Friday, May 15, 2009

Terra Incognita 85 Refugees and Internationalization

Terra Incognita
Issue 85

“Written to enlighten, guaranteed to offend”

A Publication of Seth J. Frantzman
Jerusalem, Israel


May 14th, 2009

1) The plague of refugees: The idea of refugees is one that floods our modern discourse. We accept the fact that they have always existed and will always exist and that we must have sympathy for them. But to what extent are they fabricated and to what extent is their existence an accident of modernity?

2) Begging for Internationalization: The ever-present calls from within Israeli society for ‘greater international involvement and pressure’ on Israel is emblematic of a contempt for Israeli democracy. It is not only in Israel that those voices that speak so fondly of ‘democracy’ are the first to declare their state a ‘dictatorship’ or a ‘fascist’ country when the electorate does not vote the way they want to. Every democracy suffers from the existence of un-democratic elements. There are those on the right, those on the left and those that simply condemn the country for being undemocratic when the countries majority is not in line with their minority extremism.

The plague of refugees
Seth J. Frantzman
May 7th, 2009

Refugees are a plague and a scam. They always seem to appear whenever there is conflict and they always conveniently appear whenever there is a terrorist group amidst them. In recent years the presence of refugees has time and again thwarted governments from dismantling terrorist organizations. However governments that refrain from ignoring the presence of refugees in order to complete the job of stopping pernicious terrorist organizations are not doing their duty to their people and are in fact violating the rights of the citizenry by not protecting it from enemies at home and abroad.
Not all people become refugees at the same rate. Some communities become refugees very easily. From the Albanians to Palestinians and Afghans there are communities that seem to have refugeedom as their natural second trait. It is not clear why but some people leave their homes at the slightest provocation. Others have to first be massacred and slaughtered to make them leave. Whatever the case refugees are a menace and they are a menace that the media loves to photograph.

Why do refugees exist? They didn’t always exist. They are primarily a modern invention. There were always people that fled conflict ever since man engaged in conflict. But in the old days when people fled conflict this was seen as a logical by-product of conflict. When armies are bludgeoning eachother to death in some place the people leave that place or risk death. This was a logical choice. Communities nearby frequently provided some aid or assistance to these people. When the war was over the people returned or if they were unable to they simply moved somewhere else.
Great movements of peoples are part of history. From the Barbarian invasions of Europe to the Mongol and Arab conquests there were times in history when massive numbers of people were on the move. When tribes expanded in some places neighboring people became displaced and moved on. Such was the Mfecane or “crushing” that the Zulus unleashed on neighboring peoples, driving the Ndebele into Zimbabwe and the Sotho and Swazi into the mountain strongholds they still live in. The Boer trek, also in Southern Africa, is another example of the movement of people. In the old days people moved about, this was what they did and it was, for some peoples, especially semi-nomadic ones, their singular characteristic. Some peoples stayed put, inhabiting the same place for generations. But even they were not immune to the results of war, famine and social upheaval. Sometimes peoples were moved about by nations, such as the Circassians who were exiled by the Russians, the Chechans who were exiled by Stalin, the Volga and Baltic-Prussian Germans, who were destroyed by Stalin and the Pontic Greeks, Armenians and others who were destroyed by the Turkish regime. All these events may be tragic or happenstance, but they were, until recently, seen as a part of human history, if a sometimes particularly sad part.

Then suddenly the term “refugee” was invented. It is derived from the Latin, refugium and comes from the French refugie. Its first use in English dates from 1685. The first use in international law was in 1921 when the League of Nations established a High Commissioner for Refugees. Since that point the world has transformed the refugee from a standard part of history, a natural human occurrence, to something that must be looked after, coddled, cared for and become something that must be “solved”. It is a little like the concept of poverty. People will always be poor but once poverty was transformed into a “poverty line” we suddenly became aware that we must “solve poverty” without the slightest realization that once people are pulled up out of “poverty” the very notion of poverty must be re-defined since there will always be “poor” people. Thus since the 1920s the world has become increasingly shackled to the nation of “refugees” to the extent that we now live under a sort of refugee dictatorship.

