Thursday, May 31, 2012

Frantzman - Occupation: The ‘oxygen’ of the peace lobby

Seth J. Frantzman..
Terra Incognita/JPost..
30 May '12..

(While having some very specific reservations with this piece, on balance there are a number of important points that are brought out and require attention. Yosef)

In its recently released annual report, Amnesty International accused Israel of a laundry list of human rights violations, almost all of which had to do with the occupied Palestinian territories. Most interesting was the list of complaints related to Gaza.

“The humanitarian crisis affecting the Gaza Strip’s 1.6 million residents continued due to Israel’s ongoing military blockade...36 Palestinians were killed in accidents or in Israeli air strikes on tunnels used to smuggle goods between Egypt and Gaza...the Israeli authorities hindered or prevented hundreds of patients from leaving Gaza to obtain medical treatment.”

The continuing saga of Gaza is an important symbol of a larger phenomenon. The occupation of the Palestinian territories can never end because of the vested interest many organizations have in maintaining the fiction of Israeli control, even when control is withdrawn. It is well known that Israel does not control the border between Egypt and Gaza and yet the condemnation for not providing access to hospitals for Gazans assumes that Israel is responsible for providing medical treatment for people in Gaza; once again perpetuating the idea that Israel’s occupation can never be allowed to end.

Human rights organizations and the peace industry are beholden to the occupation, addicted to it – no less than Israel’s most extremist right-wing voices. This may seem a contradiction: how can organizations devoted to ending the occupation in fact support the occupation? The answer: Because the occupation is their raison d’etre and without it they cannot exist. This is typical of the NGO world. For example, those organizations that devote their existence to ending poverty require that poverty be perpetuated because NGOs have become an industry and choice place of employment. That is why we see in the world of NGOs a multiplication of overlapping groups with “mission creep.” This multiplication becomes an intense lobby to support a professional class, to the extent that entire university degrees are now devoted to the phenomenon of the NGO profession.

The Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) is emblematic of this issue. Initially established in 1994 to monitor events in the city following Baruch Goldstein’s murder of 29 Palestinians, it is still around today. Supported by five European countries and Turkey it has a relatively small operating budget of $2 million, excluding salaries. Yet when one factors in the salaries paid to up to 90 international members of the team, the figure is closer to $10m. (TIPH does not publicly disclose its complete budget).

In truth, there is nothing “temporary” about this mission.

It maintains three buildings, a fleet of small cars and has its own dining facility. It also helps local Palestinians with such projects as providing protective clothing to the Hebron fire brigade and building the Tariq Bin Zaid Sports Center. Were Israel to withdraw from Hebron, is there any supposition that this sizable mission would pick up and leave? TIPH is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. Between 1999 and 2007 Norway provided NIS 3.5 billion ($560m.) in aid to various Palestinian projects. Obviously, all this aid does not go to activities related to Israel or the occupation.

However, in the discussion of aid to hospitals, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation Annual Report for 2009 notes that “the hospitals are also important for strategic reasons, as [is] the maintenance of Palestinian services, and the right to access to Jerusalem for Palestinians.” Should one therefore assume that if Israel were to leave east Jerusalem, the aid would dry up because the hospitals would no longer be “strategically” necessary? Additionally, European aid to the Palestinian Authority totals some $600m. annually, with the latest EU deal signed in March totaling $397m. Much of this goes toward Palestinian salaries and investment in certain projects such as the the building of a waste treatment plant.

Other financial commitments find their way to the Palestinians via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (annual budget, $1.23b.). Some $600m. is spent by the US on aid in the West Bank and Gaza, of which about $200m. is spent by USAID on infrastructure and other projects. Some of these infrastructure projects are purposely constructed without building permits in the West Bank, so that 10 percent of all buildings Israel demolishes for code violations in the West Bank are foreign-funded projects.

Out of all this largesse, the amount of money that goes to the peace industry is relatively small. It was revealed in a 2010 WikiLeaks cable that the New Israel Fund, which funds many Israeli NGOs involved in human rights work, has a budget of around $18m. for 350 NGOs.

B’Tselem, the premier NGO that reports on human rights abuses in the West Bank, has a budget of around $2.3m.

The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, an EU organization that grants money to human rights NGOs, spent around $5.2m. in 2009 and 2010 on aid to various organizations in Israel and the West Bank that deal with the occupation.

RECENTLY IT has become fashionable to promote a boycott of products made by Israeli settlements. These products include vegetables, Psagot wine, Dead Sea Labs beauty products and Beigel pastries. This is supposed to put a stake through the economic heart of the Jewish enterprise in the hills of Judea and Samaria and break the will of the state to maintain the settlements. A Globes report, meanwhile, notes the total value of goods exported from the settlements is in the “tens of millions of dollars annually.”

The overall funds devoted to promoting “peace” and “human rights” and combating the occupation are therefore more than equal to the total value of goods produced in the settlements. So who has a greater financial incentive to keep the settlements where they are: Psagot wines or B’Tselem, Peace Now or Shamir Salads? This is an irony, of course. That more money is devoted to fighting the occupation than the occupation ever produces shows how an industry – a “peace industrial complex” – has grown up around the occupation. It supports “peace” and works towards a “just settlement,” but it needs conflict.

Tens of thousands of Europeans and other international workers would be out of work if the occupation ended – TIPH alone has 100 employees. And how many educated Palestinians are sucked into the web of NGOs that combat the occupation, that apply for permits for people to go to hospital in Jerusalem, for permits to study at Bir Zeit from Gaza and other causes? Israel can survive withdrawing from the West Bank, but can the international community, the Palestinians and the Israeli NGO networks truly countenance such a future? If the conflict’s stakeholders are any indicator, the answer is no. Palestinians and Israelis might consider questioning the motives of these outsiders and whether they are in it for the money or for the people. It seems the occupation must be maintained at all costs. Literally.


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