Can we take truckloads of soil from Israel and dump it on a platform in the middle of the sea, so as to build an Israel-sized island? We could call it “New Israel.” The Fisk piece below, which collects from memory recent evidence, and the Shawn piece, below that, which diagnoses with terrible accuracy the Israeli mind-set that excuses any number of dead, taken together, give me a sense of hopelessness about resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can Israel ever be made to behave like a global citizen? Perhaps “New Israel” would be a start. (Thanks for these pieces, Eva and Ola. –Brendan)
Why do they hate the West so much, we will ask
Robert Fisk, The Independent. 7 January 2009.
So once again, Israel has opened the gates of hell to the Palestinians. Forty civilian refugees dead in a United Nations school, three more in another. Not bad for a night’s work in Gaza by the army that believes in “purity of arms”. But why should we be surprised?
Have we forgotten the 17,500 dead – almost all civilians, most of them children and women – in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same 2006 bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians?
What is amazing is that so many Western leaders, so many presidents and prime ministers and, I fear, so many editors and journalists, bought the old lie; that Israelis take such great care to avoid civilian casualties. “Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties,” yet another Israeli ambassador said only hours before the Gaza massacre. And every president and prime minister who repeated this mendacity as an excuse to avoid a ceasefire has the blood of last night’s butchery on their hands. Had George Bush had the courage to demand an immediate ceasefire 48 hours earlier, those 40 civilians, the old and the women and children, would be alive.
What happened was not just shameful. It was a disgrace. Would war crime be too strong a description? For that is what we would call this atrocity if it had been committed by Hamas. So a war crime, I’m afraid, it was. After covering so many mass murders by the armies of the Middle East – by Syrian troops, by Iraqi troops, by Iranian troops, by Israeli troops – I suppose cynicism should be my reaction. But Israel claims it is fighting our war against “international terror”. The Israelis claim they are fighting in Gaza for us, for our Western ideals, for our security, for our safety, by our standards. And so we are also complicit in the savagery now being visited upon Gaza.
I’ve reported the excuses the Israeli army has served up in the past for these outrages. Since they may well be reheated in the coming hours, here are some of them: that the Palestinians killed their own refugees, that the Palestinians dug up bodies from cemeteries and planted them in the ruins, that ultimately the Palestinians are to blame because they supported an armed faction, or because armed Palestinians deliberately used the innocent refugees as cover.
The Sabra and Chatila massacre was committed by Israel’s right-wing Lebanese Phalangist allies while Israeli troops, as Israel’s own commission of inquiry revealed, watched for 48 hours and did nothing. When Israel was blamed, Menachem Begin’s government accused the world of a blood libel. After Israeli artillery had fired shells into the UN base at Qana in 1996, the Israelis claimed that Hizbollah gunmen were also sheltering in the base. It was a lie. The more than 1,000 dead of 2006 – a war started when Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on the border – were simply dismissed as the responsibility of the Hizbollah. Israel claimed the bodies of children killed in a second Qana massacre may have been taken from a graveyard. It was another lie. The Marwahin massacre was never excused. The people of the village were ordered to flee, obeyed Israeli orders and were then attacked by an Israeli gunship. The refugees took their children and stood them around the truck in which they were travelling so that Israeli pilots would see they were innocents. Then the Israeli helicopter mowed them down at close range. Only two survived, by playing dead. Israel didn’t even apologise.
Twelve years earlier, another Israeli helicopter attacked an ambulance carrying civilians from a neighbouring village – again after they were ordered to leave by Israel – and killed three children and two women. The Israelis claimed that a Hizbollah fighter was in the ambulance. It was untrue. I covered all these atrocities, I investigated them all, talked to the survivors. So did a number of my colleagues. Our fate, of course, was that most slanderous of libels: we were accused of being anti-Semitic.
And I write the following without the slightest doubt: we’ll hear all these scandalous fabrications again. We’ll have the Hamas-to-blame lie – heaven knows, there is enough to blame them for without adding this crime – and we may well have the bodies-from-the-cemetery lie and we’ll almost certainly have the Hamas-was-in-the-UN-school lie and we will very definitely have the anti-Semitism lie. And our leaders will huff and puff and remind the world that Hamas originally broke the ceasefire. It didn’t. Israel broke it, first on 4 November when its bombardment killed six Palestinians in Gaza and again on 17 November when another bombardment killed four more Palestinians.
