, they managed to ignore this open air prison of Gaza and they managed to not advance very far in the whole West Bank situation. But nonetheless, there was widespread recognition that Netanyahu was hardly a Democratic leader. He was destroying what existed of democracy in Israel. He was allied with elements that wanted to setback Israel. And now the narrative got changed. Okay, Hamas does this extreme, a hard act. And somehow history begins with that, as if nothing had taken place. And the reason I want to bring that up, I happened to go to Gaza and the West Bank at the tail end of the Six-Day War, and then the Labor Party was in power. And I interview people like Allon and Dayan and so forth, and they all talked a good game. They all said, you come back here in ten years or I think sometimes they said five years, and if we’re still occupying these territories, which after all, Palestine hadn’t waged a war against Israel, was another fiction.
Most people I talked to, you know, I just came from a college campus. Most people there think that somehow Palestine and Israel went to war, and that’s how Israel got the West Bank and Gaza. And, you know, the fact is Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled the West Bank and Syria controlled the Golan Heights. Palestinians were left out. They were, you know, they didn’t get any national identity. And at that time, the Israelis I talked to again, many of them had come out of the kibbutzim movement and pretended at least to be progressive. I said, we can’t be an occupying power, an attractive Israeli democratic state. They seem to recognize that. Now, you know, there’s been a lot done on this subject after you’re a leading expert, but where are we now? And you know where I mean, my goodness, the United States, he claims he’s for a two state solution, but there would be no state left anyway with what’s going on. And what does this mean for Israel?
Cole: Well, there’s real stuck. Those people who told you in 1967 that Israel was going to give the West Bank and Gaza back to the Palestinians were lying to you or were hopelessly naive. If Dayan told you that, then he was just lying. But they, the Israeli right wing, intended to keep those territories and to colonize them, and they almost immediately began putting Israeli colonies into these occupied territories, which is a war crime. It’s illegal, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, for an occupying power to bring its own citizens into an occupied territory and settle it. What the the Nazis did to Poland, right, that the Germans destroyed Warsaw and invaded Poland and took it over. And then they started expelling Poles or killing them and bringing in Germans to replace them. So that’s a war crime, it’s not allowed. And I think, you know, you would want to try to avoid looking like you were following a Nazi sort of policy, but that was essentially the sort of thing that the Israelis did in the Palestinian territories. And over time, they became very attached to them. And the more settlers and squatters that they sent in there, because often these squatters were backed by the government, they were given money to go and settle over there and the government would formally exercise eminent domain and take over private Palestinian land to put Israelis on, which again, is illegal in international law but they did it.
Well now, if you count the area of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, that was part of the West Bank, which Israel has illegally annexed, along with what’s left of the West Bank. You have seven or 800,000 Israeli settlers on Palestinian land there. How are you going to have a Palestinian state under those conditions? If you look at the distribution of the populations, the West Bank is like Swiss cheese. There’s no possibility of a two state solution, and there hasn’t been for, I would say, at least 20 years. And, you know, Mitt Romney, the poor guy, gave a campaign speech when he was running for president in 2012 to a bunch of rich donors. And I think it was in Florida. And he got he got video doing it. He wasn’t expecting these remarks to become public, but he said you can’t give the Palestinians a state. It’s politically unviable. He didn’t say why, but obviously the Israelis would never accept it and the American Jewish community would be upset and and the evangelicals would be upset. So he said the only thing you can do with that issue is just kick it on down the road. So that’s been the policy of the United States, is to kick the can down the road and to hope nothing bad happens. And Biden was very much part of that policy and still is. And unfortunately for him, the can, the thing they thought there was a can that they were kicking down the road, was a live grenade.
