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John Pilger on the Dagan Plan and Gaza under fire

Every war Israel has waged since 1948 has had the same objective: expulsion of the native people. 

"When the truth is replaced by silence," the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, "the silence is a lie." It may appear that the silence on Gaza is broken. The small cocoons of murdered children, wrapped in green, together with boxes containing their dismembered parents, and the cries of grief and rage of everyone in that death camp by the sea can be witnessed on al-Jazeera and YouTube, even glimpsed on the BBC. But Russia's incorrigible poet was not referring to the ephemera we call news; he was asking why those who knew the why never spoke it, and so denied it. Among the Anglo-American intelligentsia, this is especially striking. It is they who hold the keys to the great storehouses of knowledge: the historiographies and archives that lead us to the why.

They know that the horror now raining on Gaza has little to do with Hamas or, absurdly, "Israel's right to exist". They know the opposite to be true: that Palestine's right to exist was cancelled 61 years ago and that the expulsion and, if necessary, extinction of the indigenous people was planned and executed by the founders of Israel. They know, for example, that the infamous "Plan D" of 1947-48 resulted in the murderous depopulation of 369 Palestinian towns and villages by the Haganah (Israeli army) and that massacre upon massacre of Palestinian civilians in such places as Deir Yassin, al-Dawayima, Eilaboun, Jish, Ramle and Lydda are referred to in official records as "ethnic cleansing". Arriving at a scene of this carnage, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, was asked by a general, Yigal Allon: "What shall we do with the Arabs?" Ben-Gurion, reported the Israeli historian Benny Morris, "made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said, 'Expel them'".

The order to expel an entire population "without attention to age" was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, a future prime minister promoted by the world's most efficient propaganda as a peacemaker. The terrible irony of this was addressed only in passing, such as when the Mapam party co-leader Meir Ya'ari noted "how easily" Israel's leaders spoke of how it was "possible and permissible to take women, children and old men and to fill the road with them because such is the imperative of strategy. And this we say . . . who remember who used this means against our people during the [Second World] War . . . I am appalled."

Every subsequent "war" Israel has waged has had the same objective: the expulsion of the native people and the theft of more and more land. The lie of David and Goliath, of perennial victim, reached its apogee in 1967 when the propaganda became a righteous fury that claimed the Arab states had struck first against Israel. Since then, mostly Jewish truth-tellers such as Avi Shlaim, Noam Chomsky, Tanya Reinhart, Neve Gordon, Tom Segev, Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappé and Norman Finkelstein have undermined this and other myths and revealed a state shorn of the humane traditions of Judaism, whose unrelenting militarism is the sum of an expansionist, lawless and racist ideology called Zionism. "It seems," wrote the Israeli historian Pappé on 2 January, "that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as discrete events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system . . . Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology - in its most consensual and simplistic variety - allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanise the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide]."

In Gaza, the enforced starvation and denial of humanitarian aid, the piracy of life-giving resources such as fuel and water, the denial of medicines, the systematic destruction of infrastructure and killing and maiming of the civilian population, 50 per cent of whom are children, fall within the international standard of the Genocide Convention. "Is it an irresponsible overstatement," asked Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and international law authority at Princeton University, "to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not."

In describing a “holocaust-in-the making”, Falk was alluding to the Nazis’ establishment of Jewish ghettos in Poland. For one month in 1943, the captive Polish Jews, led by Mordechaj Anielewicz, fought off the German army and the SS, but their resistance was finally crushed and the Nazis exacted their final revenge. Falk is also a Jew. Today’s holocaust-in-the-making, which began with Ben-Gurion’s Plan D, is in its final stages. The difference today is that it is a joint US-Israeli project. The F-16 jet fighters, the 250lb “smart” GBU-39 bombs supplied on the eve of the attack on Gaza, having been approved by a Congress dominated by the Democratic Party, plus the annual $2.4bn in warmaking “aid”, give Washington de facto control. It beggars belief that President-elect Obama was not informed. Outspoken about Russia’s war in Georgia and the terrorism in Mumbai, Obama has maintained a silence on Palestine that marks his approval, which is to be expected, given his obsequiousness to the Tel Aviv regime and its lobbyists during the presidential campaign and his appointment of Zionists as his secretary of state and principal Middle East advisers. When Aretha Franklin sings “Think”, her wonderful 1960s anthem to freedom, at Obama’s inauguration on 20 January, I trust someone with the brave heart of Muntader al-Zaidi, the shoe-thrower, will shout: “Gaza!”

