There is something embarrassing, even humiliating, about the pairs, trios and flocks of off-road vehicles that rush to the site of a disaster. Their foreign-language-speaking passengers emerge in order to carefully record the damage, assess the aid required and then consider how to provide it. Afterward they publish their findings and conclusions in internal reports and in glossy brochures with spectacular images, because suffering is photogenic.
Even when these aid teams are highly caring, compassionate and dedicated, the aura of their ordinary, comfortable and healthy world surrounds them, separating them from those for whom catastrophe is routine. The former earn their living from calamity, the latter live it. Even without being cynical, the scenario is cynical by definition.
Even in natural disasters a major share of the blame rests with administrative failures, human deeds, criminal negligence whose only purpose is to perpetuate class disparities. But at least when the immediate cause is a storm or an earthquake there is a measure of inevitability. People determine the scope of the disaster but not its occurrence.
The international jeep teams that reach every corner of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip live off a calamity that is 100-percent man-made, a fact that multiplies the cynicism of the scenario. The tanker trucks of drinking water they fund regularly, the food packages they distribute every few weeks or months and the tents pitched every week on the ruins of a demolished home add up to another Israeli success: compressing and shrinking the Palestinian issue from a battle for freedom, independence and rights to a question of charity and relief, of international donations and their timing.
The “needy” Palestinians who receive donations of water, food and tents in Hammamat al-Maleh, Beit Lahia and Shoafat are needy because regular Israelis - the cream of the state and state-religious school systems, high-ranking career army officers - who can look forward to a splendid civilian future in high-tech or public service specialize in abusing them. What, if not abuse, is a pipe across your land in Al Farisya, in the northern Jordan Valley, that brings water to Jewish homes built on your village’s land, but from which you are forbidden to take so much as a drop? What, if not maltreatment, is the routine shooting at people who support themselves by fishing or collecting junk? And what, if not sadism, is evicting people from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan and refusing to register children on their Jerusalemite mothers’ identity cards?
The audience for all the reports describing these abuses and written by these dedicated teams is senior diplomats stationed in Brussels, European capital cities and in North America. The information is supposed to be passed on to foreign ministers and governments. Much of it presumably does. But these governments have made a conscious political decision to cling to hypocrisy and to refrain from political intervention. Instead, they merely pay to put out a few fires.
This, too, is a huge Israeli success: The constant, daily international preoccupation with the consequences of Israel’s domination over the Palestinians and its takeover of their lands is humanitarian rather than political. Against their will, these dedicated participants in the humanitarian effort are a fig leaf for Western states that support Palestinian rights and independence on paper while accepting Israel’s apartheid in practice.
Apartheid generates the Palestinian charity cases for whose sake important conferences are held and from which many Palestinian and foreign bureaucrats make a (good) living. The generous aid to the Palestinians through various channels is the reward offered by Western states in exchange for the tolerance they show toward Israeli apartheid and the encouragement they give it, in the form of close defense ties, upgraded trade relations and cultural and scientific exchanges