Israel is a multi-dimensional occupier: John Feffer

January 15th, 2009 

Interview by: Kourosh Ziabari

John Feffer is a renowned American journalist, anti-war advocate and currently serving as the co-director of “Foreign Policy in Focus” journal at the Institute for Policy Studies.

He is the author of book “Power Trip: U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11” which he calls the first book-length critique of this fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy to consolidate and extend U.S. global control.

In most of his articles, John Feffer examines the current affairs and Middle East issues from an innovative viewpoint and beyond the prevalent stereotypes of mainstream media.

In an exclusive interview with Tehran Times, Feffer condemned the Israeli incursion into Gaza strip harshly and called for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories.

What follows is the excerpt of lengthy interview with the American author and journalist in which we’ve tried to preserve the most pivotal and essential parts and eliminate the rest due to the space shortage.

Mr. Feffer, we would like you to first comment on the ongoing crisis in Gaza and the surging amount of dead civilians which has surpassed 910 last night. What’s your opinion on the military campaign of Israel?

The crisis in Gaza is a tragedy; there is no question about that. The people of Gaza are being punished for choosing Hamas in a free and fair election. Imagine if the people of the United States were similarly punished after choosing George W. Bush, not once but twice!

Israel is guilty of the usual sin of powerful nations. It believes that it can change reality on the ground with military force. Whatever short-term victories it might achieve through the barrel of a gun, however, Israel is making future relations with Palestinians ever more toxic.

What’s your analysis about the outlandish silence of UN, European governments and international community toward the Gaza onslaught?

Well, there hasn’t been total silence. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1860, which calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Israeli troop withdrawal, and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance. European governments have generally pushed for a ceasefire. Human Rights Watch has made several appeals on behalf of specific residents of Gaza as well as calls for investigating Israel’s humanitarian abuses and, for example, the use of white phosphorus during the current conflict. In general, I’d say that the tone of the international community minus the United States has been increasingly critical of Israel. I think it’s also important to acknowledge the growing number of protests in Europe, Asia, and of course throughout the Middle East. 30,000 people protested recently in Brussels. Thousands have protested in Hong Kong and Indonesia.

But they conservatively try to keep a low profile and soften their tones while criticizing the Zionist Regime, implying that they are afraid of Israel or something!

It’s always been interesting that some of the harshest criticism of Israel comes from Israelis. For instance, Avi Shlaim, an Israeli professor, recently wrote a piece in The Guardian calling Gaza “a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era.” He’s an Oxford professor who served in the Israeli army and now has come to the conclusion that Israel is a “rogue state.”

When it comes to criticism of Iran, Syria or Palestine, we have to remember that many people consider Israel to be part of Europe, not the Middle East. So, Israelis and Israel are treated as something “civilized” while the rest of the region remains “barbaric.” Anti-Arab sentiment and, sadly, many people mistakenly include the Persians of Iran in this category, is very strong in the world today.

If we look at the pro-Israeli opinion pieces, they are often from people like John Bolton or Michael Gerson who support Israel from political or religious convictions.

So, do you believe that there is a pro-Israeli bias in the western media?

When it comes to the journalistic frame, in other words, Israel has automatically a positive place. Arab countries and Iran simply don’t have a place in this Western narrative that journalists by and large follow. They are the “others” who at best play supportive roles and at worst are the faceless hordes who must be defeated in order to bring Christianity or democracy or free markets to the unenlightened.
I would say that there is a pro-Israeli bias in U.S. media. But journalists in Europe and particularly in England such as John Pilger, Robert Fisk etc are not pro-Israeli, and I am detecting a change even here in the United States in the coverage of Gaza. We’ll see how this Israeli movie “Waltz With Bashir” does over here in changing public opinion.

It is a documentary film by an Israeli film director who served in the army. It is about the Christian Phalangist massacre of 2,000 Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, which was aided and abetted by the Israeli army. The movie recently won top honors at the National Society of Film Critics here in the U.S.

What do you think about the unconditional supports and aids which the US government purveys to Israel even in the event that Israel commits such a batch of widespread war crimes?

The biggest problem, of course, is the military support that the United States provides. US provided Israel, during the Bush administration with $21 billion in security assistance. And these are not exactly defensive weapons systems. According to the Arms and Security Initiative, this includes: “226 U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter and attack jets, over 700 M-60 tanks, 6,000 armored personnel carriers, and scores of transport planes, attack helicopters, utility and training aircraft, bombs, and tactical missiles of all kinds.”

Even though Israel often doesn’t listen to the United States, Washington still has considerable leverage. If we decide to freeze or reduce military assistance, Israel will listen.

We have to remember that the United States, too, has engaged in war crimes in Vietnam, in Iraq. Israel has been a prime supporter of U.S. military actions abroad. It has been a key supporter at the UN. That is what allies do for each other: look the other way when war crimes occur.

So, what’s the solution to end the disastrous situation in Palestine? How to deal with the unyielding bloodshed being carried out by the occupying authority of Israel?

We have to push hard for a ceasefire, a withdrawal of Israeli troops, and for a lifting of the siege.

But we also have to get the larger political settlement back on the table. This would involve an immediate end to Israeli settlement expansion and an end to the checkpoints and walls that have shut down everyday life in the West Bank.

Actually, There are various types of occupation. Israel is occupying Gaza through war. It is occupying the West Bank through settlements. But it acts as an occupying authority in other ways; Pumping out water from under Palestinian territory, controlling commerce, interfering in Palestinian politics. There is also the question of Palestinians’ right of return to Israel itself as well as the resolution of claims from the “Nakba” or the day of catastrophe which Palestinians stick as an epithet to the day of Israel’s emergence. This would be the difference between the United States as an occupying authority in Iraq and an occupying force in America itself, having displaced Native Americans. For the United States, the occupations are divided by space and time. For Israel and Palestine, the occupations overlap.