By Afro-Middle East Centre
The recent handing over of two islands – Tiran and Sanafir – to Saudi Arabia by the Egyptian government emphasises that the Sisi regime remains so in need of external support to buttress its domestic control that it is willing to anger significant sections of the population. The islands’ importance to Israel and the fact that Israel agreed to the handover also point to strengthening cooperation between Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Cairo in an effort to contain Iran’s resurgence.
The announcement about the islands was made as the Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, undertook his first official trip to Egypt since acceding to the thrown in January 2015. Other deals signed during his visit included a twenty-two billion dollar agreement for Saudi Arabia to supply Egypt with energy, and the establishment of a sixteen billion dollar joint Saudi-Egyptian investment fund. Recent tensions between the two regional powers had heightened after Egypt’s refusal to commit troops to the Saudi war in Yemen, and because of Egypt’s support for Russia's Syrian intervention. Egypt is also critical about strengthening ties between Riyadh and Ankara, and because of the Kingdom’s support for Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood Islah party. Tensions had been simmering since Salman became king, however, with his suspicion that Egypt’s military ruler, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, had plotted against his acceding to the throne.
Riyadh nevertheless views Egypt as an important ally in its attempt to counter growing Iranian influence in the region, and sees its large and well-equipped military as a critical deterrent to Iran’s regional forays. Moreover, Egypt’s Sidi Kerir port and SUMED oil storage terminal can be used by Saudi Arabia to slow down and disrupt Iranian oil exports. Before 2011 Iran had dispatched over 200 000 barrels of oil per day from the port, has used the storage terminal for oil shipped to Europe since diverting shipments through its own Kharg Island port causes a month delay. With this agenda, Salman has reduced his criticism of Egypt – and especially of Sisi – and continued to buttress it. Significantly, however, recent assistance packages to Egypt have been more as loans and investments than aid; only around two billion of the sixty billion in recent deals is aid.
But there is also a third player involved; for the transfer to have occurred Israel’s approval was required in terms of the 1979 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. The two islands essentially block access to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba, thus blocking access to the critical Israeli port of Eilat. Israel thus regards control of the Tiran Straits and the waters around both islands as critical since much of its maritime trade passes through en route to Eilat. A perception that this access would be disrupted was a major factor informing Israel’s involvement in the 1956 Suez crisis and 1967 six day war. They were twice captured by Israel, which controlled them from 1967 to 1982. Guarantees over waterway access were thus key stipulations in the Camp David agreement. The transfer of the islands means Israeli vessels will now traverse Saudi waters to reach Eilat.
Tel Aviv’s acquiescence and statements by Israeli and Saudi officials indicate that firm guarantees had been provided by Saudi Arabia regarding Israel’s freedom of navigation through the Strait of Tiran. Israel has been informed about the secret negotiations regarding the islands from the beginning, and written guarantees that Riyadh would abide by the terms stipulated at Camp David were given in talks that involved Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the USA. (Although Israel and Saudi Arabia are officially in a state of war, they have collaborated on a number of issues recently, and Riyadh had informed Israel about then-secretive nuclear negotiations between the USA and Iran.)
For Egypt, transferring the islands to Saudi Arabia has little negative strategic implication. The islands are uninhabited, have few resources, and technically belonged to Saudi Arabia though administered on its behalf by Egypt since 1950, when Saudi Arabia requested Egypt to play this role, believing that Egypt could protect them from Israel. Returning the islands was thus an opportunity to renew Egypt’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, and to continue receiving assistance for Egypt’s stalling economy and Sisi’s power base.
The move has elicited much criticism from Egyptians, especially since Sisi had inserted a stipulation in Article 151 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution prohibiting territorial transfers. The clause was intended to augment Sisi’s nationalist credentials, and because the army garnered support for its 2013 coup by arguing that the former president, Mohamed Morsi, was ceding parts of Sinai to Hamas, and endangering Egyptian sovereignty through his alliance with Qatar.
Sisi thus argued that the island transfer restores sovereignty to Saudi Arabia, which owns the islands, and was not a ceding of Egyptian territory. But prominent political figures such as Hamdeen Sabahi, Khaled Ali, Ayman Nour and the Muslim Brotherhood criticise this reasoning, and Ali has lodged court papers to halt the deal. Although this sees some fissures in the regime’s support base, it is unlikely to pose a significant threat.