Scheer: Well, let’s let’s take that because the alternative would be is one person, one vote or ethnic cleansing where you drive people out of the whole territory to live in inhospitable Arab countries or on the desert or just kill them. Vicious ethnic cleansing. Or you say we want to keep all this territory, but we’ll have one state and whoever lives here will be able to vote. And that’s an idea that’s gained some popularity, you know. But what is the alternative? What do you think is going to happen? I’m talking to a guy. I have to explain, you know, my admiration for your wisdom. It’s embarrassing, really. I just can’t think of anyone who knows more about this region in the United States has written more persuasively and with such knowledge. I mean, I’m almost gushing here because I’ve read your work and I’ve followed it, and I know there’s no bullshit to your analysis. You’ve disagreed with me on a number of issues when you thought I got it wrong and so forth. What do you and I’m asking a person I really respect, what do you think’s going to happen?
Cole: Well, I think you’re right that there are a very limited number of scenarios now. One, as you say, would be a one state solution where the Palestinians were given citizenship and Israel became a binational state, sort of like Lebanon or Bosnia. And another possibility would be that the Palestinians would be ethnically cleansed, which the Israeli far right and I say far right, but actually they’re they’re now in the center then they’re in control of the government. The Israeli far right favors the ethnic cleansing scenario. But another possibility is that you just go on with apartheid, where the Israeli government is de facto in control of everything between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. But the Jews have full rights in that state, whereas the Palestinians are either second class citizens or they’re stateless and have no citizenship. And that’s been the case now for a very long time. And I think the likelihood is that it will just go on having apartheid, but an apartheid that allows the far right in Israel to chip away at Palestinian rights and property and gradually steal the whole thing. So the ethnic cleansing scenario, you know, can work out quickly or in the very long term. And I think I think some people in Israel think that it’s more palatable to world opinion if they can gradually do what they call make the making facts on the ground and gradually move the Palestinians out. But that’s their ultimate goal.
Scheer: But has into reality made the Israeli politics more transparent and as a result, more unattractive, including to American Jews. Now, I know every time I say this, people think I’m being naive. But, you know, I’m an American Jew. I know a lot of Jewish people. And it seems to me that the American Jewish community would have a hard time giving this unqualified support to Israel. And as I say these words, I can already know I’m sounding naive, but I think it’s in such a fundamental contradiction. What most of the Jewish people that I certainly encounter think is the essence of Judaism, which is not apartheid and not viciousness towards other people and not killing children. I mean, you can’t do ethnic cleansing without forcing people out into a biblical exodus. You know, it’s it’s so visible now. And yes, you know, there is this horrible attack. But does that then justify, you know, this…dare we use the word genocide.
I mean, what I just wonder whether the plates haven’t shifted and it can’t be just kicked down the road and it can’t just be accepting. And also the rest of the world doesn’t seem to be hopping to. There’s this, of course, enormous irony where I just can’t swallow the words what I say because my own father was a German Protestant. I’ve been to Germany many times. But the hypocrisy of Germany, of course, which was the author of the worst crime of modern history, the Holocaust, and the French, who certainly were anti-Semitic to a considerable degree, and others in Western Europe now saying you can’t even demonstrate for Palestinian rights. I mean, God, how did we get to this thing? The only reason that any portion of the Jewish community thought you could go back to Israel was because they thought they were unsafe in Germany or France or anywhere else where they might have ended up, if they let them in, you know. So I you know, as a student of this whole history, did you get any sense at all that maybe it’s now this posturing is untenable, that maybe the rest of the world won’t go along? And certainly some of these deals that they thought Israel would get along with Saudi Arabia and with the Emirates and so forth. Maybe that’s not going to happen. You’re the expert.
Cole: Bob, I confess that the more white hair I have, the more cynical I get. I was talking on a webinar or at the Ford School maybe ten years ago, on a panel with the political scientist John Mearsheimer, about these very issues. And at one point I said, well, you know, a fourth possibility we’ve mentioned three. A fourth possibility is that the Israelis themselves just decide that they don’t want to be that guy, that they don’t they don’t want to be, you know, the equivalent of the Afrikaners in South Africa under apartheid. And I watch that occasionally and I slap myself because it was such a stupid thing to say. Ever since I said it, the Israeli public has gone further and further to the right, and the governments have gone further and further to the right, and people have become more and more sort of comfortable with an extreme ethno-nationalism that dehumanizes the Palestinians to the point where now you have these professors in Israel talking about there being no civilians in Gaza, that everybody is Hamas and they all deserve to be killed after October 7th. And the American Jewish community is divided.
