The US Values We Share With Israel?

This piece originally appeared at LobeLog. That site has a wealth of foreign policy analysis, much of which you won’t find elsewhere and which you will find indispensable. Please check it out

It is clear that US citizens need to start asking what exactly we are supporting in Israel. The general belief and political rhetoric tell us that the US is, through military aid and diplomatic support, protecting Israel’s very existence, that is, the lives of millions of Jews

Shimon Peres, Bill Clinton and Barbara Streisand at Peres' 90th birthday celebration

Shimon Peres, Bill Clinton and Barbara Streisand at Peres’ 90th birthday celebration

whose history is so full of episodes where we were the victims of violence, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. But in recent years, the story of Israel as a Jewish state has been dictated by demographics and questions of apartheid. So when we support Israel, are we protecting a long-besieged minority and a US ally or are we supporting the kinds of discrimination that are anathema to most of the world?

A disturbing answer to this question was provided by former US President Bill Clinton in his remarks at the celebration of Israeli President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday: “Is it really okay with you if Israel has a majority of its people living within your territory who are not now, and never will be, allowed to vote?” Clinton asked. “If it is, can you say with a straight face that you’ll be a democracy? If you let them vote, can you live with not being a Jewish state? And if you can’t live with one of those things, then you are left with trying to cobble together some theory of a two-state solution.”

Clinton’s words are a rather clear summation of both the US and Israeli approach to the Israeli occupation, at least among those who are desperately clinging to the long-dead Oslo Process. Those words carry some shocking modes of thought; they also demonstrate very clearly why Israel has gotten more intransigent and the United States ever more feckless over the years.

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Industrial Disaster Draws Attention to Bedouin Villages

One of the issues that gets far too little attention within Israel is that of the so-called “unrecognized villages.” These are basically shantytowns where Bedouins who are Israeli citizens live, but because they are not officially recognized municipalities, they get no services, even basic ones in many cases, like water and electricity. The people in these villages represent the lowest stratum of Israeli citizens.

In recent years in the United States, more attention has been paid to the placement of plants and factories which are especially harmful to the environment around them, and which are hazardous to people living near them, near minority and poor neighborhoods. The same thing is at work here in Israel.

The incident, an explosion at the Makhteshim factory in Ramat Hovav near Be’ersheva, has drawn some attention to the serious environmental hazards accompanying Israeli industry. It’s also drawn attention to the plight of the Bedouins in the Negev, at least those in the Wadi Na’am area near Ramat Hovav.

The effect of the explosion on Monday is still not fully known, but although evacuations both of workers and of nearby residents, including the Bedouin, came about fairly quickly, the problem is not incidental. As these reports here, here, and here indicate, pollution of the area was a pretty serious problem even before. The “solution that was arrived at was to establish an army base in Ramat Hovav, not exactly an effective solution.

Unfortunately, as this article alludes to, environmental regulation is weak, despite the presence of a significant environmentalist movement and trend in Israeli society.

The Bedouin nearby have been demanding to be relocated for quite some time. Now, their pleas may get more of a hearing. It is not a matter of simply picking up and moving, as both economics and the difficulty for Arabs of relocation within Israel, particularly these days and due both to prejudice and to government regulations, means they need government action to relocate.