By Afro-Middle East Centre
Reports of secret meetings between Israeli and Turkish officials in Switzerland in February suggest Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AKP) is softening its attitude towards Tel Aviv. Any rapprochement will likely include compensation for the Turkish victims of the Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara ship in 2010, access to Gaza for Turkish aid ships, and a Turkish statement to crack down on Hamas operations from within Turkey. Less public agreements will likely include a reopening of arms deals between the two former allies, a united front on the diplomatic stage concerning Iran’s regional influence, possible energy deals concerning Israel’s eastern Mediterranean gas reserves and the exchange of intelligence on various non-state actors, particularly Kurdish groups. The talks in Switzerland may signal a watershed, but broader strategic imperatives, overlapping rivalries and new geopolitical realities have been coalescing behind the scenes to nudge Turkey towards Israel.
The killing of the nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara – part of the Freedom Flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip in 2010 – had been preceded by a dip in relations caused by a tirade by then-Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan against Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Trade Forum in Davos in 2009.
Benefits for Turkey
In 1998 the Turkish government planned to invest 150 billion dollars over twenty-five years in the modernisation of the country’s armed forces. Turkey’s main strategic goal during this time was to develop its local arms industry through the acquisition of advanced military knowledge, technology and materiel from suppliers who placed no conditions on sales. Israel was perfect since it chose to ignore Turkey’s egregious human rights record at the time, unlike EU arms suppliers. Israeli arms companies supplied Turkey with over 389 million dollars in weapons between 2001 and 2014, including ten Heron drones purchased under an AKP government. With old and new threats to Turkish security emanating from the resurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Islamic State group (IS) respectively, Turkey seems to again be aiming to diversify its arms’ procurement. The Turkish defence minister sent a special envoy to meet with Israel’s security establishment on 1 March to negotiate financial terms on a number of weapons deals which reportedly will include drones. The planned purchase is a major component of the rapprochement.
Israel’s position as a world leader in cyber-security will also entice capital from interested public and private parties in Turkey. Turkish Ministry of Transport and Communications report covering 2013-2014 stated that Turkey was developing a comprehensive cyber-security programme. The fact that Syrian regime ‘hacktivists’ were able to wreak havoc on top-secret Turkish agencies in 2013 and 2014 suggests that this programme is still in its infancy. Thus, sourcing technology, expertise and equipment Israel until its own programme is underway could be useful for Turkey to counter the cyber threats it already faces.
There are also energy-related reasons that Turkey would want to upgrade ties with Israel. Russia’s entry in the Syrian civil war in support of the regime creates an energy dilemma for Turkey, which imports about fifty-five per cent of its natural gas supplies from Russia (and another eighteen per cent from another of Syria’s allies, Iran). Turkey is opposed to Moscow’s backing of the Bashar al-Asad regime, and has genuine fears that Russia might use gas as a geo-strategic bludgeon, not least to keep open the strategic Bosphorous strait which is the throughway for Russian ships taking supplies to Syria, and which, under the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Turkish Straits, is under Turkish control. The discovery of billions of cubic metres of gas off Israel’s coast, and in Gazan waters controlled by the Israeli navy, provides the possibility of an alternative energy source for Turkey that could make it less reliant on Russia. Israel is not poised to immediately satiate Turkish demands due to various complications over Israel’s development of these fields. Nevertheless, energy diplomacy remains a factor bringing these two states closer together.
The combination of détente with the West, and its presence in Syria – through proxies and its own forces – has granted Iran considerable weight in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) co-chaired by the USA and Russia. This has sent Turkey’s Syria policy into a tailspin, as the ISSG’s fixation on battling IS has contributed to a ceasefire which technically grants Syrian, Russian and Iranian forces the right to fight Turkish- and Saudi-backed rebels. The more pressing issue, from Ankara’s perspective, is that the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), has gained from Russian bombing campaigns along northern Syria. PYG is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and the main militia for the Kurdish Supreme Committee whose autonomous canton of Rojava in Syria is regarded by Ankara as a security threat because it serves as a safe haven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, and because the Rojava model for Kurdish autonomy is inspiring for Turkey’s Kurdish population. Israel’s close relationship with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, with which Turkey already good relations, is useful to Turkey as the KRG is a competitor to the PKK-PYD for leadership of the Kurdish movement. Ankara sought to exploit these rivalries during the IS siege of the Syrian Kurdish town Kobane in 2014 when it allowed KRG Peshmerga forces access to liberate the town in an attempt to prevent a YPG-PKK symbolic victory. Israel is also able to provide Turkey with intelligence on the YPG and PKK.
Benefits for Israel
Military agreements between Israel and Turkey during the 1990s reaped considerable dividends for Tel Aviv. The 1996 signing of the ‘Military Training and Cooperation Agreement’ between the two states enabled Israel to participate in war games with NATO members, and granted it a strategic alliance with NATO. Israel was able to deepen its strategic depth abroad through utilising Turkish airspace, which it often exploited to monitor events in Lebanon and Syria. The downgrading of these relations in the wake of the Mavi Marmara raid left Israel more vulnerable at its northern frontier, with an inability to exploit airspace to monitor Hizbullah and Syrian personal movements. Recent Israeli artillery and war games around the Lebanese border reflect this insecurity. Israel is now looking to shore up its capabilities in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal and Hizbullah’s reported procurement of advanced Russian ballistic weapons, a return to the past agreement in which an informal military alliance is in place is not imminent, but the Israeli defence establishment will remind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a return to the tacit military pact of the 1990s would benefit Israel as the Syrian quagmire deepens.
Turkey’s diplomatic capital with Syriane opposition groups, particularly Islamists, and members within the Gulf Cooperation Countries and their allies provides Israel with a critical ear among Muslim states opposed to Iranian ambitions. With the paranoia in Israel that the nuclear deal with Iran between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – USA, Britain, France, Russia and China – plus Germany) has imperilled Israel’s monopoly of force in the region, the diplomatic capital gained by Israel through improved relations with Turkey cannot be overstated. Coordination with the GCC, and especially Saudi Arabia, in countering Iranian ambitions will be a foreign policy objective for Israel in the coming years. Despite bilateral (albeit secretive) alliance building in the gulf by Israel, official links with Ankara can develop these links without further compromising Riyadh, Doha and Dubai, which require the pretence of aloofness from Israel for reputational purposes.
Furthermore, Israel hopes that Turkey’s influence on Hamas will provide it with a partner that can pressure the group when needed. Turkey has played patron to Hamas, and wields some influence within the group’s politburo.
Implications for the Palestinians
The Palestinian issue plays an important tactical role in the AKP’s foreign policy, and Turkey was in the throes of a diplomatic crisis with Israel at the apogee of Erdogan’s national and regional popularity. His public admonishments of Israel have been common spectacle, especially with regards to the situation in Gaza, a cause celebre for the Turkish population. Erdogan will want to rebuild his shattered image within the region, and he will therefore want a renewal of relations with Israel to be premised on agreement for at least one Turkish aid ship to Gaza. The situation in Gaza is reaching breaking point, with the territory going into its ninth year of siege and on a ‘disastrous trajectory’, according to the UN.
A complete removal of the blockade as a result of Turkish demands is unlikely, but Israel may allow limited entrance of Turkish aid into the besieged territory. Israel would prefer Hamas having Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as patrons rather then Iran, and thus Israel’s allowing a trickling of Turkish aid into Gaza is possible. Furthermore, tepid comments from the US State Department with regards to Israel’s human rights transgressions have frosted the historically special relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. By allowing Turkish ships, possibly after being searched and monitored by Israeli agents, to enter Gaza, Israel will portray itself as a benevolent force granting its subjugated population a limited reprieve. The humanitarian public relations coup this could bring for Israel could be significant, as could be the ammunition it provides its supporters in the USA.
The Palestinian faction which will benefit most from a Turkish-Israeli accord is Hamas. Any reprieve for beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza will give the movement more popular appeal in its heartland. Former Fatah member Mohammad Dahlan, who has designs on the presidency of the PLO and of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and has been strengthening his support base in Gaza, risks seeing his support weakened if aid enters through Hamas diplomacy. Dahlan is planning a comeback that is being funded primarily by the UAE and supported by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Sisi has already stressed he opposes Turkish ships docking at Gaza’s port. Sisi and Erdogan already have a tempestuous relationship after the former’s coup which overthrew President Mohammad Morsi in 2013.