The young people in particular don’t like to be associated with this, this kind of thing. And the you have Jewish Voices for Peace and Bernie Sanders and you have a lot of decent people in the Jewish American community who are very unhappy with the situation. But they’re not powerful people. And the most powerful people are the richest and the ones who vote for the Republican Party or who give money through lobbies like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, who are on the far right and who… AIPAC even gave money to some of the insurrectionists there. They’ve tried to torpedo the Democratic Socialists of America movement inside of the Democratic Party. So if you want to look where power lies, it lies with the people that are most comfortable with seeing the Palestinians simply ethnically cleansed.
Scheer: But this cannot be done without the unqualified support of the United States. This has been the long story here. Israel succeeds on this trajectory only by having the most powerful empire in the history of the world and giving it a blank check. And the irony here is with this massive military presence that Israel now has and no one’s even mentioning the question of nuclear weapons and Israel’s possible use of a nuclear weapon if it really ever feels threatened by any regional power anywhere. And that was allowed to happen, even though we complained about everybody else. I want to segway to the area that even that you know more about even, or the country that you know about, than this. And that’s Iran. And you’ve been following Iran forever. And now the claim is Iran is really behind Hamas. And the strategy of the Biden administration seems to be let’s focus on Iran. Let’s not have any more talk of progress. Let’s blame them for all this. Is that how you see what’s happening?
Cole: Well, I don’t think that the relationship is as tight as the Washington establishment does. You know, actually, Hamas and Iran have gone back and forth. It should be remembered that Hamas is a hyper-Sunni fundamentalist organization. Often those people do not like Shiites, which is the majority of Iranians. And during the brief period that the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt in 2012, 2013, Hamas dropped Iran like a hot potato and took up with with the Brotherhood in Egypt as its primary patron, which, you know, the Iranians don’t forget. And gradually, relationships have been repaired to some extent. But I don’t think the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps calls up Ismail Haniya and tells them, do this tomorrow. I don’t think there’s a command and control aspect to this relationship. And my best estimate is, of course, I don’t have any access to to classified intelligence, but my best estimate is that the October 7th attacks were planned by a small coterie of Hamas higher ups. They did not consult anybody in Gaza, and I don’t believe they consulted Iran. And the reason they didn’t consult Iran in part, is because they believe that Israel’s intelligence agencies have deeply penetrated the Iranian government.
And so if you told the Iranians something, it would go straight to to the Israelis. And so I don’t think, you know, those there are those who have alleged that that Hamas Hamas was put up to this attack by the Iranians. I don’t believe that’s true. But Iran is part of the resistance front. It is not comfortable with the role that Israel plays in the region and with it being backed by the United States to play that role, sees it as as a form of colonialism and would like to push it out or I think a one state solution actually might be acceptable to the Iranians. At least that’s the way they talk. But I don’t know in the end what would happen if that unlikely outcome were implemented. But in any case, in the absence of that development, the Iranians are backing the resistance to Israel and but not the PLO. PLO and Iran don’t get along. One is secular, one is religious. And the Saudis are, ironically enough, are more likely to back the PLO. So Hamas has those tunnels and it obviously was able to import somehow some high powered rockets. It has a lot of little kind of homemade rockets, which you hear, you know, they fired 5000 rockets, but most of them are eighth grade high school experiments. But in this October 7th attack, they had some precision munitions. And it’s not clear how this gets into Gaza, maybe through the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula.
But probably the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is slipping these munitions to to to Hamas somehow and otherwise, it’s hard to see. And then where did they get the training? Because, you know, this October 7th attack. Which, you know, you have to keep repeating it was inhumane and atrocious and horrific and horrible. It killed 1400 people, 1200 of them men, women, children, grandmothers, babies, etc., was a horrible thing. But if you just look stood back and looked at it as a military operation, they did kill 200 Israeli soldiers, they took an Israeli base and they were able to use some precision munitions to target Israeli military targets. So this was a pretty sophisticated operation, as horrible as it was. Where did they get the training to carry this kind of thing off? And so, I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer lay with with Iran. But I don’t think that the Iranians ordered them to do quite what they did.
