Mind your own occupation - I'll mind my own development



 
In accordance with its mission, Menassat reported on the publishing of the 2009 Arab Human Development report (AHDR) commissioned by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the ensuing objections by participating researchers, including leading consultant for the report Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed. Criticism of the report focused mainly on the relegation of the impact of foreign military occupations on Arab development throughout the report. Scholars withdrew from the AHDR, accusing UNDP staff of tampering with the studies in unprofessional and unethical manners. The Jerusalem Post objected.
 
By SASEEN KAWZALLY
 
gaza_school_children1.jpg
Palestinian school children next to the names of those killed by Israel in the most recent war on Gaza. © aftermathnews.files.wordpress.com

BEIRUT, July 29, 2009 (MENASSAT) — Yesterday, Tuesday July 28, the Jerusalem Post (JP) published an unsigned editorial in response to the 2009 AHDR. In fact the JP editorial comes in response to Arab intellectuals' objections to the UNDP staff’s meddling with the structure, content and overall outcome of the report, despite having declared that the AHDR does not reflect the views of the UNDP. The report did in all cases ensure it would not upset Israel, but it seems any criticism of it does.

The Jerusalem Post editorial conveniently fails to mention the charges voiced by researchers that their work is being misrepresented, even after they protested this to the UNDP regional bureau director for the Arab countries. In doing so, the editorial fails to accept professional objections brought against the report, and the ensuing academic debate concerning this study, which will largely dictate international development policies for the region.
 
What also passed unnoticed in the Jerusalem Post is that the UNDP staff was more than sensitive to Israel's foreseen objections, refusing to include in the AHDR a chapter that would have examined Israeli obstacles to the development of Arab-Israeli communities within Israel, or even the impact of Israel's occupation of Arab land (the Golan Heights, to name but one example) on development. One gets the impression the editorial wanted the report to say military occupation contributed to Arab development!

The editorial writers decided to discredit valid Arab criticism of a major international developmental report, which concerns their own societies, based on the well-established fact that UNDP staffers conducted themselves unprofessionally. What it could have done instead, and what would have been more useful and productive, is address how Israel should, or could modify its approach to understanding Arab issues, rather than responding with automatic indignation over any criticism of the occupation.
 
The reality that Israeli occupation hinders Palestinian development through apartheid policies in West Bank (as well as the periodic wholesale destruction of Gaza's infrastructure – not to mention the “disproportionate” force that “turn[ed] back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years”) cannot be overshadowed by the fact that some Arab rulers use the occupation as an excuse for their failures (or the intentional obstruction of) development in their countries. The acceptance of one argument does not negate the other.

To deny the catastrophic consequences of occupation on the course of any nation's development is tantamount to denying occupation itself. More so, when such consequences are far reaching and extend beyond the borders of Palestine, as is the case with the American occupation in Iraq. No one likes their occupations to be criticized; one should perhaps remember that “occupation” a.k.a. colonialism has been portrayed as "enlightening" for the colonized people. 

"It's been decades since the last colonial power quit the region, yet most Arabs still primarily identify themselves not as citizens of the country in which they live but as Arabs or Muslims", states the Jerusalem Post's editorial.
   
But has it really been decades since the last colonial power quit the region? One look at the definition of the word colonialism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (hopefully an acceptable reference to quote “approvingly”), leads us to answer: Not really. At least, Arab intellectual and popular opinion do not think colonial powers have quit the region.

Regarding this second misleading element within the same paragraph, Arabs do identify as citizens of certain countries, but still as Arabs. And so do many peoples around the world who are spread across borders, but are united in identity, culture and history. Despite the dominance of nation states, many ethnicities still exist in more than one country both in Europe and all over the world. Identity is not – according to Western scholarship – a rigid singular element, but a multiplicity of identities (the notion of hybridity might be useful for the author of the editorial.) If one can identify as Western, European, French, Parisian, and Catholic all at the same time, why must “Arabs” be defined according to one exclusive identity? Can't Arab, Muslim and Egyptian coexist in a single person?

It is perhaps useful for the Jerusalem Post to promote this logic, while Israel is on its way to finish modeling itself strictly as a Jewish state. The UNDP refused to include the chapter on Arab-Israelis' development, arguing that "Israel is not part of the Arab world," but does Israel consider, beyond doubt, Arabs as part of Israel? And will it put an end to constant discussions of "transfer" plans?

Have not the Jewish people been historically (and unjustly for that matter) attacked in their loyalty to countries they inhabited for centuries? Have they not, rightfully so, refused to be doubted for their loyalty to countries they were born in, lived in and contributed to?

Is not the promotion of a pure religious/racially-identified state a steppingstone toward a totalitarian state? Is any talk of bi-loyalty of Jews in the U.S. anything but anti-Semitic? 

By the same token, we are allowed to identify as Arabs living in different countries, and even still, aspire for Arab solidarity. It takes nothing from our citizenship. However, it is Israel that has to allow its citizens to identify freely as Arabs, without paying the price. But in doing so, it opens up the very possibilities it wishes to bury, the possibilities for a just and democratic state on the historic lands of Palestine. 

Ben Gurion's theory "alliance of minorities" in the Middle East as a protective shield for the Jewish minority among the "sea of Muslims" has lead to catastrophic disasters in the identity fabric in Lebanon, and elsewhere.

But of course, Israel’s is but one example of a complete disregard of "respect for minority rights." As Haaretz reporter Zvi Bar'el wrote, "the more than a million citizens of Israel who are Arab hardly interest a soul." Respect for minority's rights in the "oasis of democracy" has been reduced to a "demographic threat."

One must remember though, before the particularity of Israel’s security concerns are brought up, that those minorities who are discriminated against are always opponents of the states that persecute them. People in general, not only minorities, are "disloyal" to any state that treats them as sub-citizens, if not as sub-humans. Israel is in no way a credible authority on any groups' rights, save the privileged segments of its own society.  

Revisiting the other foreign armies in the region takes us back to the Jerusalem Post editorial’s highlighting of another fact in the AHDR: "Arabs are shockingly poor; millions survive on less than $2 a day. Though 60 percent of the world's proven oil reserves are in the Middle East."
 
60 percent of the world's proven oil reserves are in the safe custody of American troops, and has been since as far back as the Second World War. Saudi Arabia's ruling family is in no way willing to use its funds for development purposes, a development that would most probably put an end to their rule. Authoritarian regimes in the region are of equal danger and obstruction to national and Arab national liberation and progress.

But the fact that corrupt and loathed leaders, who exist in Israel as well, use Israel as an excuse for their own crimes, does not mean the argument itself is flawed. It only means Arab people have to fight corrupt leaders and governments, as well as occupation and western imperialism, as must all peoples who wish to progress and advance.

No one in the Arab world believes that Arab governments are pursuing real development of their countries and people, except for a few beneficiaries perhaps. But it is not the "existence of a Jewish state in the region" merely that stunted Arab development. It is Israel's wars and occupation of Lebanon (1948-1978-1982 until 2000-1996-1998-2006), the Golan Heights, Egypt (a particular case where the treaty with Israel rather than war served the same goal), Jordan and Palestine (the West Bank, Gaza, and the rest of historic Palestine) that stunts development, a legacy of occupation and discrimination to divide and rule, persisting from the traditional colonial days.

The portrayal of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a border dispute is a tactic aimed at fragmenting the conflict, allowing Israel to "settle" the issues resulting from its wars and occupation as separate disputes with separate groups of people (again in contrast to the claim that Arabs are one singular group), thereby intentionally neglecting to acknowledge the origins of the conflict.

A minor detail the editorial also fails to acknowledge as to why "young people with little hope (…) turn to religious fundamentalism for solace", is the biblical claims over Palestine, which immediately put Judaism in opposition to Islam, on a religious basis. Classifying, or branding Israel as a Jewish state will only deepen this tendency, and provide all those promoting the conflict as Islam vs. Judaism with explosive ammunition. This can only serve fanatics on both sides, as it has --for example-- in the case of the Israeli Army’s rabbinate, who coached soldiers poised to invade Gaza, on the acceptable use of cruelty in fighting their “holy war.”

Israel inherently and fundamentally carries the burden of imperialism, and benefits from it at the same time. The choice by Israelis to continue to do so is what stands between them and a peaceful existence in the region, as a people. Israeli policies continue to build on the colonial nature of its foundation. Settlements in the West Bank are not "crack cocaine" as the editorial amusingly states, but  more like euthanasia for the promised Palestinian state the current Israeli government is adamantly stalling on and denying.  

Finally, it is to the American Military complex that we owe a debt of gratitude for bankrolling the … state of Israel. And it is to the Zionist lobby that we owe the debt of discrediting every criticism of Israeli crimes, except this time, it seems we are not even allowed to criticize the UNDP, for a report that is meant for Arab human development.

The criticism of interferences by the UNDP staff by Arab elite intellectuals, who were commissioned by the UNDP itself to write the report, passed unnoticed by the Jerusalem Post. Of course, turning the priorities upside down, making occupation the last of our concerns against the will of those who wrote the report, is something those who benefit from occupation will welcome.

Otherwise, why is the Jerusalem Post complaining that the Arab elite is disillusioned by the AHDR? The fact that the UNDP manipulated researchers' work is of no worth; the fact that someone complained about trivializing the impact of occupation on development, is worth the occupiers' condemnation, which in this case, we gladly welcome. Logic says, when Israel does withdraw from all Arab land, and puts an end to human rights violations, perhaps then, complaining is justified. Perhaps.    

We are not allowed, as the Jerusalem Post has it, to disagree with how others decide we are supposed to move forward. The Jerusalem Post prefers, perhaps, that we do not complain about occupation, and the destruction and death it brings. 

Yes in deed, thank you, taxpayers of The Netherlands. Your money is being used to make sure, in the brave words of Illan Pappe, who was made a pariah by the Zionist enterprise for exposing its systematic ethnic cleansing of land and memory, that "whenever I speak of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, we must remember that not just the very terms of "ethnic cleansing" and "expulsion" are totally alien to the community and society from which I come and from where I grew up; the very history of that chapter is either distorted in the recollection of people, or totally absent."

So  perhaps, the Jerusalem Post prefers we "erase one side of the story," the side that speaks of our suffering, and of Israel's crimes. The fact that the opinions of Arab contributors were surgically removed from the AHDR is perhaps only a metaphor for the lack of say we have in our own development.