Why Chagos Islanders should be hailed as heroes

by Eamonn McCann
The Irish Times

Louis Olivier Bancoult, chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group.
In The Hague last month, the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration found that the United Kingdom's declaration in 2010 of a Marine Protection Area around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean was illegal. The decision endorsed the claim of the government of Mauritius that the UK did not have jurisdiction to make rulings relating to the status of the area.

The finding marked, if not the end, at least, it is hoped, the beginning of the end of the Chagos Islanders' long legal battle to be allowed to return to the homes from which they were deported in 1973 and deposited in Mauritius more than a thousand miles away. The intention was to facilitate construction of a US military base. The deported islanders numbered fewer than 2,000. Many have since died, some, say the islanders, of sadness. Along with first and second generation, there are now about 2,500 exiles. A majority still live in dire circumstances in Mauritius.

For many years their plight was ignored by the "international community". Their treatment illustrates as clearly as any action by major powers in recent decades the contempt in which lesser breeds are held by powerful states asserting that their security interests trump human rights anywhere in the world.

Indentured labourers
In terms of legality and morality, the appropriation of the islands offers precedent for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the bombing of Libya, etc. The Chagossians had inhabited the archipelago since the mid-18th century, shipped in by French colonialists as slaves or indentured labourers to work on plantations.

French law recognised the islands as part of Mauritius. When control of Mauritius was passed to the British in 1814 as part of the settlement which ended the Napoleonic Wars, the islands came as part of the package. However, when Mauritius gained independence in 1968, the Labour government of Harold Wilson insisted on retaining the islands, now renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory. The reason became clear three years later when the US military decided that the largest and only inhabited island, Diego Garcia, was a perfect place for a military base. Wilson's administration agreed, without consultation with Mauritius and without its knowledge.

In return, Britain got a discount from the US on the purchase of Polaris nuclear missiles. Two years later, the "cleansing" of Diego Garcia ? the term was used by a foreign office official ? was under way. Herded on to cargo ships, the islanders were taken first to prison camps on the Seychelles, then trafficked to Mauritius.

A memo from FO permanent under-secretary, Sir Paul Gore-Booth, told the Americans: "There will be no indigenous population except seagulls." Another official scrawled a note on the margin: "Along with the birds go some Tarzans or Men Fridays."

The islanders launched legal actions successively in the British, the American and European courts, with the pro-bono assistance of UK lawyer Richard Gifford and journalists including John Pilger and the presenter of the BBC's Countryfile programme Ben Fogle. Fogle says he became involved because, "The story makes me ashamed to be British".

Secret deal
In 2000, the islanders won what seemed a famous victory when the high court in London declared their expulsion illegal. Within hours, the Blair government had announced that the ruling was incapable of implementation, being in conflict with a US-UK treaty. This was a lie. There was no treaty, merely a secret deal withheld from both parliament and congress.

In 2009, Gordon Brown's government devised a plan to turn thousands of square miles around the islands into a Marine Protection Area, ostensibly to conserve the coral reefs and diversity of sea life.
British environment minister Ed Miliband hailed the move as proving Labour's green credentials. In 2010, WikiLeaks published a US memo quoting FO official Colin Roberts (now governor of the Falklands/Malvinas) saying that, "Establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former inhabitants". It went on: "Roberts believed that the UK's environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians' advocates."

Diego Garcia now houses 5,000 US service personnel, a squadron of B-52 bombers, 30 warships, a satellite spy system, a nuclear storage capacity, a bowling alley, a cinema, a bank, a chapel, a nine-hole golf course and a prison. Bombers take off to dump their loads on countries which the US believes it must subdue. Planes carrying prisoners stop off en route to CIA torture sites, or deliver captives for torture on the island itself.

There is no legal route to an appeal against last month's decision. Still, the UK and US may simply refuse to obey the court. Pressure from other countries, such as Ireland, could help tip the balance. The Chagos Islanders are meantime entitled to be hailed as heroes of the struggle for justice across the world.

