A Time for Self-Criticism

An Immoral Occupation's Corrosive Effects

by David Newman

The Jerusalem Post (conservative, English-language), April 10, 2002

World Press Review, June 2002


Reading the usually critical Israeli newspapers and listening to television and radio broadcasts during the past l() days was a bit like listening to a watered-down version of George Orwell'.s newspeak-a government sponsored version of events which paints everything in simple black and white.

Everything we (Israel) do is justified and right, everything the Palestinians do or say is wrong and biased, and everything that the international community says-including our best friend in the White House-that goes beyond condemnation of terrorism and suicide bombings is out of place.

If President George W. Bush condemns Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and terrorism, that is fine. But if he also reminds us that we must withdraw from the territories and accept the fact that the internationally accepted solution to the conflict is the establishment of a Palestinian state, that is intervention in our sovereign affairs.

Continue to give us aid without which our economy would falter even further, but don't tell us how to handle our affairs-even if this conflicts with your relations with just about every other country in the world.

And if Europe is critical of our policies, well, that is just another example of deeply rooted anti-Semitism. Israel's anti-European xenophobia was clear for all to see in former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's bitter attack on [Europeans] earlier this week, coming as it did (so conveniently) during the week in which we commemorate the Holocaust. What better occasion to remind ourselves, and the world, that Jewish life is no longer cheap? Our exploitation of the Holocaust to justify every military action is starting to backfire, as the world begins to use the same metaphors to accuse us of inhuman behavior toward innocent Palestinian civilians.

The fact that what is happening in the occupied territories is in no way comparable to what happened during the Holocaust is becoming irrelevant in terms of international opinion. A country which continually uses, and all too often manipulates, Holocaust imagery to justify its policies of self-defense and "never again" cannot complain when the rest of the world uses those same standards to make judgments concerning its own policies.

We used to play a game of make-believe and convince ourselves that our occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was a "benign occupation" and that our army was only a "defense force," taking offensive and punitive action where necessary, but never acting against civilian populations.

There is no such thing as a "benign" occupation, and the purpose of armies is to fight wars, during which- unfortunately-civilians are injured and killed.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can try to convince the world that the reason we have to remain in the West Bank is that we are taking care not to harm civilians, and therefore the military campaign will continue longer than the Americans or Europeans want it to.

A war is a war is a war, and there is no clean way of fighting wars. Many innocent people suffer in wars, and we shouldn't make ourselves look foolish by trying to convince the world that our war is different-whether or not the initial cause, namely the eradication of terrorist cells, was justified.

And we only harm our image even further by banning the international press from entering the West Bank.

Firing tear-gas grenades at pro-peace demonstrators, or at journalists who desire nothing more than to report on the Zinni-Arafat meeting, is truly reminiscent of Third World dictatorships. In Israel, one of the most advanced communication societies in the world, policy-makers must surely be aware that there are no borders which can prevent the dissemination of such information or images, and that any country which attempts to create such borders immediately paints itself in a negative light as it obviously has something to hide.

We can scream as loudly as we want that reports concerning army brutality to civilians, the cutting off of water and food supplies, not allowing the local population to bury their dead (even those who have simply died of natural causes), and stealing from houses are all untrue.

But, through our own misguided policies, we have cut off any means which will enable an alternative story to emerge. And the sad truth is that the reports are so many-only the Israeli press chooses to avoid them or even investigate their authenticity-that it is hard to believe that some of them are not true.

In times of crisis, such as that facing us right now, it is more important than ever before to be self-critical. That the other side is not critical of its own society is no reason for us to try to impose a single uncritical explanation for our actions. Indeed, doing so brings us down to their level, and this is not what we want.

We are becoming the pariah of the world community, just as South Africa was during the apartheid era. And if we simplistically attribute it to good old-fashioned anti-Semitism, we are missing the point.

Neither [U.S. President George W.] Bush nor [British] Prime Minister Tony Blair can be accused of being anti-Semitic. Neither of them opposes our attempt to prevent further terrorism. But they do oppose our continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and they do favor the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. No amount of newspeak or closure of the territories can change these basic facts, and any attempt to argue otherwise only blackens our image throughout the world. D

David Newman is chairman of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics. He is a veteran Israeli peace activist.

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