Who Will Save Israel From Itself?
by Mark LeVine
January 11, 2009
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 day.
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.__
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
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
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.__
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
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 exclaimed.
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
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 leaders. __
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
illness. __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 condition.
Not the Middle East Quartet, the European
Union, the United Nations, or the Arab League, all of whom are
utterly powerless to influence Israeli policy.
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 the soon to be published An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine