Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

The mega prison of Palestine

Ilan Pappe sees a deliberately genocidal policy by Israel towards the Palestinians

March 6, 2008
7 min read

In several articles published by The Electronic Intifada, I have claimed that Israel is pursuing a genocidal policy against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, while continuing the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. I asserted that the genocidal policies are a result of a lack of strategy. The argument was that since the Israeli political and military elites do not know how to deal with the Gaza Strip, they opted for a knee-jerk reaction in the form of massive killing of citizens whenever the Palestinians in the Strip dared to protest by force their strangulation and imprisonment. The end result so far is the escalation of the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians – more than one hundred in the first days of March 2008, unfortunately validating the adjective ‘genocidal’ I and others attached to these policies. But it was not yet a strategy.

However, in recent weeks a clearer Israeli strategy towards the Gaza Strip’s future has emerged and it is part of the overall new thinking about the fate of the occupied territories in general. It is in essence, a refinement of the unilateralism adopted by Israel ever since the collapse of the Camp David ‘peace talks’ in the summer of 2000. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his party Kadima, and his successor Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, delineated very clearly what unilateralism entailed: Israel would annex about 50 percent of the West Bank, not as a homogeneous chunk of it, but as the total space of the settlement blocs, the apartheid roads, the military bases and the ‘national park reserves’ (which are no-go areas for Palestinians).

This was more or less implemented in the last eight years. These purely Jewish entities cut the West Bank into 11 small cantons and sub-cantons. They are all separated from each other by this complex colonial Jewish presence. The most important part of this encroachment is the greater Jerusalem wedge that divides the West Bank into two discrete regions with no land connection for the Palestinians.

The wall thus is stretched and reincarnated in various forms all over the West Bank, encircling at times individual villages, neighborhoods or towns. The cartographic picture of this new edifice gives a clue to the new strategy both towards the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The 21st century Jewish state is about to complete the construction of two mega prisons, the largest of their kind in human history.

They are different in shape: the West Bank is made of small ghettos and the one in Gaza is a huge mega ghetto of its own. There is another difference: the Gaza Strip is now, in the twisted perception of the Israelis, the ward where the ‘most dangerous inmates’ are kept. The West Bank, on the other hand, is still run as a huge complex of open air prisons in the form of normal human habitations such as a village or a town interconnected and supervised by a prison authority of immense military and violent power.

As far as the Israelis are concerned, the mega prison of the West Bank can be called a state. Advisor to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, Yasser Abed Rabbo, in the last days of February 2008, threatened the Israelis with a unilateral declaration of independence, inspired by recent events in Kosovo. However, it seemed that nobody on the Israeli side objected to the idea very much. This is more or less the message a bewildered Ahmed Qurei, the Abbas-appointed Palestinian negotiator, received from Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, when he phoned to assure her that Abed Rabbo was not speaking in the name of the PA. He got the impression that her main worry was is in fact quite the opposite: that the PA would not agree to call the mega prisons a state in the near future.

This unwillingness, together with Hamas’ insistence of resisting the mega prison system by a war of liberation, forced the Israelis to rethink their strategy towards the Gaza Strip. It transpires that not even the most cooperative members of the PA are willing to accept the mega prison reality as ‘peace’ or even as a ‘two state settlement.’ And Hamas and Islamic Jihad even translate this unwillingness into Qassam attacks on Israel. So the model of the most dangerous ward developed: the leading strategists in the army and the government embrace themselves for a very long-term ‘management’ of the system they have built, while pledging commitment to a vacuous ‘peace process,’ with very little global interest in it, and a continued struggle from within, against it.

The Gaza Strip is now seen as the most dangerous ward in this complex and thus the one against which the most brutal punitive means have to be employed. Killing the ‘inmates’ by aerial or artillery bombing, or by economic strangulation, are not just inevitable results of the punitive action chosen, but also desirable ones. The bombing of Sderot is also the inevitable and in a way desirable consequence of this strategy. Inevitable, as the punitive action cannot destroy the resistance and quite often generates a retaliation. The retaliation in its turn provides the logic and basis for the next punitive action, should someone in domestic public opinion doubt the wisdom of the new strategy.

In the near future, any similar resistance from parts of the West Bank mega prison would be dealt with in a similar way. And these actions are very likely to take place in the very near future. Indeed, the third intifada is on its way and the Israeli response would be a further elaboration of the mega prison system. Downsizing the number of ‘inmates’ in both mega prisons would be still a very high priority in this strategy by means of ethnic cleansing, systematic killings and economic strangulation.

But there are wedges that prevent the destructive machine from rolling. It seems that a growing number of Jews in Israel (a majority according to a recent CNN poll) wish their government to begin negotiations with Hamas. A mega prison is fine, but if the wardens’ residential areas are likely to come under fire in the future then the system fails. Alas, I doubt whether the CNN poll represents accurately the present Israeli mood; but it does indicate a hopeful trend that vindicates the Hamas insistence that Israel only understands the language of force. But it may not be enough and the perfection of the mega prison system in the meantime continues unabated and the punitive measures of its authority are claiming the lives of many more children, women and men in the Gaza Strip.

As always it is important to be reminded that the west can put an end to this unprecedented inhumanity and criminality, tomorrow. But so far this is not happening. Although the efforts to make Israel a pariah state continue with full force, they are still limited to civil society. Hopefully, this energy will one day be translated into governmental policies on the ground. We can only pray it will not be too late for the victims of this horrific Zionist invention: the mega prison of Palestine.

Ilan Pappe is chair in the Department of History at the University of Exeter.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali