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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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Naz Shah interview: “The victory is my mother’s, too”

Naz Shah’s defeat of George Galloway was the final step in a remarkable struggle for familial redemption.

Naz Shah wept the first time she spoke in front of an audience. It was 1995 and she was a teenager, giving a talk to a group of students at Bradford College about the campaign to free her mother, Zoora Shah, who was serving a life sentence for murder. “I cried all the way through,” she said.

That harrowing experience of trying to secure her mother’s release helped prepare Shah for her entry into politics. On 7 May this year she ousted George Galloway and became the new Labour MP for Bradford West, the constituency where she grew up. Now 41, she had no background in politics, and secured the nomination in early March only after the local party’s first choice, Amina Ali, abruptly withdrew, citing family reasons. Although Galloway was favoured to retain the seat for the Respect Party, Shah won with a majority of 11,420 votes.

Her campaign came to national attention days after she secured the nomination when she published an article in the Urban Echo, a Yorkshire newspaper, to mark 8 March, International Women’s Day. The piece described her life story, and quickly went viral.

In 1980, when Shah was six, her father abandoned her mother by eloping with a neighbour’s teenage daughter. Zoora had two children and was pregnant with a third, and didn’t speak much English. In the conservative Pakistani community in Bradford, her husband’s departure was a source of shame. Destitute and shunned, she and her children moved 14 times in two years.

Eventually, a local drug dealer named Mohammed Azam offered to buy them a house. In return, he forced Zoora to have sex with him. She believed that he would protect her family, but Azam was sexually and physically abusive. Terrified that he was going to start sexually abusing her elder daughter, Zoora sent Naz to Pakistan when she was 12. There, at the age of 15, she was forced into marriage with a much older cousin.

Back in Bradford, Zoora feared that Azam would abuse her youngest daughter, who was now approaching puberty. In an act of desperation, Zoora poisoned Azam with arsenic. She stood trial for murder in 1993. Afraid of bringing further shame on her family, she scarcely spoke at the hearings.

There were no legal defences for battered women at the time and Zoora received a 20-year sentence. Naz had returned to the UK before the trial together with her husband, who, she said, “used his fists to communicate”. (They soon separated, although the divorce did not become official until 1999.)

Still a teenager, Shah had ­responsibility for her two younger siblings. She was also working tirelessly for her mother’s early release through the women’s organisation Southall Black Sisters (SBS).

“Naz visited her mother in prison, coped with the vilification of her mother, and tried to protect her siblings and survive, with no support,” says Pragna Patel, the main caseworker for Zoora Shah at SBS. “She showed incredible courage, bravery and resilience. We are so proud that she’s representing Bradford now, a community that once vilified her family.”

In 2000 the then home secretary, Jack Straw, reduced Zoora’s tariff to 12 years. She was finally released in 2006, after serving 14.

Shah’s formal schooling had ended at 12 when she was sent to Pakistan but she took GCSEs as a mature student and found work as a carer for children with disabilities. She later joined the NHS as a manager.

We met on a sunny day in June at a café in central Bradford. Shah told me that after she published her article in March, the journalists who contacted her invariably asked: “Who on earth advised you to do that?”

She recalled: “It was very clear that either I own my own narrative, or let George Galloway do it, and I’ll be damned if I let a man own my narrative. It’s mine and it’s up to me what I do with it.”

Galloway fought an intensely personal campaign, questioning the veracity of Shah’s claims and alleging she had lied at the time of her mother’s trial that she was 15 when she first married.

He accused her of perpetuating stereotypes of Pakistanis. Today, Respect, which Galloway leads, still denies that it went too far. “Naz Shah made her personal story the central thrust of her campaign,” a spokesman told me. “The whole election was bogged down in that, which is not how we wanted it to be. In terms of George’s comments on it, it all rests on our contention that her personal story was not what she said it was.”