Developments in the region have compelled Ankara to reorganise its foreign policy, and new and resurgent security challenges have compelled it to reconsider its alliances and its source of high grade military technology. Its overreliance on Russian energy has also made it wary, and made the possibility of sourcing gas from Israel more attractive. Erdogan’s grip on Turkish foreign policy has resulted in some disastrous decisions which have scuppered his reputation as a darling of the region. Supporting besieged Palestinians in Gaza in a manner no one else is able to is a good way to reassert himself regionally and attempt to reverse some reputational damage.
Israel has little to lose by rebuilding ties with Turkey. A ready customer for its gas and weapons will provide the economy with a rich windfall. Closeness with a NATO country, especially after a very public spat between US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu and disagreements with the EU, would be warmly welcomed in Tel Aviv, especially in defence circles.
For Palestinians, especially in Gaza, Turkish-Israeli rapprochement is unlikely to result in any significant and medium-term improvement in their living conditions. There will be short-term humanitarian benefit (and political benefit for Hamas) from a Turkish aid flotilla – the best possible scenario for Gazans, but that will not lift the siege. And even such aid is not certain; it still needs approval by a hawkish Netanyahu cabinet, whose objections will be bolstered by loud calls from Cairo, and quieter calls from Ramallah where PA and Fatah leaders would be loathe to see aid reach Hamas-controlled Gaza.
By Afro-Middle East Centre
Israel’s government ended its eighteen-month ‘freeze’ on settlement construction in the West Bank with an announcement ofplans to construct 153 housing units across the territory. That the expansion of these units includes large settlement blocs as well as settlement towns deep into the West Bank reveals the far-reaching designs for a resurgent settlement enterprise. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon labelled the settlements ‘an affront to the Palestinian people and the international community’, with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu predictably responding that Ban gave a ‘tailwind to terrorism’.
The announcement came just days after twelve Israeli settlers were evicted from two homes in Hebron, which they had invaded and occupied. Their evictions caused an uproar in Netanyahu’s coalition government, with Immigrant Absorption and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze'ev Elkin, himself a West Bank settler, calling on the defence minister, Moshe Ya'alon, to halt the eviction. Elkin’s comments were echoed by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Likud’s coalition partner, Habayit Yehudi, which holds three prominent cabinet portfolios, condemned the action.
The settlement announcement is a very public attempt by Netanyahu’s government to placate the vocal settlement supporters (and settlers) in the coalition. It also represents another episode in an ongoing challenge to the international community, following Netanyahu’s numerous foreign ministry appointments of individuals who actively support the settlement programme and oppose international law on this issue. These include Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, who advocates for Israeli sovereignty over the whole of the OPT (West Bank and Gaza). In August 2015 he appointed Danny Danon as ambassador to the UN. Danon opposes a two-state solution, and positions himself to the right of Netanyahu. The appointment of Dani Dayan, former chair of the settlement group Yesha Council, as ambassador to Brazil was met with strong objections by Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff.
Little under a week before the announcement of the settlement expansion, the European Union Foreign Affairs Council passed a resolution criticising Israeli settlement activity. The resolution said the EU would closely monitor developments on the ground and assess their broader implications. The resolution is intended as a follow up to the EU’s new guidelines last year for the labelling of products from Israeli settlements. Alongside established trade deals with Israel and engagement with the Israel-Palestine peace process, the EU has funded numerous development projects in the OPT; some in Area C, which is under full Israeli control. Most Palestinian buildings subject to Israeli demolition orders are in Area C, and EU-funded structures are not immune. Between January and May 2015, forty-one EU-funded structures built at a cost of 236 000 Euros were torn down by the Israeli army.
The EU is not the only big power publicly criticising Israel’s settlement project. Earlier this month US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, spoke against what he called two standards of law that Israel applies in the West Bank – one for Jews and one for Palestinians, and Israel’s tolerance of settler vigilantism. He questioned Israel’s commitment to peace and the two-state solution in light of continued settlement expansion. Following strong criticism from the Israeli government, Shapiro’s comments were defended by the US State Department as being correct. Relations between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama have seldom been warm, but such direct criticism from within the US administration suggests that concern over Israel’s attitude towards the ‘peace process’ is broad.
The swing to the right in the Israeli political landscape since the signing of the Oslo Accords has provided the settlement enterprise increasing credibility within Israel’s political institutions. A number of mainstream parties now contest elections on pro-settlement platforms: Habeyit Yehudi runs on an overt pro-settler anti-two-state platform, whilst most in Likud, the largest party in government, either sympathise with the settler movement or openly advocate for the complete annexation of the West Bank.