Today the UN and various states define ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers differently leading to some confusion. For instance the UN High Commissioner of Refugees believes there are 8 million official “refugees” while the U.S claims there are some 62 million. Then there are the special refugees, the Palestinian refugees who unlike other “refugees” will always be refugees under a special UN law that allows them to pass their refugee status from generation to generation. We thus live in a world of refugees.
The claim that there are endangered refugees is used as a tool to undermine states and support terrorist refuges. Thus when Sri Lanka is on the verge of defeating the Tamil Tigers, who have killed tens of thousands over the years, the world suddenly expresses concern that there are “refugees” in danger because of the army’s offensive against the Tamils. So there is now a safe zone in Sri Lanka for refugees where the army is not allowed to shell and where the Tamil fighters can thus re-arm and train and rest while fighting their terror war. Now with the Pakistani army trying to deal with the Taliban threat to that country the Red Cross has claimed that the army must refrain from attacking the Swat valley, the heart of the Taliban in Pakistan, because of the presence of refugees.
The concept of a refugee and his supposedly being threatened while he chooses to flee and live amongst terrorists is predicated on the idea that people take no personal responsibility for their actions. A refugee is robbed of his agency when he is defined as being ‘in danger’ merely because artillery shells and bombs might be falling around him. The refugee should learn from his surroundings, the way refugees used to, and flee the area of fighting. But refugees have a unique ability to somehow always congregate where the fighting is worst, all seemingly fleeing to the area wherever the army offensive is taking place. How did all these refugees end up in a “safe zone” in northern Sri Lanka that happens to also be in the midst of the last strip of land controlled by the Tamil Tigers? How did all the refugees end up fleeing to the Swat valley where the Taliban is based? Why don’t they flee away from the terrorist centers? Why aren’t the “safe zones” established in safe areas, rather than in the midst of the war zone.

During the First World War there were millions of refugees displaced by the Western Front which cut across the French countryside and was dozens of miles from side t side, encompassing trenches, rear areas and secondary lines of defense. Yet, oddly, refugees weren’t settled in “safe zones” in the midst of Verdun, the bloodiest stretch of land on the Western Front, they managed to somehow find their way to Paris and elsewhere. How is that possible? Why did the refugees of 1916 end up hundreds of miles away from the front line and the refugees today always seem to be right at the front, in the way of the shelling and the artillery?

Is it because war takes place faster and over greater distances these days? Perhaps that is part of the answer but the overall answer is that the kind of people who become refugees these days tend to be dumb, they tend to want to be victims, they tend to have a media, UN and Red Cross presence that sets up camps and hospitals for them and “safe zones” in the midst of the war zone and they tend to be used by terrorists as shields. In fact many times the refugees are part and parcel of the terrorist effort which undermines the state through the refugees. Refugee camps are nefarious centers of violence and terror. From Jordan in 1970, when they sheltered the Palestinians who tried to overthrow Jordan, to Lebanon and the Congo where they are used at places where the terrorists train and arm, they are a threat to the security of the world.

There should not be refugees. There should certainly not be refugees who never stop being refugees. It is unfortunate that wars go on and on but it is the responsibility of people to either join the war or leave the area. The fact that international bodies need refugees in order to operate, the fact that there is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the Red Cross and the UNHCR in a sense that in order for them to stay in business they need refugees and human suffering conspires with the media leads to the perpetuation of the idea that there are refugees. In fact there are not. There are no refugees in Sri Lanka living in a “safe zone” or in the swat valley. The people there are enemies and they are destabilizing the state. Those sad people who actually fled the fighting and have gotten out of the line of fire are “refugees”. So long as people remain in war zones there should be no sympathy for them. As Clint Eastwood says in Unforgiven when he is accused of shooting an unarmed man; “well he should have armed himself.” The “refugees” should either arm themselves and take part in the fight or get out of the way.

Begging for Internationalization
Seth J. Frantzman
April 3rd, 2009

The ever-present calls from within Israeli society for ‘greater international involvement and pressure’ on Israel is emblematic of a contempt for Israeli democracy. Some on the intellectual left in Israel tend to want to see themselves as canaries in a coal mine, warning the state of its coming destruction, much like the Prophets of old did. They like to imagine themselves in the role of someone like Claus von Stauffenberg, attempted assassin of Hitler, or Stefan Zweig, an Austrian pacifist writer of the 1930s, fighting and warning the world of modern day proto-nazi regimes. One corollary of this endless prophesying of doom and struggling to be the ‘lone voice of reason’ is the tendency to insist on greater international pressure on Israel.