The asymmetry of conquest and terror is clear. Plan D is now "Operation Cast Lead", which is the unfinished "Operation Justified Vengeance". This was launched by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 when, with George W Bush's approval, he used F-16s against Palestinian towns and villages for the first time.


Why are the academics and teachers silent? Are British universities now no more than “intellectual Tescos”?


In that same year, the authoritative Jane's Foreign Report disclosed that the Blair government had given Israel the "green light" to attack the West Bank after it was shown Israel's secret designs for a bloodbath. It was typical of new Labour's enduring complicity in Palestine's agony. However, the Israeli plan, reported Jane's, needed the "trigger" of a suicide bombing which would cause "numerous deaths and injuries [because] the 'revenge' factor is crucial". This would "motivate Israeli soldiers to demolish the Palestinians". What alarmed Sharon and the author of the plan, General Shaul Mofaz, then Israeli chief of staff, was a secret agreement between Yasser Arafat and Hamas to ban suicide attacks. On 23 November 2001 Israeli agents assassinated the Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud and got their "trigger": the suicide attacks resumed in response to his killing.

Something uncannily similar happened on 4 November last year when Israeli special forces attacked Gaza, killing six people. Once again, they got their propaganda "trigger": a ceasefire sustained by the Hamas government - which had imprisoned its violators - was shattered as a result of the Israeli attacks, and home-made rockets were fired into what used to be called Palestine before its Arab occupants were "cleansed". On 23 December, Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire, but Israel's charade was such that its all-out assault on Gaza had been planned six months earlier, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Behind this sordid game is the "Dagan Plan", named after General Meir Dagan, who served with Sharon during his bloody invasion of Leba non in 1982. Now head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organisation, Dagan is the author of a "solution" that has brought about the imprisonment of Palestinians behind a ghetto wall snaking across the West Bank and in Gaza, now effectively a concentration camp. The establishment of a quisling government in Ramallah, under Mahmoud Abbas, is Dagan's achievement, together with a hasbara (propaganda) campaign, relayed through mostly supine, if intimidated western media, notably in the US, which say Hamas is a terrorist organisation devoted to Israel's destruction and is to "blame" for the massacres and siege of its own people over two generations, since long before its creation. "We have never had it so good," said the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Gideon Meir in 2006. "The hasbara effort is a well-oiled machine."

In fact, Hamas's real threat is its example as the Arab world's only democratically elected government, drawing its popularity from its resistance to the Palestinians' oppressor and tormentor. This was demonstrated when Hamas foiled a CIA coup in 2007, an event ordained in the western media as "Hamas's seizure of power". Likewise, Hamas is never described as a government, let alone democratic. Neither is its proposal of a ten-year truce reported as a historic recognition of the "reality" of Israel and support for a two-state solution with just one condition: that the Israelis obey international law and end their illegal occupation beyond the 1967 borders. As every annual vote in the UN General Assembly demonstrates, most states agree. On 4 January, the president of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto, described the Israeli attack on Gaza as a "monstrosity".

When the monstrosity is done and the people of Gaza are even more stricken, the Dagan Plan foresees what Sharon called a "1948-style solution" - the destruction of all Palestinian leadership and authority, followed by mass expulsions into smaller and smaller "cantonments", and perhaps, finally, into Jordan. This demolition of institutional and educational life in Gaza is designed to produce, wrote Karma Nabulsi, a Palestinian exile in Britain, "a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed . . . Look to the Iraq of today: that is what [Sharon] had in store for us, and he has nearly achieved it."