Scheer: So finally, though, has there been a shifting of the plates? Are we in a new, you know, international Cold War? What is going on and where does Saudi Arabia come in? You know, you mentioned, you make a very interesting point about the Sunni-Shiite dispute, which has been a bit forgotten in most journalistic accounts, which, after all, the Iraq war had something to do with. And Iran’s influence was extended to Iraq thanks to American policy. But what I ask finally, maybe as a way of sort of looking at the whole package, when I was in Egypt and then went to Gaza and went to the West Bank and Israel and so forth, the big issue in the U.S. was, and following the example of France and England, mostly England, was very much opposed to Arab pan-Arab nationalism. And you mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood. And this was not a movement that was primarily concerned about the fate of the Palestinians or indeed really Israel.
It was a notion of how do you advance a common Arab perspective and modernization and everything else. And Nasser was this leader who was sort of a part of a non-alignment movement, and Israel got drawn into that, right? And when I was there at that time, I thought, wait a minute, how did this happen? I thought the big issue was the Suez Canal. You know, and who would control trade and pan-Arab vision? And somehow the Six-Day War and you know the literature better than anyone. Was that something that they got lured into? Was Israel attacked this, after all, the moral justification for their having these lands right off the West Bank and Gaza was that they were attacked and they defeated, everybody thinks they defeated the Palestinians, they defeated Egypt and Syria and so forth. So how is your reassessment of that history?
Cole: Well, the historical evidence is that Abdel Nasser in Egypt had sent his crack troops, 100,000 of them, to to intervene in the Yemen civil war. He was in no way prepared for a war with Israel and didn’t fire the first shot. In fact, the Russians, who were Egypt’s patron, told the Egyptians that if they fired the first shot, that the Russians would abandon them, they’d be on their own. So the Israelis fired the first shot.
Scheer: This is the old Soviet Union, by the way, along with the United States, were the first two nations to recognize Israel, right?
Cole: Sure. Well, the Soviets had correct relations with Israel, but in this era of the late sixties, they were siding very strongly with Syria and Egypt, but they didn’t want trouble. And unless it, you know, was inevitable, if the Israelis attacked, then it would be inevitable. So the Soviets told the Egyptians they may not start a war. And so in 1967, it was the Israelis who attacked. And they did so because they were afraid of the rhetoric coming out of Cairo and Damascus. But it was, if you know the situation on the ground, it was mainly rhetoric. And the Israelis defeated the Egyptians by bombing their planes on the ground. They did to the Egyptians what the Japanese did to the United States at Pearl Harbor. And then the Egyptian tanks had no air cover, whereas the Israeli tanks did have air cover. And so planes plus tanks beat, beat tanks. They defeated the Egyptians rather handily and took the Sinai right up to the Suez Canal. And they also took advantage of their defeat of Egypt and of Syria to seize the Palestinian territories, which, as you say, were not part of the war. They were just civilians, farmers mostly. But the Israelis seized those territories and then they began colonizing them and incorporating them into their power sphere to the point now where they’re inextricable. I don’t believe that the Saudis will be put off from recognizing Israel and having economic relations with it for very long.
You know, eventually this problem with Gaza will be resolved in one way or another. We’ve seen now many such conflicts with Gaza and the Israelis, and they come to a desultory end at some point. I think the Saudis have to be careful of, even though they’re an absolute monarchy, of public opinion. And the public in Saudi Arabia is very unhappy with what’s being done to the Palestinians of Gaza by the Israelis. And so it’s not an opportune moment to go forward at the moment right at this instant. But in the long term, it seems clear that the power behind the throne that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, isn’t an Arab nationalist, and he met with the Jewish community in New York and told them that the Palestinians were not high on his list of priorities. And so, you know, I think the money to be made, the technological transfers that are possible, the investment possibilities, the start ups, which we we’ve seen happen between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, are very attractive to the Saudi elite. And so that process may well continue. The Palestinians offer nothing. They they have been turned into refugees and powerless people, stateless people without citizenship in a state or rights. They don’t count and nobody’s going to go to bat for them in a big way. And, you know, it’s ironic because when the Nazis took citizenship away from the German Jews, they said that everybody’s criticizing us for how we treat our Jews. But now that they’re stateless, they’re flotsam. Let’s see who will take them. Who wants them? And of course, the United States wouldn’t let them in and not very many were let into Britain and Brazil wouldn’t let them in and so on and so forth. The Nazis were right, once you make people stateless and you deprive them of that position of having citizenship and passports and recognition, then you become gypsies, you become a flotsam.