As this phenomenon has crystallised, discontent within the UN General Assembly has grown. Emerging regional powers in Central and South America and BRICS countries have voiced doubts about Israel’s commitment to the peace process. Popular grassroots pressure from civil society groups across Europe has forced Israel’s long-standing allies within the EU to take action on Israel’s human rights transgressions. Although Israel remains the US’s strongest ally in the Middle East, public disagreements over the Iranian nuclear deal have created unprecedented discord between Washington and Tel Aviv; Shapiro’s comments fall within this context. Yet little over a week after Shapiro’s barbed statement, Obama made the most ‘philosemetic, pro-Jewish’ speech in the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. In the last months of Obama’s presidency, back channel disagreements and distaste with Israeli policy by State Department officials has led to embarrassment for his administration, with the president often deploying a doting speech to reaffirm US commitment to ‘Israel’s security’. These contradictions, although not significant enough to alter US policy towards Israel in the short term, will be difficult to paper over as Israel intensifies its settlement expansion.
Winner of the 2014 Palestine Book Award
Efforts to achieve a “two-state solution” have finally collapsed; the struggle for justice in Palestine is at a crossroads. As Israel and its advocates lurch toward greater extremism, many ask where the struggle is headed. This book offers a clear analysis of this crossroads moment and looks forward with urgency down the path to a more hopeful future.In this essential work, journalist Ali Abunimah takes a comprehensive look at the shifting tides of the politics of Palestine and the Israelis in a neoliberal world and makes a compelling and surprising case for why the Palestine solidarity movement just might win.
Ali Abunimah is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli Palestinian Impasse, and co-founder and director of the widely acclaimed publication The Electronic Intifada. Based in the United States, he has written hundreds of articles and been an active part of the movement for justice in Palestine for 20 years. He is the recipient of a 2013 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship.
‘Every community that stands fast, loving its people and its land, its customs and its ways, will be seen, eventually, as worthy of saving. This is because it is our own humanity we are learning from, our own value. There will also arise a special voice to champion us, one that is brave, trustworthy and true. In The Battle for Justice in Palestine it is the voice of Ali Abunimah, fierce, wise - a warrior for justice and peace - someone whose large heart, one senses, beyond his calm, is constantly on fire. A pragmatist but also a poet. This is the book to read to understand the present bizarre and ongoing complexity of the Palestine/Israel tragedy. And though it is filled with the grim reality of this long and deadly, ugly and dehumanizing, conflict, it also offers hope: that as more people awaken to the shocking reality of what has for decades been going on, we can bring understanding and restitution to the Palestinian people. Their struggle to exist in dignity and peace in their own homeland - and this may be the biggest surprise of Abunimah's book - is mirrored in the struggles for survival and autonomy of more than a few of us.’
‘This is the best book on Palestine in the last decade. No existing book presents the staggering details and sophistication of analysis that Abunimah’s book offers. Abunimah’s scope includes an analysis of the politics, economics, environmental policies, identity politics, international relations, academic scholarship and activism, global solidarity, and official and unofficial lobbies that have come to bear on Palestine and the Palestinians. The Battle for Justice in Palestine is the most comprehensive treatment of Palestinian suffering under Israeli control and offers the only possible way to end it. It is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the current situation of the Palestinians and Israel.’
—Joseph Massad, Columbia University
‘With incisive style and scrupulous attention to documentation and detail, Ali Abunimah's new book offers a complex portrait, from every angle, of the Palestinian struggle for justice today.’
—Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace
'A crucially needed dose of educated hope. This is what hits me from this fascinating amalgam of incisive journalism, analytic prose and intellectually compelling vision that emanates from many years of brilliant activism. Sailing effortlessly from the domestic to the global, from Johannesburg to Belfast and from Chicago to Tel Aviv, Ali Abunimah paints a lucid, accessible picture out of a complex web of racism, racialized oppression, and creative resistance. Abunimah does not give us hope; he helps us dig for it within us by meticulously laying out before us the facts, the trends, the challenges and the inspiring resistance to them.’
—Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights
‘In The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Ali Abunimah—the most astute commentator writing on Palestine today—bursts the leaky myths of Israeli exceptionalism while carefully examining where the battle for Palestine is currently being waged. Forget the endless “peace process,” which has ushered in little more than massive economic exploitation, tragic environmental degradation, and servile and destructive politics. Focus instead, Abunimah tells us, on the many civil society and campus initiatives around the world that are bravely ushering in a new era of global grass-roots organizing for justice. Rich in information and deep in analysis, The Battle for Justice in Palestine will inspire readers that Palestinian self-determination is not only possible but absolutely necessary.’
—Moustafa Bayoumi, author, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America
‘Those familiar with Ali Abunimah’s writing know to expect sophistication without theoretical jargon... His latest book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, both reflects and synthesizes the dramatic shifts in the discourse around the Israel-Palestine conflict in the United States as well as in Israel and the Arab world, in particular the emergence of one-state demands and the coalescence of an anti-Zionist position on the left.’
—Steven Salaita, The New Inquiry
‘Though he never loses sight of the grim reality on the ground, Abunimah's writing is infused with a sense of optimism about the possibility of realising decolonization and a just future for all who live in historic Palestine.’
—Ben White, Middle East Monitor
‘The Battle for Justice in Palestine is a crucial book appearing in a crucial time... Abunimah strips away Israel’s justifications for its occupation and makes a vital contribution to real justice in Palestine.’
—Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch
‘The inspiring vision Abunimah lays out reflects the hope stirred by a growing and increasingly successful movement on the ground, which is helping to turn the tide in the struggle for Palestine. For those active in this movement, this book is a must-read, but its lessons are for anyone interested in the fight for a better world.’
—Wael Elasady, Socialist Worker
By Nick Rodrigo
On 1 September, Alejandro Maldonado was installed as Guatemalan president. The choice was controversial due his role in nullifying the conviction of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who had been sentenced for acts of genocide during the civil war. This thirty-six year war was a particularly brutal episode in Guatemala’s troubled postcolonial history and still leaves deep wounds, particularly on the collective psyche of the country’s Mayan population. Israel’s support of Guatemala government forces during this time is an example of Zionist foreign policy at its most calculated.
During the 1960s the entrenched status of servitude and poverty for Guatemala’s Mayan peasantry led to a series of armed and unarmed insurrectionary movements in the countryside. The state responded with unbridled brutality, attacking anyone deemed to be a dissident, including Mayan activists and trade unionists. In 1982, a coup brought Rios Montt to power; in the same year an Inter-American Human Rights Commission issued a report pointing the blame at the Guatemalan government for thousands of illegal executions and missing persons in the 1970s, particularly against campensinos and Indians. The following year Montt deployed the “Firjoles y Fusiles” (beans and guns) campaign which was essentially a scorched earth military programme against “unruly” villages. Taking on the tactics of his predecessors, Montt entrenched agricultural resettlement schemes into the military’s counterinsurgency plans. His successors emulated his pacification techniques in an attempt to destroy indigenous life and rural existence, replacing it with agricultural cooperatives that maintained the feudal status quo. By the time that the UN had brokered peace in 1996, the http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/mos_en.pdf" target="_blank">UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission estimated the total number of deaths at around 250,000. The report, in line with the findings of a Catholic Church-sponsored truth commission, found that the state’s military operations had a disproportionate toll on indigenous communities, including https://www.ictj.org/our-work/regions-and-countries/guatemala" target="_blank">more than 600 massacres, but also incidents of torture, rape and forced displacement.
Rios Montt finally faced justice on 10 May 2013. Convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Dozens of survivors gave testimony at his trial; some were women who had been raped repeatedly, others were children when the Guatemalan forces attacked their villages. The killings, displacement and disappearances carried out under Montt and other Guatemalan leaders could not have been conducted to such effect without the special relationship that the country enjoyed with Israel, which extended from agricultural assistance to counterinsurgency techniques.
Beans, guns and training: Zionist support of Guatemalan state repression
Six years before the “Beans and Guns” campaign ripped through Mayan village life, the Israeli government initiated a two-year programme for Guatemalan officials to study agricultural schemes in Israel. The Kibbutzim pioneer culture of Zionism shares much with the Gaucho frontierism of colonial and postcolonial Latin America, and in the 1978-1979 period, about 1,000 Guatemalans were trained by Israeli settlement study centres in Rohovot and other areas. When the Guatemalan congress gave Israel its highest honour in 2009, the speaker commented, “If there is thriving agriculture, it’s an Israeli contribution.” In reality, there is no thriving agriculture which benefits Guatemalans today, with hundreds of thousands of rural families dependent upon aid.
