Archive for August 18th, 2009

Sliced

Slavoj Zizek, who has previously written some rather dodgy stuff on the Middle East, plays it straight in this piece on Israeli expansionism, and gets it right.

Quiet slicing of the West Bank makes abstract prayers for peace obscene | Slavoj Zizek | Comment is free | The Guardian

The conclusion is obvious: while paying lip-service to the two-state solution, Israel is busy creating a situation on the ground that will render such a solution impossible. The dream underlying Israel’s plans is encapsulated by a wall that separates a settler’s town from the Palestinian town on a nearby West Bank hill. The Israeli side of the wall is painted with the image of the countryside beyond the wall – but without the Palestinian town, depicting just nature, grass and trees. Is this not ethnic cleansing at its purest, imagining the outside beyond the wall as empty, virginal and waiting to be settled?

It continues:

When peace-loving Israeli liberals present their conflict with Palestinians in neutral, symmetrical terms – admitting that there are extremists on both sides who reject peace – one should ask a simple question: what goes on in the Middle East when nothing is happening there at the direct politico-military level (ie, when there are no tensions, attacks or negotiations)? What goes on is the slow work of taking the land from the Palestinians on the West Bank: the gradual strangling of the Palestinian economy, the parcelling up of their land, the building of new settlements, the pressure on Palestinian farmers to make them abandon their land (which goes from crop-burning and religious desecration to targeted killings) – all this supported by a Kafkaesque network of legal regulations.

The idea of extremists on both sides is revealed as a position to consolidate existing power relations. A corollary to this is the image of the US as an honest broker, out to chivvy both sides along to a just settlement. An Irish Times leader comment, praising the award to Mary Robinson of a Medal of Freedom, wrote that Obama had taken an ‘even-handed approach’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that both shared a ‘commitment to political engagement based on human rights and the rule of law’.

There is truly something for everyone in the long list of Medal of Freedom recipients, from Georgia O’Keefe to Charlton Heston, Nelson Mandela to Dick Cheney (who voted against a 1986 resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela), Muhammad Ali to Margaret Thatcher. The award is therefore devoid of any significance other than as a reflection of the priorities and concerns of the incumbent administration. But given the facts on the ground as outlined by Zizek above, it appears likely that issuing the award to Mary Robinson is a calculated insult to AIPAC and a conciliatory gesture to the UN in the absence of any substantial change of administration policy toward Israel, since the US will continue to provide Israel with massive military and financial support as it colonises even more Palestinian land. As Tony Judt wrote recently in the NYT:

Op-Ed Contributor – Fictions on the Ground – NYTimes.com

If Israel is drunk on settlements, the United States has long been its enabler. Were Israel not the leading beneficiary of American foreign aid — averaging $2.8 billion a year from 2003 to 2007, and scheduled to reach $3.1 billion by 2013 — houses in West Bank settlements would not be so cheap: often less than half the price of equivalent homes in Israel proper.

Many of the people who move to these houses don’t even think of themselves as settlers. Newly arrived from Russia and elsewhere, they simply take up the offer of subsidized accommodation, move into the occupied areas and become — like peasants in southern Italy freshly supplied with roads and electricity — the grateful clients of their political patrons. Like American settlers heading west, Israeli colonists in the West Bank are the beneficiaries of their very own Homestead Act, and they will be equally difficult to uproot.

Despite all the diplomatic talk of disbanding the settlements as a condition for peace, no one seriously believes that these communities — with their half a million residents, their urban installations, their privileged access to fertile land and water — will ever be removed. The Israeli authorities, whether left, right or center, have no intention of removing them, and neither Palestinians nor informed Americans harbor illusions on this score.

Obama’s ‘even-handed’ approach entails huge subsidy of settlement construction along with massive military aid to the expansionary power. This is what the Irish Times sees as a ‘commitment to political engagement based on human rights and the rule of law’.

I Want To Wake Up

Just back after a week in New York. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me. No siree. But then again, I appear to be living in Ireland for free, so I can’t complain too much. I don’t have much to say about the place that hasn’t already been said many times before, but some superficial remarks shall follow nonetheless. I managed to go a week without hearing the word ‘fuck’ spoken in the street, which ended almost as soon as I stepped onto Irish asphalt again. I saw a couple of rats. One was in Macy’s main store. Another one was on the platform at Madison Square Garden. I think they were visiting McDonalds and waiting on a subway train respectively. I was surprised but not particularly bothered at the lack of an animated countenance on people working in shops and restaurants. A lot of people working there had the face of someone who was being treated like crap. I saw queues of people waiting to get into Abercrombie and Fitch on Fifth Avenue who would not have looked out of place on a fascist propaganda video: muscular, what Veblen refers to as ‘dolicho-blond’ families. I had never paid any attention to this brand before. It is marketed as a ‘the highest quality, casual, All-American lifestyle clothing for aspirational men and women’. I found out today they just lost a case for wrongful dismissal against a worker in London whom they hid in a stockroom because she had a prosthetic arm. That figures. Then there were the many families who proceeded down the streets wearing an I Love NY uniform. I was not loving this. The I Love New York logo, as David Harvey points out in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, was an invention of the city’s elite institutions in order to sell the image of a city as a cultural centre and tourist destination, subsequent to what Harvey describes as a ‘coup by the financial institutions against the democraticaly elected government of New York City’. This coup had consisted, among other things, of wage freezes, cutbacks in education, public health, and transport services, as well as user fees, including the introduction of university tuition fees. Nor was I loving the general picture of a city owned by rich white people being served by people of color, though one should not be especially scandalised simply because these relations are visible. I have seen people pick through rubbish bins before, but I had never seen anyone reach into a bin and start eating a discarded meal. Perhaps destitute Europeans have more compunction about being seen eating rubbish. The museums were packed with people intent on getting photos of themselves beside famous artworks. This happens in Europe too, of course, but this does not make it any easier to figure out someone who plans to say to their friends and relatives that ‘this is me standing beside Warhol’s Mao’. A strange sensation standing outside the New York Stock Exchange. The massive stars and stripes draped out the front is quite a statement: America=Capitalism. But it felt like there was nothing there. If Wall Street is considered a centre of global power, the belly of the beast, it is a oddly empty centre. Boots Riley says the new Street Sweeper Social club album is ‘something for the working class to listen to on their iPods while storming Wall Street’. But suppose they did. At the moment, they couldn’t, because it would be cordoned off in advance. But suppose they could. What would happen? Traders would work from home for the duration. The taped recording on the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty talked about how the statue was a symbol of liberty, opportunity and security, but ‘security’ sounded like a recent urgent insertion.


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