And everybody is afraid of you. I mean, I interviewed Palestinians in Lebanon who said that, you know, they have no passports. They’re stateless. They have what’s called a laissez passer, something that lets them go across borders from the UN, but nobody accepts it. They said there are other countries are afraid that if they let them in, they’ll just overstay their visa and remain. And so they’re trapped, they said, we’ve been in prison here in Lebanon. They’re not allowed to own property in Lebanon or to work in most professions. They’re stateless. There’s hundreds of thousands of them like that. They were expelled by the Israelis in 1948, and they’re still in that condition. So they just don’t count. And the sad tragedy of it is that we can, I think, humanitarians and people who care about a normative international order, which was the mantra that the Biden administration kept deploying against Russia and Ukraine, those of us who care about that have to stand up for Palestinian rights. But we’re voices in the wilderness, and the people who have their hands on the levers of power are fully with allowing the Israelis to get away literally with murder. And I don’t anticipate that that will change.
Scheer: You know, you present all this with a kind of weary wisdom. But in your article there was a strong emotional content and what I took away from it and something I have felt for the longest time, ever since I visited the region. And, you know, ironically, back then, at least some prominent Israelis said they agreed with me, maybe they were lying, maybe they were deceiving themselves, that the Palestinians have been put in the historic role of the Jews, that they yes, because they’re stateless, they can be exploited in Jordan, they could be exploited in Lebanon, everywhere. And yet they have an identity, they have a history, they have a sense of self. They don’t want to abandon it. Other nations don’t make it easy for them to come in because I guess they’re too resistant, sometimes the same arguments are used against them that we use against the Jews, that they’re maybe overeducated and maybe you’re too good at some activities. They’re used as advisors, financial people and so forth throughout the Arab world. They fit in and so forth. And what I want to get at, finally, you’ve been very patient with your time, but you know, you have such a great, I think, reputation as a historian of this stuff. And we care a lot about fake news, fake history. I can’t think of any subject that has been so distorted in this depiction as this one.
And it’s biblical in its distortion and taking this biblical image, this Israel has throughout its existence, relied on the view before Israel, where Jews were persecuted at will and certainly in Europe, and the David and Goliath image. And right now, Israel still acts as if it’s David, I mean, claims to be, has this hugely powerful army can imprison millions of people and the world celebrates it, at least part of the world we have here in the United States and in the academic community, you are much more likely to lose your job or your next job if something similar happened to you, if you dare suggest such a thing, it’s heresy. But the fact is, you know, the Palestinians are in the traditional position that the Jews were, in wandering. And how can people avoid that? I mean, your colleagues or, I just don’t get it, you know. And just one little footnote, you mentioned, I mean, just the thing you said, the Six-Day War is supposed to be this great thing that Israel did reluctantly, because it wouldn’t be accepted by these people and by these people includes the Palestinians. And I landed at that airport in Egypt. That’s how I got there at the tail in the war. And you could see that the dummy planes were not hit. The actual planes were hit because Israeli intelligence, supplied by the United States, was such a high level. They knew exactly that, that this was not Goliath’s and that they, you know, combined, we were presented with image of hundreds of millions of Arabs threatening plucky little Israel; it was quite the opposite. Israel was backed by the most powerful nation in the world and an incredible military machine already in place. And so it’s fake history.