America is Jailing Immigrant Mothers and Babies

by Sonali Kolhatkar

Hundreds of undocumented families who have fled from poverty, violence and organized crime in Central American countries including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are locked up in “residential centers” in Karnes County and Dilley, Texas; Berks County, Pa.; and, until recently, Artesia, N.M. The families are imprisoned while awaiting their immigration hearings.

The fact that we have “family detention” centers in the U.S. to imprison whole families, including newborns, ought to frighten the hell out of us. How we treat the most vulnerable among us is a measure of our humanity. By the yardstick that these centers offer us, we are downright barbaric.

When President Obama took office in 2009, he rightly ended the practice of family detention, which began under President George W. Bush. Hundreds of families were being held at the notorious T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former state prison in Taylor, Texas. Inside the center, which was privately run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), conditions were appalling?particularly for children, who made up half the population. The New York Times described the policy change to end family detention as “the Obama administration’s clearest departure from its predecessor’s immigration enforcement policies.”

Families apprehended at the border were once more allowed to stay with relatives in the U.S. while awaiting their court hearings for asylum and other immigration-related requests. Then, five years later, President Obama abruptly decided to resume family detention, a decision made public in an ill-timed announcement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)?on World Refugee Day in 2014. The change in policy was likely a response to the influx of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving in the U.S. last summer, which caused great controversy in Congress. Now, reported The Times, “Since June of last year, the Obama administration has upended that tradition [of allowing asylum applicants to live with family and friends]. Rather than release the families on bond to await a hearing, officials place virtually all women with children into the new detention facilities.” That includes a baby as young as 14 days old.

Like much of what the Democrats do in comparison to Republicans, brutality has a veneer of humanity. Originally called the Karnes County Civil Detention Center, the Texas prison where hundreds of women and children are locked up was recently euphemistically renamed Karnes County Residential Center. The center is run by the GEO Group, the second-largest private company after CCA operating prisons in the United States. It received a makeover to transform it from a prison into nothing more than a nicer-looking prison. Furniture is colorful and kid-friendly. A large, painted sign reading “Bienvenidos Welcome” greets people at the door. But the soft facade obscures the fact that it incarcerates mothers and babies.

Sameera Hafiz, a legislative and policy consultant with the group “We Belong Together,” has been working closely with the immigrants detained at Karnes. She explained in an interview on “Uprising” that most of the women involved in a hunger strike at Karnes in early April had “passed their credible fear interviews, so they had made an initial showing that they are eligible for asylum because they faced persecution if they are returned to their home countries.” These mothers were attempting to go through the legal process of applying for immigration status. It was only after they remained imprisoned for months under unbearable conditions that they began fasting to draw public attention.

Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in Texas, told me that the hunger strikers faced retaliation so severe that they were placed in solitary confinement along with their children. “Several women were rounded up as the supposed ringleaders of the fast,” Ryan said, “and they were brought into isolation rooms which were dark, in which they were kept with their children.”

Rather than serving as some sort of humane alternative to separating families by imprisoning just the adults, family detention is a traumatic experience?especially for children. It can result in serious psychological scars for life. Delmi Cruz and her 11-year-old son, Alexis, have been held at Karnes for seven months and continue to remain locked up despite being eligible for parole. After participating in the hunger strike, they were among those placed in solitary confinement. Alexis is reportedly suffering from deep depression. Ryan related that those who have visited the mother and son recently found that:

"… Alexis’ entire demeanor and mental health deteriorated rapidly during that time and that he really has not recovered. He is in a constant state of crying and depression, and is failing to make eye contact. It has been a really brutal, brutal experience, not just for the mothers but of course for these children."

Another mother, Kenia Galeano, who also participated in the hunger strike, was allowed to post bond and was finally released a week later. As a second hunger strike began in mid-April, Galeano gave interviews to the press about her friends inside Karnes who remain imprisoned and the conditions she and others faced. Guards reportedly threatened to separate her from her 2-year-old child if she continued her hunger strike. Like Cruz, she, too, was placed in a dark isolation room with her baby.

But why was Galeano released whereas Cruz and others remain locked up? The answer is shocking. Galeano’s $7,500 bond was paid by a staffer at RAICES, which also has acampaign to free Delmi Cruz. The reason both women were locked up in the first place was, as Hafiz revealed, because the Obama administration “has been using family detention as a deterrent against immigration.”

In February, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered a preliminary injunctionhalting the practice of family detention as a deterrent. Boasberg wrote, “Such detention ... is particularly harmful to minor children.” DHS seems to have responded, not by freeing families, but by simply increasing the bonds so much ($7,500 to $10,000) that most of the mothers, like Cruz and Galeano, who are poor to begin with cannot afford them on their own.

Officials have made no secret of using detention as a deterrent. At an opening ceremony of the nation’s largest family detention center in Dilley, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson declared, “l believe this is an effective deterrent. … Frankly, we want to send a message that our border is not open to illegal migration, and if you come here, you should not expect to simply be released.” Unless you can muster the thousands of dollars to post bond, he should have added.

Despite Boasberg’s injunction, Congress passed a spending bill a month later that included hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to continue and even expand the use of family detention centers.

As a nation, we are locking up babies and their mothers in order to discourage other babies and mothers from crossing the border as they flee violence and poverty looking for a better life. Setting aside the cruelty of such a policy, studies such as this one have shown that detention has no deterrent effect on would-be immigrants. Moreover, the issue itself is being wrongly framed. Ryan clarified that “This is not about the enforcement of our immigration laws. This is about refugee resettlement and how our country treats bona fide refugees who seek protection.”

So then why are we continuing these horrific policies that are scarring children?the most innocent and vulnerable among us? One possible reason is simply that there is a great hunger for our tax dollars from private corporations like GEO and CCA that have crafted a business model based on incarceration. Ryan revealed that “today if a woman and child arrive at the border and there is no room at the for-profit, private detention center, then that woman and child is apparently not a threat to our nation’s security and they are released.” This means that those families unlucky enough to arrive at the border when beds are available will be locked up. Ryan added that the “government’s quota ... was established to keep those companies profitable by maintaining 34,000 people in detention every night.” Every mother and child incarcerated at facilities like Karnes are simply a conduit for funneling $350 a day into corporate coffers.

Detainees at Karnes earn a paltry $3 a day to clean the premises. Incidentally, a single bottle of water costs $2.50 at the commissary, and many mothers work all day to purchase water for their children, worried about the strong-smelling tap water available at the detention center. Karnes County is, according to RT, “in the middle of one of the most active fracking and drilling areas in the nation, with nearly 9,000 sunken wells and another 5,500 approved since 2008.” Fracking operations are notorious forcontaminating drinking water. Ryan also recounted that mothers who might try to smuggle a box of milk or an orange from the cafeteria to give their children later in the day have had the food confiscated as “contraband” and been told to purchase the same items from the commissary of the for-profit prison. Children, who are not used to the food being served, have lost weight, and mothers are literally watching their babies waste away in front of their eyes.

It is under these circumstances that the mothers at Karnes have launched the second hunger strike to call attention to their plight and that of their children. Hafiz said “it is inhumane and un-American to hold children and mothers in jail facilities.”

She is right. Family detention is antithetical to the ideals of freedom, family values and human rights often touted by leaders. The mothers of Karnes County Residential Center are fighting to be heard. Will we listen?


Kitchen Conflict!

by Laila El-Haddad from Gaza Mom
Originally published 2014.11.12
No doubt many readers have by now heard of the death threats received by the unique takeaway restaurant, The Conflict Kitchen, in Pittsburgh last week, and their unfortunate temporary closure (and subsequent re-opening as of today, November 12).

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking (and eating!) in Conflict Kitchen after being invited by founder Jon Rubin. Truth be told, I’ve been a fan of the Kitchen ever since its establishment in 2010, and have been secretly wishing they would one day do a Palestine iteration at which I could speak. After all, this seemed right up my alley: A place that literally serves up food for thought! You CAN have your cake and eat it too! Many years and one cookbook later, my dream was fulfilled.

And so it was. On October 16, I spoke alongside Omar Abuhejleh, the Palestinian owner of the Allegro Hearth Bakery, one of Pittsburgh’s most popular specialty bakeries, in the heart of a historically Jewish squirrel Hill neighborhood, and Ziad Adamo, whose family owns a popular Middle Eastern restaurant in Pittsburgh. Omar spoke about the continued fragmentation of the Palestinian population both in historic Palestine and abroad, and the effects of being separated from one’s land.

It was a lively lunchtime conversation, had over steaming plates of Maftoul, Muskahan, Salata Gazawiya, followed by an even more inspiring dinner the next day, cooked by their chef using recipes from The Gaza Kitchen.

What makes Conflict Kitchen unique is its commitment to sharing the struggles, lives, and histories of peoples in area with which the US is either IN conflict or has furthered conflict in their own unmediated voices, and in so doing, , to encourage re-engagement and understanding. A project by Carnegie Mellon University art professor Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, “Conflict Kitchen uses the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.”

This most recent Palestine iteration has been their most popular yet, serving up to 400 people a day. But that has not shielded it from controversy The focus has been on so-called “anti-Israeli sentiments” (see: interviews with Palestinians, about their lives in Palestine, under occupation, in their own land) printed on on the wrappers that the food comes packaged in, which include interviews with Palestinians on subjects ranging from culture to politics-a staple of all other Conflict Kitchen iterations.

“Perhaps it is hard for some people to hear that Palestinians are not happy with Israeli policies or the actions of some of its citizens, but to cast their viewpoints as simply anti-Israel is to reinforce the simplest, most polarizing, and dehumanizing reading of their lives and perpetuate the silencing of their voices” said a statement issued by Conflict Kitchen this past weekend.

Among the critics, according to Haaretz, B’nai B’rith International, “wrote a letter to the Heinz Endowments late last month to express dismay that the $50,000 grant it gave Conflict Kitchen was being used for what it called “anti-Israel propaganda”, though Heinz Endowments later denied the money was being used for this iteration of the project (oh the horror if it was, right!?).

When it comes down to it, its hard for the mainstream media to accept a Palestinian narrative as it is, without automatically assuming it is by its very nature biased (despite CK’s multiple attempts to get Pittsburgh media to interview Palestinians on the controversy, none were). This is a common theme in the media’s dealings with Palestinians-whose voices are never viewed as credible enough on their own. Even as I was interviewed by NPR station in Pittsburgh during my stay, I was ] asked whether I thought this Palestinian iteration by its very nature anti-Israeli. My response, in short: sharing the struggles of your people’s history, their continuation violation of their rights, freedoms, the fragmentation of their nation, is pro-justice, not anti-Israeli.

And that is precisely why what Conflict Kitchen is doing has been perceived as so threatening: its unsettling to read accounts by Palestinians of what Zionist militias did in 1948, and what continues to happen till this day to Palestinian land and lives. Its a reminder that in the wake of Israel’s founding, an entire nation was un-founded, uprooted, violently, purposefully, maliciously, and that this simple and cruel fact is for all practical purposes either denied or never discussed in Israel.

Our very existence, emboldened by our own voices, our narrative, our food, our identity, is a threat to the dominant discourse that informs the general public’s views on who Palestinians are and what rights they have. But more so, it is a threat to those opposed to recognizing Palestinians as full human beings entitled to freedoms, rights, and self-determination. The reaction is usually to resort to silencing Palestinian voices altogether or resorting to claims of antisemitism (an invitation I was given to speak at Pittsburgh’s World Affairs Council was abruptly withdrawn after a board member expressed concern about bringing “anti-Israeli” speakers and how the Jewish community would respond).

Here, it would serve us well to cite Franz Fanon, who so eloquently argued in his Wretched of the Earth that colonizers and occupiers make a determine effort to devalue or invisible the history of the native people they control and thus heir hope of a future national culture.

In the end, the naysayers and ne’er-do-wellers did not have their way. Jon Rubin told me he expects hundreds of people to be there today in support during the restaurant’s reopening, and hopefully, some good will come of the controversy in generating renewed interested and curiosity in Palestine and about what the heck is so threatening about Palestinian food and freedom.


The Ballad of Crowfoot (1968), a film by Willie Dunn

The Ballad of Crowfoot by Willie Dunn, National Film Board of Canada

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bomb?

by Uri Avnery

I MUST start with a shocking confession: I am not afraid of the Iranian nuclear bomb.
I know that this makes me an abnormal person, almost a freak.
But what can I do? I am unable to work up fear, like a real Israeli. Try as I may, the Iranian bomb does not make me hysterical.
MY FATHER once taught me how to withstand blackmail: imagine that the awful threat of the blackmailer has already come about. Then you can tell him: Go to hell.
I have tried many times to follow this advice and found it sound. So now I apply it to the Iranian bomb: I imagine that the worst has already happened: the awful ayatollahs have got the bombs that can eradicate little Israel in a minute.
So what?
According to foreign experts, Israel has several hundred nuclear bombs (assessments vary between 80-400. If Iran sends its bombs and obliterates most of Israel (myself included), Israeli submarines will obliterate Iran. Whatever I might think about Binyamin Netanyahu, I rely on him and our security chiefs to keep our "second strike" capability intact. Just last week we were informed that Germany had delivered another state-of-the-art submarine to our navy for this purpose.
Israeli idiots – and there are some around – respond: "Yes, but the Iranian leaders are not normal people. They are madmen. Religious fanatics. They will risk the total destruction of Iran just to destroy the Zionist state. Like exchanging queens in chess."
Such convictions are the outcome of decades of demonizing. Iranians – or at least their leaders – are seen as subhuman miscreants.
Reality shows us that the leaders of Iran are very sober, very calculating politicians. Cautious merchants in the Iranian bazaar style. They don't take unnecessary risks. The revolutionary fervor of the early Khomeini days is long past, and even Khomeini would not have dreamt of doing anything so close to national suicide.
ACCORDING TO the Bible, the great Persian king Cyrus allowed the captive Jews of Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. At that time, Persia was already an ancient civilization – both cultural and political.
After the "return from Babylon", the Jewish commonwealth around Jerusalem lived for 200 years under Persian suzerainty. I was taught in school that these were happy years for the Jews.
Since then, Persian culture and history has lived through another two and a half millennia. Persian civilization is one of the oldest in the world. It has created a great religion and influenced many others, including Judaism. Iranians are fiercely proud of that civilization.
To imagine that the present leaders of Iran would even contemplate risking the very existence of Persia out of hatred of Israel is both ridiculous and megalomaniac.
Moreover, throughout history, relations between Jews and Persians have almost always been excellent. When Israel was founded, Iran was considered a natural ally, part of David Ben-Gurion's "strategy of the periphery" – an alliance with all the countries surrounding the Arab world.
The Shah, who was re-installed by the American and British secret services, was a very close ally. Teheran was full of Israeli businessmen and military advisers. It served as a base for the Israeli agents working with the rebellious Kurds in northern Iraq who were fighting against the regime of Saddam Hussein.
After the Islamic revolution, Israel still supported Iran against Iraq in their cruel 8-year war. The notorious Irangate affair, in which my friend Amiram Nir and Oliver North played such an important role, would not have been possible without the old Iranian-Israeli ties.
Even now, Iran and Israel are conducting amiable arbitration proceedings about an old venture: the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline built jointly by the two countries.
If the worst comes to the worst, nuclear Israel and nuclear Iran will live in a Balance of Terror.
Highly unpleasant, indeed. But not an existential menace.
HOWEVER, FOR those who live in terror of the Iranian nuclear capabilities, I have a piece of advice: use the time we still have.
Under the American-Iranian deal, we have at least 10 years before Iran could start the final phase of producing the bomb.
Please use this time for making peace.
The Iranian hatred of the "Zionist Regime" – the State of Israel – derives from the fate of the Palestinian people. The feeling of solidarity for the helpless Palestinians is deeply ingrained in all Islamic peoples. It is part of the popular culture in all of them. It is quite real, even if the political regimes misuse, manipulate or ignore it.
Since there is no ground for a specific Iranian hatred of Israel, it is solely based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No conflict, no enmity.
Logic tells us: if we have several years before we have to live in the shadow of an Iranian nuclear bomb, let's use this time to eliminate the conflict. Once the Palestinians themselves declare that they consider the historic conflict with Israel settled, no Iranian leadership will be able to rouse its people against us.
FOR SEVERAL weeks now, Netanyahu has been priding himself publicly on a huge, indeed historic, achievement.
For the first time ever, Israel is practically part of an Arab alliance.
Throughout the region, the conflict between Muslim Sunnis and Muslim Shiites is raging. The Shiite camp, headed by Iran, includes the Shiites in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. (Netanyahu falsely - or out of ignorance - includes the Sunni Hamas in this camp.)
The opposite Sunni camp includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states. Netanyahu hints that Israel is now secretly accepted by them as a member.
It is a very untidy picture. Iran is fighting against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which is a mortal enemy of Israel. Iran is supporting the Assad regime in Damascus, which is also supported by Hezbollah, which fights against the lslamic State, while the Saudis support other extreme Sunni Syrians who fight against Assad and the Islamic State. Turkey supports Iran and the Saudis while fighting against Assad. And so on.
I am not enamored with Arab military dictatorships and corrupt monarchies. Frankly, I detest them. But if Israel succeeds in becoming an official member of any Arab coalition, it would be a historic breakthrough, the first in 130 years of Zionist-Arab conflict.
However, all Israeli relations with Arab countries are secret, except those with Egypt and Jordan, and even with these two the contacts are cold and distant, relations between the regimes rather than between the peoples.
Let's face facts: no Arab state will engage in open and close cooperation with Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ended. Even kings and dictators cannot afford to do so. The solidarity of their peoples with the oppressed Palestinians is far too profound.
Real peace with the Arab countries is impossible without peace with the Palestinian people, as peace with the Palestinian people is impossible without peace with the Arab countries.
So if there is now a chance to establish official peace with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and to turn the cold peace with Egypt into a real one, Netanyahu should jump at it. The terms of an agreement are already lying on the table: the Saudi peace plan, also called the Arab Initiative, which was adopted many years ago by the entire Arab League. It is based on the two-state solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Netanyahu could amaze the whole world by "doing a de Gaulle" – making peace with the Sunni Arab world (as de Gaulle did with Algeria) which would compel the Shiites to follow suit.
Do I believe in this? I do not. But if God wills it, even a broomstick can shoot.
And on the day of the Jewish Pesach feast, commemorating the (imaginary) exodus from Egypt, we are reminding ourselves that miracles do happen.



Uri Avnery's Column - A Brown-haired Young Man

by Uri Avnery

MY HERO of the year (for now) is a young brown-haired Palestinian refugee living in Syria called Hassan Hijazi.

He was one of hundreds of refugees who held the demonstration on the Syrian side of the Golan border fence, to commemorate the Naqba – “Disaster” – the exodus of more than half the Palestinian people from the territory conquered by Israel in the war of 1948. Some of the protesters ran down to the fence, crossing a minefield. Luckily, none of the mines exploded – perhaps they were just too old.

They entered the Druze village of Majdal Shams, occupied by Israel since 1967, where they spread out. Israeli soldiers shot, killed and wounded several of them. The rest were caught and immediately deported back to Syria.

Except Hassan. He found a bus carrying Israeli and international peace activists who took him with them – perhaps they guessed where he came from, perhaps not. He does not look obviously Arab.

They dropped him near Tel Aviv. He continued his journey by hitchhiking and eventually reached Jaffa, the town where his grandparents had lived .

There, without money and without knowing anyone, he tried to locate the house of his family. He did not succeed – the place has changed much too much.

Eventually, he succeeded in contacting an Israeli TV correspondent, who helped him give himself up to the police. He was arrested and deported back to Syria.

Quite a remarkable exploit.

THE BORDER crossing of the refugees near Majdal Shams caused near panic in Israel.

First there were the usual recriminations. Why was the army not prepared for this event? Who was to blame – Northern Command or Army Intelligence?

Behind all the excitement was the nightmare that has haunted Israel since 1948: that the 750,000 refugees and their descendents, some five million by now, will one day get up and march to the borders of Israel from North, East and South, breach the fences and flood the country. This nightmare is the mirror-image of the refugees’ dream.

During the first years of Israel, this was a waking nightmare. On the day Israel was founded, it had some 650,000 Jewish inhabitants. The return of the refugees would indeed have swamped the young Israeli state. Lately, with more than 6 million Jewish citizens, this fear has receded into the background – but it is always there. Psychologists might say that it represents repressed feelings of guilt in the national psyche.

THIS WEEK, there was a repeat performance. The Palestinians all around Israel have declared June 5 “Naksa” Day, to commemorate the “Setback” of 1967, when Israel spectacularly defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, reinforced by elements from the Iraqi and Saudi armies.

This time the Israeli army was prepared. The fence was reinforced and an anti-tank ditch dug in front of it. When the demonstrators tried to reach the fence – again near Majdal Shams – they were shot by sharpshooters. Some 22 were killed, many dozens were wounded. The Palestinians report that people trying to rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead were also shot and killed.

No doubt, this was a deliberate tactic decided upon in advance by the army command after the Naqba day fiasco, and approved by Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. As was said quite openly, the Palestinians had to be taught a lesson they would not forget, so as to drive any idea of an unarmed mass action out of their mind.

It is frighteningly reminiscent of events 10 years ago. After the first intifada, in which stone-throwing youngsters and children won a moral victory that led to the Oslo agreement, our army conducted exercises in anticipation of a second intifada. This broke out after the political disaster of Camp David, and the army was ready.

The new intifada started with mass demonstrations of unarmed Palestinians. They were met by specially trained sharpshooters. Next to each sharpshooter stood an officer who pointed out the individuals who were to be shot because they looked like ringleaders: “The guy in the red shirt…Now the boy with the blue trousers…”

The unarmed uprising broke down and was replaced by suicide bombers, roadside bombs and other “terrorist” acts. With those our army was on familiar ground.

I suspect very much that we are witnessing much the same thing once more. Again specially trained sharpshooters are at work, directed by officers.

There is a difference, though. In 2001 we were told that our soldiers were shooting into the air. Now we are told that they aim at the Arabs’ legs. Then the Palestinians had to jump high into the air to get killed, now, it seems, they have to bend down .

THE WHOLE thing is not only murderous, but also incredibly dumb.

For decades now, practically all talk about peace has centered on the territories occupied in the 1967 war. President Mahmoud Abbas, President Barack Obama and the Israeli peace movement all talk about the “1967 borders”. When my friends and I started (in 1949) to talk about the two-state solution, we, too, meant these borders. (The “1967 borders” are, in fact, simply the armistice lines agreed upon after the 1948 war.)

Most people, even in the Israeli peace movement, ignored the refugee problem altogether. They were laboring under the illusion that it had gone away, or would do so after peace had been achieved between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I always warned my friends that this would not happen – five million human beings cannot be simply shut out. It is no use to make peace with half the Palestinian people, and just ignore the other half. It will not mean “the end of the conflict”, whatever might be stated in a peace agreement.

But through years of discussions, mostly behind closed doors, a consensus has been reached. Almost all Palestinian leaders have agreed, either explicitly or implicitly, to the formula of “a just and agreed upon solution of the refugee problem” – so that any solution is subject to Israeli approval. I have spoken about this many times with Yasser Arafat, Faisal al-Husseini and others.

In practice, this means that a symbolic number of refugees will be allowed back into Israel (the exact number to be fixed in negotiations), with the others to be resettled in the State of Palestine (which must be big and viable enough to make this possible) or receive generous compensation that will allow them to start a new life where they are or elsewhere.

TO MAKE this complicated and painful solution easier, everyone agreed that it would be best to deal with this matter near the end of the peace negotiations, after mutual trust and a more relaxed atmosphere had been established.

And here comes our government and tries to solve the problem with sharpshooters – not as the last resort, but as the first. Instead of countering the protesters with effective non-lethal means, they kill people. This will, of course, intensify the protests, mobilize masses of refugees and put the “refugee problem” squarely on the table, in the center of the table, before negotiations have even started.

In other words: the conflict moves back from 1967 to 1948. For Hassan Hijazi, the grandson of a refugee from Jaffa, this is huge achievement.

Nothing could be more stupid than this course of action by Netanyahu and Company.

Unless, of course, they are doing this consciously, in order to make any peace negotiations impossible.