Dr Dahlia Wasfi is an American writer on Iraq and Palestine. She has a Jewish mother and an Iraqi Muslim father. "Holocaust denial is anti-Semitic," she wrote on 31 December. "But I'm not talking about the World War II, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran] or Ashkenazi Jews. What I'm referring to is the holocaust we are all witnessing and responsible for in Gaza today and in Palestine over the past 60 years . . . Since Arabs are Semites, US-Israeli policy doesn't get more anti-Semitic than this." She quoted Rachel Corrie, the young American who went to Palestine to defend Palestinians and was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer. "I am in the midst of a genocide," wrote Corrie, "which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible."

Reading the words of both, I am struck by the use of "responsibility". Breaking the lie of silence is not an esoteric abstraction, but an urgent responsibility that falls to those with the privilege of a platform. With the BBC cowed, so too is much of journalism, merely allowing vigorous debate within unmovable, invisible boundaries, ever fearful of the smear of anti-Semitism. The unreported news, meanwhile, is that the death toll in Gaza is the equivalent of 18,000 dead in Britain. Imagine, if you can.

Then there are the academics, the deans and teachers and researchers. Why are they silent as they watch a university bombed and hear the Association of University Teachers in Gaza plead for help? Are British universities now, as Terry Eagleton believes, no more than “intellectual Tescos, churning out a commodity known as graduates rather than greengroceries”?

Then there are the writers. In the dark year of 1939, the Third American Writers' Congress was held at Carnegie Hall in New York and the likes of Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein sent messages and spoke up to ensure that the lie of silence was broken. By one account, 2,500 jammed the auditorium. Today, this mighty voice of realism and morality is said to be obsolete; the literary review pages affect an ironic hauteur of irrelevance; false symbolism is all. As for the readers, their moral and political imagination is to be pacified, not primed. The anti-Muslim Martin Amis expressed this well in Visiting Mrs Nabo kov: "The dominance of the self is not a flaw, it is an evolutionary characteristic; it is just how things are."

If that is how things are, we are diminished as a civilised people. For what happens in Gaza is the defining moment of our time, which either grants war criminals impunity and immunity through our silence, while we contort our own intellect and morality, or it gives us the power to speak out. For the moment I prefer my own memory of Gaza: of the people's courage and resistance and their "luminous humanity", as Karma Nabulsi put it. On my last trip there, I was rewarded with a spectacle of Palestinian flags fluttering in unlikely places. It was dusk and children had done this. No one had told them to do it. They made flagpoles out of sticks tied together, and a few of them climbed on to a wall and held the flag between them, some silently, others crying out. They do this every day when they know foreigners are leaving, in the belief that the world will not forget them.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The destruction of Gaza

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The new age of the train

It is time to reverse the damage done by Richard Beeching in the 1960s and reopen many of the branch lines that were foolishly closed.

More of us are travelling by train than ever before. Last year in Britain, we made 1,718 billion journeys on Network Rail’s 20,000 miles of track; 1.2 billion were within the London commuter belt. Britain ranks just outside the world’s 20 most populous countries but has the fifth busiest rail network. In short, we like trains – or at least greatly prefer them to the increasingly sclerotic road system.

Now the railways, too, are becoming congested: ask anyone who travels on the livestock-transportation model of service operated by Southern, where matters are made worse by a 1970s-style breakdown in relations between management and unions. Many of the passengers live far from a railway station, so must sit in traffic jams to reach them – and hope to find a parking place when they do.

Help, though, may be at hand. Across the country, local councils, pressure groups and campaigners are lobbying for the reopening of many of Britain’s closed railways. Some are succeeding: here and there, trackbeds are being cleared of undergrowth, rails re-laid and stations rebuilt. One continues to wonder why, when so many railways were closed between the 1940s and the 1960s, it never occurred to the governments that shut them that the population, and the economy, might grow, or that this small and increasingly crowded island’s road system might, in places, become a semi-permanent car park leaving people begging for an alternative.