There’s actually fake history being visited. And now everybody’s talking as if this Hamas attack came out of nowhere, right? It was a prison break! I mean, I don’t know, how do we think about truth and history and everything? And if you dare actually, what I just said, you know, you will be condemned. I mean, you will be manufacturing a bad history. You will be anti-Semitic. I mean, it’s I don’t think we’ve ever lived in a time quite like this. I mean, at least under McCarthyism, there was a sort of liberal backlash. You know, now there isn’t.
Cole: Well, let’s face it, it took a while for the liberal backlash to amount to anything. People were arrested and put in jail for wrong thoughts in the late forties and fifties until the Supreme Court finally weighed in 1957 and said, no, you can’t jail people for thoughts. But that was ten years. Yeah, well, I mean, I think there’s a difference between how I view what’s happening because I’m outraged and then broken up inside and people that I know on both sides have been harmed by what has happened. And so I can write passionately about it. But if you ask me if I think that this is a turning point or that some new historical information is going to come out of it, I’m very pessimistic about that. I think there’s a set of structural problems here that interfere with this issue getting settled. And so if I have to step back and put on my analysis hat, I actually have to say something pretty pessimistic. In my view, the whole problem is the fault of the Washington elite. The United States could have intervened to solve this at any point along the way. And they haven’t. I think it’s partly because they’re cowardly. Maybe they lack vision.
I give props to Clinton, that was an interesting approach in the Oslo Accords in 1993, which perhaps had some potential of resolving the issue, I don’t think we’d be seeing this attack by Hamas if if the Oslo Accords had been implemented. But they mandated that Israel relinquish the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza by 1997. And in the ten years after those accords were signed, the Israelis doubled the number of settlers that they sent in to live on Palestinian land that they usurped. And so they derailed the the accords and the United States let them do it. And since then, since the late 1990s, the United States has done nothing of any significance to resolve this situation. You know, if it just wouldn’t veto the United Nations Security Council condemnations of Israel and allow U.N. sanctions to be imposed for the things Israel is doing, the Israelis would back off. But the U.S. runs interference for them and lets them get away with murder.
Scheer: Look, let’s end this, , you know, it’s not our job on a show like this to come up with a rosy ending. But there’s something really big at stake here. On the campuses right now of our country being apologetic for Israel is actually put as your moral duty. And somehow this attack wipes out any oppression, any occupation. I mean, this occupation of a whole another people has been going on for more than half a century. And, you know, now they can be killed in much larger numbers because somehow their lives are less worth, they’re held responsible for everything their government does, Americans are not held responsible for everything our government has done. Some of us are in opposition, but every Palestinian anywhere in the world is now responsible for this attack by Hamas. Certainly not every Jewish person feels responsible for everything the Israeli government is doing now in blasting Gaza apart. And I just wonder, you know, in biblical terms whether, in fact, this is not another affirmation of Goliath winning that, you know, and what is odd about it, there’s no soul searching about it, because the fact is, you know, and it’s not example of Islamophobia, because as you point out, the PLO is hardly a religious organization. Hamas obviously is, but no more so than many others.
And we have no trouble at all really getting along, say, with the center of a certain notion of a totalitarian Islam in Saudi Arabia that actually, you know, killed a Saudi person working in The Washington Post and so forth, the president goes over and fist bumps. You know, if Israel has been threatened by any Islamic country, it was these countries that they were getting along with quite well and recognized. And so actually the wandering Jew is now a Palestinian. And it doesn’t concern anybody. I mean, concerns a small, relatively small group of people. But really, it’s all great power politics. What will they accommodate and so forth. And so I don’t know, I want to give you the last word, since you actually wrote this important book about the Prophet Muhammad, you’ve covered this region so extensively. And how does it all ended ends with what, power rules and nothing else matters, right?
Cole: Well, it depends on the timescale that we’re thinking about. In the short to medium term, I’m afraid that’s right, that the power will rule and the poor Palestinians are likely to get the the wrong end of the stick. I think, as you say, it is horrible to see the stereotyping and the demeaning of Arabs and Muslims, which are not exactly the same thing throughout Europe and the United States. And we see it on college campuses and my own campus and kind of tarring all Arabs or Muslims with the Hamas brush, which couldn’t be more unfair because Hamas is a tiny movement in a very small corner of the Muslim world. And even though opinion polling showed that it wasn’t popular among people in Gaza last year. So much less than the rest of the world. And but this is typical of war propaganda, because one of the things that is necessary for the right wing Israelis to do what they want to do, is to dehumanize Palestinians. So they’re calling them human animals. They’re saying things like that that all civilians in in Gaza are Hamas, and therefore there are no civilians and all the lives are fair game. And then anyone who objects to this really genocidal way of speaking is then tarred as a supporter of Hamas. But we should be able, in a democracy, to walk and chew gum at the same time. Nobody put a gun to the leaders of Hamas’s head and said, You have to shoot up a music festival and shoot down, you know, innocent people who were enjoying some music, most of whom were peaceniks and killed 260 of them with machine gunfire. Nobody made them do that. That was a choice on their part.
And it is true that Gaza is occupied and they’re in a horrible situation. And you could expect an explosion because of that, but you couldn’t necessarily expect that explosion. I mean, this, what Hamas did, was not even in character for the historic action of the group. They’ve committed terrorism in the past, but not on the scale or in quite this way. So they made a choice. And we have to condemn that choice, that choice harmed large numbers of innocent people and some of whom some of us knew. But at the same time, as I said, it was clearly the action of a small group which did not consult with its constituency or with anybody else for matters of secrecy and to have the Israelis bomb a refugee camp, and they are refugees because in 1948 they were ethnically cleansed from southern Israel, to bomb a refugee camp because they said one or a handful of Hamas commanders were known to be in that camp and to kill dozens of people, wounded hundreds with an enormous bomb that leaves a crater and knocks out an entire apartment block full of women and children. For the Israelis to behave in this way is no different from the people who committed atrocities in World War Two and some of whom were tried for war crimes.
This resembles what the Japanese did in the Philippines or the Luftwaffe or the German Air Force’s reduction of Warsaw in Poland to rubble. And it seems clear to me that it is a war crime and it fits the international definition of genocide. So both of these things can be true, that Hamas is a terrorist organization now, which has committed unspeakable atrocities. And the Israelis under international law, have a right to go after Hamas and attempt to destroy that organization, but they don’t have a right recklessly to endanger millions of ordinary Palestinian noncombatants. And regardless of what the Israeli right thinks, they are women, children, pregnant women, toddlers. And they never voted for Hamas.
Scheer: So finally, to return to the way I opened this. You said you can consider Netanyahu a fascist. Will Israel continue to support this kind of stance? Will it have new currency and will it remain attractive because, after all, to hold these people, you know, assuming they will obviously have control militarily over both, you know, Gaza and the West Bank. Will the Israeli public, they seem to be have changed or shifted or not? You know, what would you predict? And isn’t there a breaking point, you know, in terms of people in the United States or whether they’re Jewish or not Jewish. I mean, will it always be a blank check or it’s not a blank check, it’s a fairly large one, $16 billion check, that they’re just giving now to a country clearly doesn’t need much more in the way of military support? What is your expectation?
Cole: Well, I agree that the there’s likely to be changes in the next election in Israel, but I fear that they have nothing to do with the Palestinian issue. That many middle class Israelis are afraid of the extremists that Netanyahu brought into government. They’re afraid that those people will take away women’s rights, they’ll take away gay rights, that they’ll reduce the currency of the rule of law in Israeli society. They will take away what rights the Israelis of Palestinian heritage have, which are 20% of the population. And so I do think that Netanyahu and his extremist allies are likely to be punished at the polls. But were the some of the wilder Israeli schemes of pushing all of the 2.2 million people in Gaza into half the territory in the south and setting up the north as a demilitarized zone of sorts. Were those kinds of plans to be implemented? I don’t think they’ll have anything at all to do with the next Israeli election. That’s not what people are consumed about when they go to the polls in Israel.
Scheer: So is it okay the end of times or its end of any expectation for the person? Is it over?
