[dehai-news] Who will save Israel from itself?

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From: wolda002@umn.edu
Date: Tue Jan 13 2009 - 00:49:22 EST


Who will save Israel from itself?
By Mark LeVine
Jan 12, 2009, 13:19

The Israeli government's justifications for the war are being scrutinised

One by one the justifications given by Israel for its latest war in Gaza
are unravelling.

The argument that this is a purely defensive war, launched only after Hamas
broke a six-month ceasefire has been challenged, not just by observers in
the know such as Jimmy Carter, the former US president who helped
facilitate the truce, but by centre-right Israeli intelligence think tanks.

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, whose December 31 report
titled "Six Months of the Lull Arrangement Intelligence Report," confirmed
that the June 19 truce was only "sporadically violated, and then not by
Hamas but instead by ... "rogue terrorist organisations".

Instead, "the escalation and erosion of the lull arrangement" occurred
after Israel killed six Hamas members on November 4 without provocation and
then placed the entire Strip under an even more intensive siege the next


According to a joint Tel Aviv University-European University study, this
fits a larger pattern in which Israeli violence has been responsible for
ending 79 per cent of all lulls in violence since the outbreak of the
second intifada, compared with only 8 per cent for Hamas and other
Palestinian factions.

Indeed, the Israeli foreign ministry seems to realise that this argument is
losing credibility.

During a conference call with half a dozen pro-Israel professors on
Thursday, Asaf Shariv, the Consul General of Israel in New York, focused
more on the importance of destroying the intricate tunnel system connecting
Gaza to the Sinai.

He claimed that such tunnels were "as big as the Holland and Lincoln
tunnels," and offered as proof the "fact" that lions and monkeys had been
smuggled through them to a zoo in Gaza. In reality, the lions were two
small cubs that were drugged, thrown in sacks, and dragged through a tunnel
on their way to a private zoo.

Israel's self-image

The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved
equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announce their intention
to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or to any
international leader or journalist who will meet with them.

With each new family, 10, 20 and 30 strong, buried under the rubble of a
building in Gaza, the claim that the Israeli forces have gone out of their
way to diminish civilian casualties - long a centre-piece of Israel's image
as an enlightened and moral democracy - is falling apart.

Anyone with an internet connection can Google "Gaza humanitarian
catastrophe" and find the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs in the Occupied Territories and read the thousands of pages of
evidence documenting the reality of the current fighting, and the long term
siege on Gaza that preceded it.

The Red Cross, normally scrupulous in its unwillingness to single out
parties to a conflict for criticism, sharply criticised Israel for
preventing medical personnel from reaching wounded Palestinians, some of
whom remained trapped for days, slowly starving and dying in the Gazan
rubble amidst their dead relatives.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has flatly denied Israeli claims that
Palestinian fighters were using the UNRWA school compound bombed on January
6, in which 40 civilians were killed, to launch attacks, and has challenged
Israel to prove otherwise.

War crimes admission

Additionally, numerous flippant remarks by senior Israeli politicians and
generals, including Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, refusing to make a
distinction between civilian people and institutions and fighters - "Hamas
doesn't ... and neither should we" is how Livni puts it - are rightly being
seen as admissions of war crimes.

Indeed, in reviewing statements by Israeli military planners leading up to
the invasion, it is clear that there was a well thought out decision to go
after Gaza's civilian infrastructure - and with it, civilians.

The following quote from an interview with Major-General Gadi Eisenkot that
appeared in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in October, is telling:

"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which
shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From
our perspective these [the villages] are military bases," he said.

"This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised."

Causing "immense damage and destruction" and considering entire villages
"military bases" is absolutely prohibited under international law.

Eisenkot's description of this planning in light of what is now unfolding
in Gaza is a clear admission of conspiracy and intent to commit war crimes,
and when taken with the comments above, and numerous others, renders any
argument by Israel that it has tried to protect civilians and is not
engaging in disproportionate force unbelievable.

International laws violated

On the ground, the evidence mounts ever higher that Israel is
systematically violating a host of international laws, including but not
limited to Article 56 of the IV Hague Convention of 1907, the First
Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention
(more specifically known as the "Geneva Convention relative to the
Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949", the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the
principles of Customary International Humanitarian Law.

None of this excuses or legitimises the firing of rockets or mortars by any
Palestinian group at Israeli civilians and non-military targets.

As Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur, declared in his most recent
statement on Gaza: "It should be pointed out unambiguously that there is no
legal (or moral) justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and
that such behavior is a violation of IHR, associated with the right to
life, as well as constitutes a war crime."

By the same logic, however, Israel does not have the right to use such
attacks as an excuse to launch an all-out assault on the entire population
of Gaza.

In this context, even Israel's suffering from the constant barrage of
rockets is hard to pay due attention to when the numbers of dead and
wounded on each side are counted. Any sense of proportion is impossible to
sustain with such a calculus.

'Rogue' state

Israeli commentators and scholars, self-described "loyal" Zionists who
served proudly in the army in wars past, are now publicly describing their
country, in the words of Oxford University professor Avi Shlaim, as a
"rogue" and gangster" state led by "completely unscrupulous leaders".

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University, has declared
that Israel's actions in Gaza are like "raising animals for slaughter on a
farm" and represent a "bizarre new moral element" in warfare.

"The moral voice of restraint has been left behind ... Everything is
permitted" against Palestinians, writes a disgusted Haaretz columnist,
Gideon Levy.