By the late 1970s, reports of human rights abuses by US-trained and armed Guatemalan soldiers were causing headaches for the Carter administration in Washington; the US http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/ronald-reagan-finance-genocide-guatemala/story%3Fid=19179627" target="_blank">congress subsequently suspended military aid in 1977. Within months, Israel had stepped in to fill the void with President Ephraim Katzir signing an agreement for military assistance. According to the Stockholm Institute for Peace, Israel supplied Guatemala with $38 million worth of arms during the civil war period. This included Arava aircraft, artillery pieces and gunboats. The Galil assault rifle, an Israeli-made weapon, was standard issue for the Guatemalan army by 1980, with the state owned small-arms production facility in Alta Verapaz producing its ammunition under Israeli licence. Indeed, corporate enterprise was a significant aspect of Israel’s involvement in the Guatemalan civil war, with a number of Israeli firms active on Guatemalan territory, providing services ranging from military equipment to radar control systems to water development projects. Israel also utilised its shadowy arms industry to avoid embarrassing the US, often shuttling arms to Guatemala through intermediaries, normally retired generals and “securocrats” with dual nationalities. In June 1977, Barbados customs agents discovered a shipment of 26 tons of arms and ammunition destined for Guatemala from Israel in an Argentinian cargo plane; similar shipments were discovered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Reagan’s election in 1979 and his http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/11/the-first-principles-of-ronald-reagans-foreign-policy" target="_blank">policy of containment in Central America were exploited by Israel. The late Ariel Sharon engineered a relationship with the US in which Israel would carry out much of its dirty work in the region, in a bid to cement a closer relationship and align the countries’ geostrategic interests. This included funnelling weapons to Nicaragua and El Salvador. In a special report by the New York Times in 1983, it was noted that Israel had a role in supplementing US strategic interests.
Israel had contributed considerably to Guatemala’s counterinsurgency programme by the late 1980s, with at least 300 retired and Israeli government affiliated trainers active in the country, passing-on expertise on everything ranging from computer tracking of insurgents and activists through complex snooping techniques, to training elite troops known as “Kaibiles” for the rural pacification programme.
Nicaragua vs USA: The framework for reparations from Israel
In the International Court of Justice case Nicaragua vs USA, America was forced, due to its military and paramilitary acts in Nicaragua, to pay compensation to the Nicaraguan people. There are a number of merits from this ruling which could be used to draw up a case against Israel. Under paragraph 220 of the case it notes that states are obliged to refrain from encouraging a party to commit violations or provide concrete assistance: “The United States is thus under an obligation not to encourage persons or groups engaged in the conflict in Nicaragua to act in violation of the provisions of Article 3 common to the four 1949 Geneva conventions.” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/RemedyAndReparation.aspx" target="_blank">Under the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation, it states:
4. In cases of gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law constituting crimes under international law, States have the duty to investigate and, if there is sufficient evidence, the duty to submit to prosecution the person allegedly responsible for the violations and, if found guilty, the duty to punish her or him […]
Israel’s work in providing Guatemala with military advisors and technical assistance to Rios Montt could constitute such “assistance” for a Guatemalan to conduct genocide and violations of international humanitarian law.
Solidarity of rights
What is most remarkable about the tactics used by the Guatemalan government against the indigenous communities is how much they emulate strategies used by Israel to control and break those under its military occupation. Development towns and forced displacement are official policy used by Israel against its Bedouin population; a http://www.csmonitor.com/1998/1215/121598.intl.intl.5.html" target="_blank">scorched earth policy was deployed in South Lebanon; counterinsurgency techniques used by the Shin Bet are deployed to stifle popular protest by Palestinians. Truth, reconciliation and reparations are amongst the hardest of socio-legal programmes to implement. It has been a long and torturous process for Guatemala’s impoverished and marginalised communities to extract confessions from those guilty of atrocities committed during the war. Any admittance of guilt from Israel, in complicity with Guatemalan state crimes, will be difficult to ascertain. Israel’s intricate web of lobby groups, as well as one of the strongest legal defence teams in the world, would make the task difficult. Nevertheless, by bringing a case to the ICJ, a deeper bond of solidarity between Guatemala’s oppressed peoples and their natural allies in Palestine could well be fostered.
* This article was first published inthe Middle East Monitor