Usually it takes the form of the April 2003 ‘Urgent Appeal for International involvement: save Palestine and Israel’ signed by some 200 Israeli intellectuals and faculty members. It stated that “a violent apocalyptic driving out of the entire Palestinian population is explicitly advocated by the rightmost circles.” Sometimes the interest in international or American pressure can be downright crude, as when Haaretz editor David Landau told Condolezza Rice in September of 2007 that he believed the U.S needed to ‘rape’ Israel. According to reports he “referred to Israel as a ‘failed state’ politically, one in need of a U.S.-imposed settlement.”

The belief that international pressure is a godsend for Israel is quite widespread. A February 2009 petition signed by five Israeli academics, including Prof. Rachel Giora and Eva Yablonka of Tel Aviv University, in support of a recent anti-Israel motion at Manchester University noted that; “We strongly believe that without some pressure from outside Israel and without concrete support for Palestinians nothing will change in our part of the world.” Another archetype of the feelings of this minority is Gideon Levy who noted in a November 2008 article entitled ‘let’s hope Obama won’t be a friend of Israel’ that “changing the Middle East was in the power of each and every U.S. president, who could have pressured Israel and put an end to the occupation. Most of them kept their hands off as if it were a hot potato…So bring us an American president who is not another dreadful ‘friend of Israel,’ an Obama who won't blindly follow the positions of the Jewish lobby and the Israeli government.”

In a similar vein on April 3, 2009 Naomi Chazan wrote in the Upfront weekend edition of the Jerusalem Post that “a much more assertive international involvement is therefore necessary…the threat of isolation verging on ostracism may be precisely the kind of jolt that has been needed for some time…[furthermore] long-overdue internationalization may center initially on brokering a series of localized understandings…such an externally driven impetus can also revitalize domestic politics.”
The insistence on the overbearing involvement of the international community, and the trust and reliance on its decisions, is indicative of a severe distrust of Israeli democracy. Those on the Left who call for this have declared that while they acknowledge the failure of their political parties at the polls in 2009 they must need foreigners to impose a solution on Israel. This has long been typical of fringe groups such as Yesh Gvul which try to get Israelis indicted abroad for ‘war crimes’ because courts in Israel will not do their bidding.

The apparent reason for the need for international intervention is the feeling that the Leftist parties have failed. Zeev Sternhell, Israel prize winner and controversial professor, has said that Labor has lost its purpose. Describing the disillusionment with Labour he notes “The real problem is that the Israeli left is an artificial, even a false, left. It lacks every one of the instinctive responses that are identified with the natural left - standing with the weak, the oppressed and the working poor against the strong, and against the state itself.” For him “the natural left is always suspicious of the government.” The left is on a “suicidal path.” For Israel Harel, another columnist, the left failed because of its inability to achieve peace when given the chance and its “over-identification of this public with Arab-Palestinian nationalism.” It’s no surprise therefore that Zahava Gal-On, formerly a Meretz MK, has been described by Haaretz as the “last leftist” among a left with “no clear message…no edge.”

In turning to outsiders these voices pretend they are canaries in a mine shaft but instead they are anti-democrats. It is interesting that some of Israel’s elite would trust the same nations who perpetrated the Holocaust to be fair arbitrators of the current conflict. They are continually embarrassed of their countrymen, most recently the foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. This is a mistake. The Israeli voter casts his vote for Lieberman for a reason, primarily because the Left is seen as out of touch, elitist and as incapable of solving the intractable situation. Gal-On admitted as much in an April 3rd interview when she noted that Mizrahim, Jews from the Middle East are “not the classic faces of Meretz.” (neither are the very Ashkenazi Heredim and Meretz has recently joined a protest movement in Ramat Aviv to keep the “black hatters” out of ‘their’ neighbourhood) Rather than courting that voter with reasonable solutions some on the Left would simply ignore him and ask foreigners to do the job. This is not a positive development in Israeli politics. It is the same narrow minded distrust of the voter that led radical movements, such as the Bolsheviks, to seize power from elected moderate governments.

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