Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair

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Recent US media coverage of the Israeli bombing and occupation of Gaza is a clear indication of how the media is biased in favor of Israel. This biased coverage has tremendous impact on public perception about the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Quite often the public sentiment towards the conflict is either pro-Israeli or promotes the idea that the conflict is centuries old and will never be resolved. This attitude places the Israelis and Palestinians on equal footing in the conflict and portrays the US as an outside party trying to broker the peace between the two groups.

Jonathan Cook has written a new book that helps to dispel the idea that the conflict in the Middle East is between two feuding peoples. Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair is an important text that seeks to reframe the discussion on Israel/Palestine by looking not only at the historical record, but recent events.

Cook is the only Western journalist that is based in city of Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel. The author has his own blog with current articles (http://www.jkcook.net/) and his writings have appeared in newspapers worldwide. This is Cook’s third book on Israel and comes at an important time in the public debate about Israel’s motives for the recent bombing and occupation of Gaza.

Disappearing Palestine is divided into two sections, with the first section devoted to a review of the historical record of Israel’s acquisition of Palestinian land. Cook chronicles the evolution of Zionism as it relates to the creation of Israel and provides plenty of documentation to reflect the fundamental idea that Israel has always been about the business of “dispossessing Palestinians of their land.” Israel became a state in 1948 and from then on has been committed to expanding its territory at the expense of Palestinians. Even the United Nations was supportive of Israel’s claim of 55% of Palestinian land, but by 1949 Israel had already controlled roughly 78% of Palestine according to Cook.

For Israel, it was not enough to simply displace Palestinians from their land, the land had to be “reclaimed.” Israel made it a practice of changing the names of Palestinian towns, which included the changing of maps. Quite often Palestinian lands were taken for “nationalization projects” such as roads, settlements or military bases and outposts. This certainly the motive for the 1967 war, which saw Israel occupy the West Bank and the Gaza.

Ever since 1967, the international community, minus the US, has been calling for Israel to return to the pre-1967 territories. However, Israel would have nothing to do with giving back land and eventually was able to get support for their occupation with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. This agreement in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was generally viewed as creating two autonomous states. The reality, however, as Cook documents was just another brilliant move by the Israelis to acquire more land and further marginalize the Palestinian people. Cook, and others, refer to the post-1993 land occupations as a form of apartheid, where Israel controls the roads, the water and has left Palestinians in isolated communities with no freedom to move about. This ongoing policy of land occupation is reflected in the Israeli blockade of Gaza that began in 2006 and is what motivates the current Israeli incursions into that area.

The rest of the book is a collection of essays that the author has written in recent years that deal with topics ranging from the use of anti-Semitism, life under occupation, reporting from Israel, and an interesting critique of Israeli writers who have been critical of Israel’s policies. Disappearing Palestine is essential reading for anyone seeking to place the current conflict within a well documented historical context.

Jonathan Cook, Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair, (Zed Books, 2008).

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