Railway closures are synonymous with Dr Richard Beeching – a scientist and technical director of ICI, who in 1961 was appointed the first chairman of the newly created British Railways Board – and his infamous report, The Reshaping of British Railways, published on 27 March 1963. However, even before his appointment, matters had been bad for years. Between 1948, when the railways were nationalised, and 1962 British Railways (BR) closed 3,318 miles of track. The system’s income failed to cover costs after 1955. By 1962 BR was losing the equivalent of £2bn a year in today’s money. The growing popularity of motoring in the 1950s rendered many of Britain’s branch lines economically untenable, as people routinely travelled from countryside to town by road, at a time of their choosing, door-to-door. Attempts to modernise the railways by phasing out steam trains had failed to create the savings expected.

Beeching identified 6,000 of 18,000 miles of track and 2,363 of Britain’s 7,000 stations as ripe for closure. Effectively, a third of the system would go. Local groups protested, and some lines were reprieved, but throughout 1964 and 1965 Britain swarmed with teams of men dismantling railways: tearing up tracks, demolishing bridges, uprooting level crossings. The carnage continued until the end of the decade. An old, run-down system became an old, run-down, amputated system. As more families bought cars, the railways became shabbier and less populated, even after Barbara Castle, as minister of transport, introduced subsidies to maintain lines considered to be of social importance.

British Rail (as British Railways became) took on the status of national joke. It was suffering from chronic unreliability caused in part by problems with industrial relations. That its 1970s advertising campaign was fronted by the ghastly Jimmy Savile now seems horribly appropriate. A 1982 report by David Serpell, a retired civil servant, included an option to cut most of what remained of the network, but the Thatcher government rejected it. That year railways in Britain reached their lowest ebb, with the fewest passenger miles travelled of any year in the second half of the 20th century.

It was not long before the lack of strategic forethought that had marked Beeching’s deliberations became apparent, as supposedly sedate and moribund towns around the country acquired business parks, industrial estates and big housing developments. The motorway network found itself overloaded almost as soon as new roads were finished, not least with convoys of polluting lorries hauling freight that once would have travelled by rail.

The response has been a 21st-century rebirth of parts of the original Victorian network. Thirteen lines have opened or reopened since 2000, the latest being the Borders Railway (part of the former Waverley Route) in 2015, running from Edinburgh down through Midlothian; there are now calls to reopen the rest of the line to Carlisle, a move that could cost up to £1.5bn but relieve much of the freight and some passenger traffic from the West Coast Main Line.

It is not just the rise in the popularity of rail, and the growth of new or greatly expanded communities, that have made once-unfeasible railways viable again. The business model is one Beeching did not even consider when computing the potential profitability of the lines he closed. He assumed railway stations would be manned from early morning until late at night, creating overheads that had to be met out of passenger revenues. One of the few reprieved lines – the East Suffolk, from Ipswich to Lowestoft – has long operated on a no-frills basis, providing a service to small towns and villages that would otherwise have been stranded. Another, the Settle-Carlisle, now carries more traffic than ever.

Reopening railways does not just expand economic possibilities for communities that barely existed when Beeching reported, it also obviates the need to build more relief roads, which in the past have simply encouraged traffic and the congestion they were meant to eliminate. For this reason there are campaigns to reinstate lines from Portishead to Bristol and from Stourbridge to Burton (the Worcester-Derby main line), the latter helping to divert both passengers and freight from the heavily overcrowded West Midlands road network. A recent survey showed that 61 per cent of people want more freight on the railways, and only 2 per cent want more on the roads. There are new Class 88 electro-diesel locomotives that can take freight on unelectrified lines. Many old goods yards were built over, but new ones could be developed. When the big road-building programme of the 1970s and 1980s was under way, it was often said that only a system of tax incentives could divert freight back to the railways; now the roads are so congested that shippers would need no incentive to consider returning to the rails, if better links existed.

Dr Beeching (right) examines the Brunel roof at Paddington, 1963. Photo: PA

The Campaign for Better Transport has published a list of 216 lines that could be reopened to passenger traffic. Some, economically, are at the far end of wishful thinking, but for many there is a clear case. The Department for Transport, belatedly aware of the economic and environmental value of a larger rail network, will allocate public money to such projects if a benefit:cost ratio suggests it would be advantageous, and if there is no other feasible way of improving transport in the area. It points out that all new lines opened since 1995 have exceeded predicted demand.