Cole: Well, it’s very divided.
Scheer: Let me put one provocative idea and not to encourage conspiracy thinking, but this is kind of a gift. Grotesque as it is, brutal as it is, to the right wing in Israel. This is an affirmation of their worst warnings, just as maybe it will save Netanyahu’s career. We don’t know and maybe not. He seems to bear some responsibility for a lack of preparedness, but nonetheless, you know, finally, I mean, I’d like to know, I would be unhappy if I ended his without asking this question. This Hamas, this small group might spend some kind of… Why did this happen? These people were perfectly capable of negotiating their terms, of surviving, of extending their power. They were gaining influence. They seemed to be able to work out accommodations with Israel and suddenly, bam, this happens. Just speculative matter. But question.
Cole: Well, I think that both regional geopolitics and Israeli policy was threatening to pull the rug out from under the Palestinians. They became desperate at home in Israel, the religious Zionists and the Jewish power figures in the Netanyahu government were conducting ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the West Bank. They were moving them out of villages. The settler population of Israelis on Palestinian land are armed and they were going in and wilding and attacking Palestinian villages, shooting them up. And they have continued to do this under the cover of the current conflict at a large scale. The Israeli army attacked congregants at the Aqsa mosque on many occasions and brutalized them. And there is a move among the Jewish power faction to usurp at least some of the areas of the Al-Aqsa mosque complex for Jewish purposes, reduce Muslim prerogatives there, which is a nonstarter for those devoted to the Muslim cause. And then regionally, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and now possibly Saudi Arabia, where we’re making separate peace with Israel and throwing the Palestinians under the bus.
And every time someone did that, as with the United Arab Emirates, the Israelis got access to tremendous piles of capital and investment in start ups and opportunities for technology exchange, which made the Israelis even more powerful against the increasingly destitute Palestinians. So between the ethnic cleansing campaign of the religious nationalists on the West Bank, the attacks on the Al Aqsa mosque and this threat that the Israelis could just sidestep the Palestinian issue and get very rich dealing with the Gulf monarchies, I think, inspired a desperation in the leadership of Hamas that they could well just be bypassed by history. And I think these apocalyptic groups get in their minds that some dramatic action could reverse the course of human history. And, you know, we saw this with al Qaeda and the attacks on 9/11. Why did why did they think they could change history by attacking the United States? Well, they thought they maybe they could push the United States out of the Middle East or if the US came in, they thought they could do to them what they had done to the Soviet army in Afghanistan. So this was almost Hegelian, you know, that they thought that they can reformulate the trajectory of future history with this horrific and dramatic action. And I think it’s a stupid theory of history. And wherever it’s been tried, it has failed and crashed and burned. And it will for Hamas here as well. But I don’t, I think that the desperation that the Palestinians were feeling was was real.
Scheer: And once again, the Arab governments, their claim to speak in their interest and be concerned are going to make out like bandits. They’re going to have new agreements and new treaties. They’re the ones who caused or at least legitimatized the Six-Day War. I have to remind people, in closing is, that it was not the Palestinians who attacked Israel, but rather the governments that Israel seems to get along with quite well. And in fact, we may have a repeat of what Roosevelt did in turning away the refugees with the Egyptian government, well maybe there’ll be shooting Palestinian refugees and after all, Jordan has not always been kind to its very substantial Palestinian population. So, again, I just want to throw that note in that the Palestinians are actually much more akin in their experience historically to the Jews than to mass media in this country was acknowledge. I want to thank you, Juan Cole. As I began, I think you are our leading expert in this country on these issues. And I want to thank you for taking this time. I want to thank Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW, the NPR station in Santa Monica, for hosting these shows. I want to thank Joshua Scheer, our executive producer, Diego Ramos, who writes the introduction. Max Jones, who puts the video together. And I want to particularly thank the JKW Foundation in the memory of Jean Stein. One of the Jewish public figures who actually stood up for the Palestinians as human beings and was a close ally of Edward Said, who was a great Palestinian intellectual. So on that note, let’s end this edition of Scheer Intelligence, see you next week.