Monday, May 23, 2011

Israel's Manifest Destiny

Nineteenth century America was pockmarked with deplorable actions which were justified with the concept of “Manifest Destiny” (a quasi-religious ‘right’ for America to expand it’s borders across all of North America), notably the genocide of the indigenous Americans. Similarly, since its creation in 1948 (and the ensuing conflict), Israel has expelled Palestinians from their homes, prohibited economic development and annexed Palestinian land- all justified with a religious mandate to return ‘home’.

The first major expulsion of Palestinians (called the “nakba”, or catastrophe, by the refugees) came during the war succeeding the creation of Israel by the UN- over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes, and Israel quickly passed laws and demolished homes to prohibit the Palestinians from returning. After 1948, Israel continued to expand it’s borders by evicting Palestinians (or bulldozing their homes, if they would not leave). The similarities to The Trail of Tears are striking- an indigenous people forced to away from their homes and prohibited from returning by law.

The expansion is justified several ways. The first of which is the concept, “to the victor goes the spoils,” with the idea being that because Israel won the Six Day War, they have a right to claim land that was previously occupied by Jordan. The Mexican-American war can serve as a very close analogy to the Six Day War- they were both aggressive wars, both resulted in expanded borders for the victor, and both are justified by a predestined mandate to expand their territories. The idea that the annexation of Jerusalem is justified by war would be much more convincing (though still, in my opinion, immoral) if the land was being taken from Jordanian civilians. While it’s true that Jordan occupied Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories at the time of the war, the civilians that were disenfranchised were natives to the land- Palestinians. Through no fault of their own, these citizens were forced out of homes they had been in for years.

Another rationale for both Manifest Destiny and Israel’s expansion is a religious right to the land. The first usage of the term ‘manifest destiny’ said that the North American continent was “allotted by Providence”. In other words, the land was a God-given right. Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Israeli Parliament last year that Jerusalem was Israel’s "eternal and indivisible" capital, and claimed that it’s mention in the Torah 850 times was justification for it’s annexation.

The similarities don’t end there. The Indian Removal Act bears a striking resemblance to the use of "settlement expansion, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies and the West Bank (Separation) barrier as a way of 'actively pursuing the illegal annexation' of East Jerusalem,” as revealed by an EU in a confidential report filed in 2008. The Indian Appropriations Acts are similar to the measures taken by Israel to prevent economic growth in Palestine, including the sanctions and blockades imposed by Israel, in that they arbitrarily limit trade on certain luxury goods (alcohol and chocolate, for instance) among the indigenous people. The massacres during Operation Hiram by the IDF are similar in nature (though much less prolific) to the massacres of Native Americans by the United States military.

The term “manifest destiny” isn’t very popular in America any more, but our imperialism remains (as demonstrated by our intervention in Iraq and Pakistan, among others). Israel’s expansion onto lands previously occupied by Palestinians is increasingly controversial (with human rights organizations in Israel, such as B’Tselem advocating the cessation of violent annexation), but it remains to be seen if the lasting influence of that expansion on foreign policy and military doctrine will mirror Manifest Destiny’s effect on the United States.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

US Drone Strikes Threaten Relationship with Pakistan

Pakistan plays a pivotal role in our war in Afghanistan. Most of the supplies and equipment used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan are shipped in from Pakistan's northwest border (along the Waziristan region and in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), and that same area is contested by Taliban insurgency. To secure it's supply routes and ensure the defeat of Taliban forces, the US employs unmanned drones to attack suspicious targets. These drone strikes are illegal, immoral and are alienating Pakistan from it's US ally.

The US has no legal standing to removing sovereignty from Pakistan- they pose no threat the the United States (even the Taliban in northern Waziristan pose no direct threat to the US). By launching attacks into Pakistan, the US is committing "a violation of our sovereignty," according to Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit. The UN Human Rights Council's special investigator Phil Aston stated "the Central Intelligence Agency is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws". Interior Minister Rehman Malik agreed, stating unambiguously that, "drone attacks are violating Pakistan's sovereignty". Pakistan's parliament voted just yesterday to disallow any drone attacks by the US: "Such drone attacks must be stopped forthwith, failing which the government will be constrained to consider taking necessary steps including withdrawal of (the) transit facility allowed to NATO". Contrast this democratically set mandate to the US' actual policy: US drone strikes are set to intensify in Pakistan, and just one day before the Parliamentary action US officials confirmed that the drone strikes will continue, even after bin Laden's death.

Apart from the illegality of the drone strikes, their inefficiency and inaccuracy are so abyssal that it renders them indefensible. The success rates of the drone strikes are an astoundingly low 2%- at $10.5 million per drone (with the next generation model slated to cost up to $15 million), such a low mission success rate can't be justified. The repeated failure of the strikes to kill the correct people isn't just incompetent and expensive, either- it results in innocent, civilian casualties. Almost one thousand Pakistani civilians were killed by drones in 2010 alone, and Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution places the ratio of combatants to civilians killed by the drone strikes as ten to one.

The effect that this has had on US/Pakistani relations is made clear by the actions of the Pakistani government, who are understandably concerned with this loss of Sovereignty and are responding with saber rattling by the head of the air force, Rao Qamar Suleman who stated that they "may shoot down US drones". Another (and perhaps more likely) outcome would be a shut down of the supply lines by Pakistan itself (a similar shutdown was threatened in 2008), undermining our military position in Afghanistan. Pakistan's President has repeatedly requested that we share intelligence and stop the drone attacks, and his requests have been ignored. US politicians publicly and directly contradict Pakistani officials about the drone program, and the US military feels comfortable pledging to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan only hours before an unapproved drone strike. It's not clear exactly how far each nation is willing to give, but with the US' steadfast advocation for these drone raids and the Pakistani population's overwhelming opposition to them, it's clear that the escalating tensions must eventually crescendo.