One such line is what was once known as the Varsity Line, linking Oxford and Cambridge, which was partially closed in 1968, despite not being on Beeching’s list. The section from Bletchley to Bedford remained open and trains are already running again from Oxford to Bicester; the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has announced funding of £110m to ensure the full Bicester to Bedford section is working by 2025, incorporating a mothballed freight line from Bicester to Bletchley. It is the last section of the line, between Bedford and Cambridge, that will pose problems. It has been built on at two places in Bedfordshire, and the Ryle Telescope of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory occupies the track bed just south of Cambridge. However, government support and the determination of the county councils concerned means a route will be found. It is expected that by the early 2030s trains will be able to run from Oxford to Norwich and Ipswich, avoiding the need to travel through London.

The old Varsity Line – now the East-West Link – exemplifies the benefits of reopening railways. It will not merely take some pressure off the capital’s transport system, but enable people to commute into Cambridge – one of the most booming places in the country – without further jamming already congested roads, and without having to pay the hugely inflated property prices in the city.

For the same reason, there is a campaign to reopen lines to Wisbech in the north of Cambridgeshire. With around 30,000 inhabitants, the Fenland town has seen better days, but a proposed link to the main line via March and Ely could deliver commuters into Cambridge in 35 minutes, allowing them to benefit from far lower property prices at the same time as regenerating local business. There is also a campaign to reopen the branch line south-east from Cambridge to Haverhill, one of the largest towns in England not currently served by rail. When the line closed in 1967, 4,000 people lived there; now 27,000 do, with housing for another 10,000 planned over the next decade.

There are other strategic reasons for reopening railways. The Dawlish landslip in 2014, which cut off Cornwall from the rest of the network, made the case for rebuilding the line from Exeter to Okehampton; but that would also make it feasible to build more housing in towns such as Tavistock. There is an even more vociferous campaign to reinstate the railway from Lewes to Uckfield in Sussex, to create a new main line from Brighton to London, linking to a new Croydon Gateway station and through to Stratford. It would cost billions, but the argument is that nothing else would so satisfactorily alleviate the overcrowding from Sussex and Surrey into London. Beeching closed many lines – notably the old Great Central, which started at Marylebone and ran up the spine of England to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield and finally to Manchester – because he felt they duplicated others. With many existing lines now running at full capacity, duplication in some areas has become essential – a contention that provides much of the case for HS2.

Campaigns for reopenings are to be found all over the country. In less affluent areas, such as at Ashington in Northumberland, they argue that the greater mobility brought by a railway would stimulate growth. In wealthier areas the impetus is to alleviate traffic problems. In Essex, the railway from Braintree to Bishop’s Stortford that closed to passengers in 1952 – long before Beeching – but remained open to freight until 1972 could now serve the greatly expanding town of Great Dunmow and run on the periphery of Stansted Airport, linking it directly to east Essex. In the town of Maldon, which used to have two branch lines, and which now has a population of 15,000 and no railway at all, hundreds of commuters have to drive on winding country roads to the main line. It is a similar story all over southern England and in parts of the Midlands.

The new rail boom has coincided with privatisation, but is not entirely a result of it. Some private developers, especially housebuilders, have shown an interest but, as with the East-West Link, state funds will be needed if a co-ordinated reopening programme is to be contemplated. The environmental and economic benefits of such a policy seem remarkably clear. Whether this nationwide investment would be a better use of the funds earmarked for the increasingly detested HS2 project – which at current estimates will cost £70bn – is something politicians should start actively to debate.

The effects would be felt in every corner of the land, and many reopenings would link towns across the country and lessen their reliance on what is effectively the national rail hub in London. In a country where there is too much regional imbalance, rail investment in the provinces would help rectify the situation. In the interests of all of Britain, it is a debate that is long overdue.

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The destruction of Gaza