Yes, Israelis deserve security. Twenty Israelis dead in 10 years around Gaza is a grim figure indeed. But 600 Palestinians dead in just over a week, thousands over the years since 1948 – when the Israeli massacre at Deir Yassin helped to kick-start the flight of Palestinians from that part of Palestine that was to become Israel – is on a quite different scale. This recalls not a normal Middle East bloodletting but an atrocity on the level of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And of course, when an Arab bestirs himself with unrestrained fury and takes out his incendiary, blind anger on the West, we will say it has nothing to do with us. Why do they hate us, we will ask? But let us not say we do not know the answer.
Israel in Gaza: Irrationality
Jews, historically, have been irrationally feared, hated and killed. Given that background, it’s not surprising that the irrationality which surrounded them for so long, the fire of irrationality in which they were almost extinguished, has jumped across and taken hold of the soul of many Jews and indeed dominates the thinking of today’s Israeli leaders and their American supporters.
Recent history shows that the Jews, as a people, have found few friends who are honest and true. During World War II, when Hitler’s anti-Semitism was responsible for the murdering of the millions of Jews, the world and the United States expressed their own anti-Semitism by refusing to house and welcome the tortured race, preferring instead to let it be exterminated if need be. After the war, the world felt it owed the Jews something–but then showed its lack of true regard for the tormented group by “giving” them a piece of land populated and surrounded by another people–an act of European imperialism carried out exactly at the moment when non-European peoples all over the world were finally concluding that European imperialism was completely unacceptable and had to be resisted. And now we have the spectacle of American politicians encouraging and financing Israeli policies which will ultimately lead to more disaster and destruction for Jews.
It is not rational to believe that the Palestinians in the occupied territories will be terrorized by force and violence, by cruelty, by starvation or by slaughter into a docile acceptance of the Israeli occupation. There is no evidence that that could possibly happen and mountains of evidence to the contrary.
Many right-wing Israelis and American Jews clearly believe that Jews have always had enemies and always will have enemies–and who can be shocked that certain Jews might think that? To these individuals, a Palestinian throwing stones at an Israeli soldier, even if his life has perhaps been destroyed by the Israeli occupation, is simply part of an eternal mob of anti-Semites, a mob made up principally of people to whom the Jews have done no harm at all, as they did no harm to Hitler. The logical consequence of this view of the world is that in the face of such massive and eternal opposition, Jews are morally justified in taking any measures they can think of to protect themselves. They are involved in one long eternal war, and a few hundred Palestinians killed today must be measured against many millions of Jews who were killed in the past. The agony the Israelis might inflict on a Palestinian family today must be seen in the perspective of Jewish families in agony all over the world in the past.
It is irrational for the Israeli leaders to imagine that the Palestinians will understand this particular point of view–will understand why Jews might find it appropriate, let us say, to retaliate for the death of one Jew by killing a hundred Palestinians. If a Palestinian killed a hundred Jews to retaliate for the killing of one Palestinian–for that matter, if a Thai killed a hundred Cambodians to retaliate for the killing of one Thai–which, from the point of view of the Israeli leaders, would of course be unjust, that would be racist, as if one Palestinian or one Thai were worth a hundred Israelis or a hundred Cambodians. But if a Jew does it, it’s not unjust and it’s not racist, because it’s part of an eternal struggle in which the Jews have lost and lost and lost–they’ve already lost more people than there are Palestinians. Well, it’s not surprising that certain Jews would feel this way, but no Palestinian will ever share that feeling or be willing to accept it. What the Palestinians see is an implacable and heartless enemy, one that considers itself un-bound by any rules or principles, an enemy that can’t be reasoned with but can only be feared, hated and, if possible, killed.
As poor and oppressed people around the world are very well aware of the events in the occupied territories, and as they strongly identify with the Palestinian struggle and point of view, the future of the Jews looks increasingly dim.
Consequently it is disgraceful and vile and no favor to the Jews for American politicians–for narrow, short-term political advantage, for narrow, short-term global-strategic reasons and, yes, also in expiation of the residual guilt they feel over what happened to the Jews in the past–to pander to the irrationality of the most irrational Jews.
Actions based on irrational premises inevitably fail in their purposes–they fail, and if the premises don’t change, then the actions are inevitably repeated, in forms which are more and more grotesque. It is unbearable to think that the new American administration would begin with more American dollars being poured into what is unjustifiable. It is also unbearable to think that among the first words we would hear from our new, clearly rational president would be preposterous sentences trying to persuade us that Israeli policies which seem to be appalling are actually quite normal and acceptable. Certainly nothing our new president could do would be of greater value to the world–and greater value to the Jews–than to abruptly end the sickeningly patronizing habit of supporting an irrationality which was born in tragedy and will end in more tragedy.