Fellow Haaretz columnist and daughter of Holocaust survivors, Amira Haas
writes of her late parents disgust at how Israeli leaders justified
Israel's wars with a "language laundromat" aimed at redefining reality and
Israel's moral compass. "Lucky my parents aren't alive to see this," she

Around the world people are beginning to compare Israel's attack on Gaza,
which after the 2005 withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers was turned
literally into the world's largest prison, to the Jewish uprising in the
Warsaw Ghetto.

Extremist Muslims are using internet forums to collect names and addresses
of prominent European Jews with the goal, it seems clear, of assassinating
them in retaliation for Israel's actions in Gaza.

Al-Qaeda is attempting to exploit this crisis to gain a foothold in Gaza
and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, as well as through
attacking Jewish communities globally.

Iran's defiance of both Israel and its main sponsor, the US, is winning it
increasing sympathy with each passing day.

Democratic values eroded

Inside Israel, the violence will continue to erode both democratic values
in the Jewish community, and any acceptance of the Jewish state's
legitimacy in the eyes of its Palestinian citizens.

And yet in the US - at least in Washington and in the offices of the
mainstream Jewish organisations - the chorus of support for Israel's war on
Gaza continues to sing in tight harmony with official Israeli policy,
seemingly deaf to the fact that they have become so out of tune with the
reality exploding around them.

At my university, UCI, where last summer Jewish and Muslim students
organised a trip together through the occupied territories and Israel so
they could see with their own eyes the realities there, old battle lines
are being redrawn.

The Anteaters for Israel, the college pro-Israel group at the University of
California, Irvine, sent out an urgent email to the community explaining
that, "Over the past week, increasing amounts of evidence lead us to
believe that Hamas is largely responsible for any alleged humanitarian
crisis in Gaza".

I have no idea who the "us" is that is referred to in the appeal, although
I am sure that the membership of that group is shrinking.

Indeed, one of the sad facts of this latest tragedy is that with each claim
publicly refuted by facts on the ground, more and more Americans, including
Jews, are refusing to trust the assertions of Israeli and American Jewish


Even worse, in the Arab/Muslim world, the horrific images pouring out of
Gaza daily are allowing preachers and politicians to deploy well-worn yet
still dangerous and inciteful stereotypes against Jews as they rally the
masses against Israel - and through it - their own governments.

What is most frightening is that the most important of Israel's so-called
friends, the US political establishment and the mainstream Jewish
leadership, seem clueless to the devastating trap that Israel has led
itself into - in good measure with their indulgence and even help.

It is one that threatens the country's existence far more than any Qassam
rockets, with their 0.4 per cent kill rate; even more than the disastrous
2006 invasion of southern Lebanon, which by weakening Israel's deterrence
capability in some measure made this war inevitable.

First, it is clear that Israel cannot destroy Hamas, it cannot stop the
rockets unless it agrees to a truce that will go far to meeting the primary
demand of Hamas - an end to the siege.

Merely by surviving (and it surely will survive) Hamas, like Hezbollah in
2006, will have won.

Israel is succeeding in doing little more than creating another generation
of Palestinians with hearts filled with rage and a need for revenge.

Second, Israel's main patron, the US, along with the conservative Arab
autocracies and monarchies that are its only allies left in the Muslim
world, are losing whatever crumbs of legitimacy they still had with their
young and angry populations.

The weaker the US and its axis becomes in the Middle East, the more
precarious becomes Israel's long-term security. Indeed, any chance that the
US could convince the Muslim world to pressure Iran to give up its quest
for nuclear weapons has been buried in Gaza.

Third, as Israel brutalises Palestinians, it brutalises its own people. You
cannot occupy another people and engage in violence against them at this
scale without doing even greater damage to your soul.

The high incidence of violent crimes committed by veterans returning from
combat duty in Iraq is but one example of how the violence of occupation
and war eat away at people's moral centre.

While in the US only a small fraction of the population participates in
war; in Israel, most able-bodied men end up participating.

The effects of the latest violence perpetrated against Palestinians upon
the collective Israeli soul is incalculable; the notion that it can survive
as an "ethnocracy" - favouring one ethnic group, Jews, yet by and large
democratic - is becoming a fiction.


Who will save Israel from herself?

    * Israelis are clearly incapable. Their addiction as a society to the
illusion of violence-as-power has reached the level of collective mental

      As Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman described it on January 10, "Israel
has created an image of itself of a madman that has lost it".

    * Not Palestinians, too many of whom have fallen prey to the same

    * Not the Middle East Quartet, the European Union, the United Nations,
or the Arab League, all of whom are utterly powerless to influence Israeli

    * Not the organised Jewish leadership in the US and Europe, who are
even more blind to what is happening than most Israelis, who at least allow
internal debate about the wisdom of their government's policies.

    * Not the growing progressive Jewish community, which will need years
to achieve enough social and political power to challenge the status quo.

    * And not senior American politicians and policy-makers who are either
unwilling to risk alienating American Jewish voters, or have been so
brainwashed by the constant barrage of propaganda put out by the "Israel
Lobby" that they are incapable of reaching an independent judgment about
the conflict.

During the US presidential race, Barack Obama was ridiculed for being a
messiah-like figure. The idea does not sound so funny now. It is hard to
imagine anyone less saving Israel, the Palestinians, and the world from
another four years of mindless violence.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle East history at the University of
California, Irvine, and is the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock,
Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and the soon to be
published An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

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