Shah dismissed this. “I launched my campaign on policy. Even when [Galloway] attacked me, I attacked him only on his policy, his attendance, his record,” she said. “I knew it would get personal, but where he stooped to was a new low. It backfired because the people of Bradford are not stupid. Credit where credit’s due: there are pockets of patriarchy, but the men in this community have come a long way and I got a lot of support from them.”

***

Shah’s election victory is the latest chapter in the story of Bradford’s changing political landscape. Biraderi, meaning “patrilineage” in Urdu, is used by Pakistanis to refer to extended family networks. These are an important form of social organisation among members of the Pakistani diaspora, particularly in Bradford, where much of the community comes from the same northern part of Pakistan: Mirpur.

Biraderi politics in the British context refers to the practice of political parties using bloc votes from community leaders in constituencies with significant numbers of Pakistani voters. When the system developed in the 1960s, it was a useful way for minority communities to gain representation. However, as it is inherently patriarchal, it risks marginalising women, as well as the young.

Biraderi politics is no different to the old boy network,” Shah told me. “We need to work with those patriarchal structures of elitism and power to reform them. It’s my job to convince people of the empowerment that real democracy and honest politics brings.”

In an attempt to “clean up” local politics, Labour introduced an all-women shortlist in Bradford West for this year’s election.

Parveen Akhtar, an academic at the University of Bradford and the author of British Muslim Politics, said: “What Galloway did in 2012 [when he won the seat in a by-election] was show people there was the possibility of engaging and participating in mainstream politics outside biraderi.

“People had never had that before. People thought: ‘I can go to the voting booth and nobody will know who I’m voting for.’ It really enfranchised them. In 2015, they were able to then say: ‘Who do I think is going to represent my best interest?’”

Part of the attraction of Shah in Bradford, where stories of forced marriage are common, was her promise to work hard on local issues. Galloway reminded voters of his fame during the election campaign. A post on his Facebook page rejected the accusation of absenteeism: “Where’s George? . . . he’s campaigning with Hugo Chávez on the streets of Venezuela, he’s known around the world. Can anybody who’s standing against me in this election say that?”

Ultimately, it seems that the voters were more concerned with day-to-day matters of life in Bradford.

***

Sitting in the city-centre café, Naz Shah seemed bemused by the continued interest in her life story: she wants to move on and concentrate on being a good MP for her con-
stituency. She was most animated when talking about her policy ideas, such as setting up a special task force for Bradford to look at ways to stimulate the local economy and attract business. In 2020, Bradford will be the city with the highest proportion of young people in Europe. Shah is already planning for this, looking at ways to increase youth employment. “I want to make Bradford a tech city,” she said. “A lot of energy is going into that at the moment.”

She has no interest in climbing the party ranks. “I’m very focused on Bradford West. I’ve got a lot of work to do here in terms of bringing investment in. I need the story to change in Bradford, from being negative and downtrodden to [being] a powerhouse. It has to be.”

Shah wants to do “a few things really well”, and has signed up to the parliamentary groups on Palestine, Islamophobia and forced marriage.

With her election win came a sense of redemption for her and her family. “At the end of the day, it’s about respect, isn’t it? And being an MP is a very respectable thing to do. For my mum, that’s a great source of pride. The tables have turned from years ago, when she was ridiculed, persecuted and marginalised. Today she’s the mother of the first woman to be an MP in this seat.

“She made that daughter. I couldn’t have got here without her. My victory is not just mine, it’s my mother’s, too, so she can hold her head up high.”

After an intense first month in parliament, Naz Shah was planning to spend Friday evening at the mosque, followed by a quiet weekend at home. As we left the café, she met a group of people she knew. They congratulated her on her win. She is a very local MP indeed.

She has travelled a long way from that first speaking engagement. “I came back to Bradford after the election,” she said. “The Muslim Women’s Network held a women-only dinner in my honour. I spoke there, and it was the first time my mum was in the room. I ended up shedding a few tears.”

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn