Helen Thomas: the Courageous Reporter, Another Victim of Israel Criticism Taboo

Let’s be direct. Helen Thomas tried early last year on February 9, 2009 to get an American president to concede at a nationally televised press conference what everyone knows, that the State of Israel has nuclear weapons. She asked Barack Hussein Obama at a press conference if he knew of any nation in the Middle East that had nuclear weapons. Barack Obama dodged it by refusing to “speculate” because America has accepted hook, line and sinker the dumb Israeli policy of “nuclear ambiguity.” Yet even Israel itself has conceded repeatedly it has nuclear weapons: remember Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 2006 nuclear confession on Berlin Radio? remember Mordecahi Vanunu whistle blowing in 1986 and an eighteen year prison sentence for showing photos of Dimona, remember the nuclear test with South Africa in the South Atlantic in 1979 picked up by a Vela sateliite. The charade of “ambiguity” that Ms Thomas was attempting to puncture was a mark of journalistic courage and taboo challenging. Given the mania over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it is essential that all nations in the region account for their nuclear materials: not just Iran. In fact Iran IS MUCH MORE TRANSPARENT IN ITS NUCLEAR FISSILE MATERIALS THAN ISRAEL IS.

Yes Israelis should get out of Palestine; yes Americans should get out of America; yes Brits and their heirs should get out of Australia and New Zealand. What Israel has done in Palestine is similar to many colonial invasions: displaced an aboriginal  population or in this case 700,000 Palestinians. Much of the US southwest for example was simply stolen in a landgrab from Mexico in the great-theft  Mexican war of 1846-1848. Huge swaths of Mexico from California to Texas were just stolen by the US. The entire continent was inhabited by Native Americans before the Columbian exchange in the 15th century. Zionism did lead to a similar pattern of disenfranchisement, displacement and tragic dispossesion of native peoples.

Ms Thomas would have been more prudent had she qualified Palestine to mean, however, the West Bank and Gaza. Afterall, even the US has called for the abandonment of the Jewish only settlements and a two-state solution. So Ms Thomas is correct in advocating Jews get out of Palestine in the near term in specifying Gaza and the West Bank. Her comments about returning to Germany, Poland and the US was provocative but hardly worthy of her forced retirement and the national opprobium that has beset her. It was exaggerated speech based on her premise that there is an aura of illegitimacy in the Israeli colonisation and tragic establishment of apartheid in Palestine.

A more nuanced approach from Ms Thomas was needed. And a  more sophisticated and tolerant response to her statement is needed. So here is mine. I believe the State of Israel is not going away  and should not. I believe a state founded on a religion is anathema to my views as would a Christian America be repellant. To have a Jewish state with 20% Arab is democratically counterintuitive. Yet that is Israel founding ethos since 1948 and its future and security are legitimate within its internationally recognised borders. However, its occupation of Palestine outside of the 1967 borders is not. Its blockade of Gaza is not. Its concentration camp wall declared illegal in the West Bank by the International Court of Justice in 2007 is not. Its arrogant annexation of East Jerusalem is not. Its annexation of the Golan is not.

The issue is not to bully an eighty-nine year old woman into retirement for her right of protected speech and who generally is an iconic supporter of the oppressed and persecuted. We should take her remarks as needing qualification and frankly legitimate probing particularly in the light of colonialism and subaltern phenomena. No, Jews should not be forced to leave Israel. No Israel should not be dismembered. Yes it must be brought to justice and forced to abandon its militant reliance on blind force that has violated International Humanitarian Law and the Crimes of War as defined partially by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

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