Helmut Ostermann - Israeli Terrorist
The Language of Death
Posted on Jan 12, 2009
|AP photo / Abdel Kareem Hana|
By Chris Hedges
The incursion into Gaza is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel. It is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use the lethal weapons of the modern battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population, is the final phase of the decades-long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinians. The assault on Gaza is about creating squalid, lawless and impoverished ghettos where life for Palestinians will be barely sustainable. It is about building ringed Palestinian enclaves where Israel will always have the ability to shut off movement, food, medicine and goods to perpetuate misery. The Israeli attack on Gaza is about building a hell on earth.
This attack is the final Israeli push to extinguish a Palestinian state and crush or expel the Palestinian people. The images of dead Palestinian children, lined up as if asleep on the floor of the main hospital in Gaza, are a metaphor for the future. Israel will, from now on, speak to the Palestinians in the language of death. And the language of death is all the Palestinians will be able to speak back. The slaughter—let’s stop pretending this is a war—is empowering an array of radical Islamists inside and outside of Gaza. It is ominously demolishing the shaky foundations of the corrupt secular Arab regimes on Israel’s borders, from Egypt to Jordan to Syria to Lebanon. It is about creating a new Middle East, one ruled by enraged Islamic radicals.
Hamas cannot lose this conflict. Militant movements feed off martyrs, and Israel is delivering the maimed and the dead by the truckload. Hamas fighters, armed with little more than light weapons, a few rockets and small mortars, are battling one of the most sophisticated military machines on the planet. And the determined resistance by these doomed fighters exposes, throughout the Arab world, the gutlessness of dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who refuses to open Egypt’s common border with Gaza despite the slaughter. Israel, when it bombed Lebanon two years ago, sought to destroy Hezbollah. By the time it withdrew it had swelled Hezbollah’s power base and handed it heroic status throughout the Arab world. Israel is now doing the same for Hamas.
The refusal by political leaders from Barack Obama to nearly every member of the U.S. Congress to speak out in the major media in defense of the rule of law and fundamental human rights exposes our cowardice and hypocrisy. Those who openly condemn the Israeli crimes, including Israelis such as Yuri Avnery, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, as well as American stalwarts Noam Chomsky, Dennis Kucinich, Norman Finkelstein and Richard Falk, are ignored or treated like lepers. They are denied a platform in the press. They are rendered nearly voiceless. Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories and a former professor of international law at Princeton, was refused entry into Israel in December, detained for 20 hours and deported. Never mind that nearly all these voices are Jewish.
I called Avnery at his home in Israel. He is Israel’s conscience. Avnery was born in Germany. He moved to Palestine as a young boy with his parents. He left school at the age of 14 and a year later joined the underground paramilitary group known as the Irgun. Four years afterward, disgusted with its use of violence, he walked away from the clandestine organization, which carried out armed attacks on British occupation authorities and Arabs. “You can’t talk to me about terrorism, I was a terrorist,” he says when confronted with his persistent calls for peace with the Palestinians. Avnery was a fighter in the Samson’s Foxes commando unit during the 1948 war. He wrote the elite unit’s anthem. He became, after the war, a force for left-wing politics in Israel and one of the country’s most prominent journalists, running the alternative HaOlam HaZeh magazine. He served in the Israeli Knesset. During the 1982 siege of Beirut he met, in open defiance of Israeli law, with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. He has joined Arab protesters in Israel the past few days and denounces what he calls Israel’s “instinct of using force” with the Palestinians and the “moral insanity” of the attack on Gaza. Avnery, now 85, was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in 1975 by an Israeli opponent, and in 2006 the right-wing activist Baruch Marzel called on the Israeli military to carry out a targeted assassination of Avnery.
“The state of Israel, like any other state,” Avnery said, “cannot tolerate having its citizens shelled, bombed or rocketed, but there has been no thought as to how to solve the problem through political means or to analyze where this phenomenon has come from, what has caused it. Israelis, as a whole, cannot put themselves in the shoes of others. We are too self-centered. We cannot stand in the shoes of Palestinians or Arabs to ask how we would react in the same situation. Sometimes, very rarely, it happens. Years ago when Ehud Barak was asked how he would behave if were a Palestinian, he said, ‘I would join a terrorist organization.’ If you do not understand Hamas, if you do not understand why Hamas does what it does, if you don’t understand Palestinians, you take recourse in brute force.”
The public debate about the Gaza attack engages in the absurd pretense that it is Israel, not the Palestinians, whose security and dignity are being threatened. This blind defense of Israeli brutality toward the Palestinians betrays the memory of those killed in other genocides, from the Holocaust to Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia. The lesson of the Holocaust is not that Jews are special. It is not that Jews are unique. It is not that Jews are eternal victims. The lesson of the Holocaust is that when you have the capacity to halt genocide, and you do not—no matter who carries out that genocide or who it is directed against—you are culpable. And we are very culpable. The F-16 jet fighters, the Apache attack helicopters, the 250-pound “smart” GBU-39 bombs are all part of the annual $2.4 billion in military aid the U.S. gives to Israel. Palestinians are being slaughtered with American-made weapons. They are being slaughtered by an Israeli military we lavishly bankroll. But perhaps our callous indifference to human suffering is to be expected. We, after all, kill women and children on an even vaster scale in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bloody hands of Israel mirror our own.
There will be more dead Palestinian children. There will be more cases like that of the U.N. school, used as a sanctuary by terrified families, that was blown to bits by Israeli shells, with more than 40 killed, half of them women and children. There will be more emaciated, orphaned children. There will be more screaming or comatose wounded in the corridors of Gaza’s glutted hospital corridors. And there will be more absurd news reports, like the one on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, titled “A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery.” In this story, unnamed Israeli intelligence officials gave us a spin on the war worthy of the White House fabrications made on the eve of the Iraq war. We learned about the perfidious and dirty tactics of Hamas fighters. Foreign journalists, barred from Gaza and unable to check the veracity of the Israeli version of the war, have abandoned their trade as reporters to become stenographers. The cynicism of conveying propaganda as truth, as long as it is well sourced, is the poison of American journalism. If this is all journalism has become, if moral outrage, the courage to defy the powerful, the commitment to tell the truth and to give a voice to those who without us would have no voice, no longer matters, our journalism schools should focus exclusively on shorthand. It seems to be the skill most ardently coveted by most senior editors and news producers.
There have always been powerful Israeli leaders, since the inception of the state in 1948, who have called for the total physical removal of the Palestinians. The ethnic cleansing of some 800,000 Palestinians by Jewish militias in 1948 was, for them, only the start. But there were also a few Israeli leaders, including the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who argued that Israel could not pick itself up and move to another geographical spot on the globe. Israel, Rabin believed, would have to make peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors to survive. Rabin’s vision of two states, however, appears to have died with him. The embrace of wholesale ethnic cleansing by the Israeli leadership and military now appears to be unquestioned.
“It seems,” the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe wrote recently, “that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as discrete events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system. ... Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology—in its most consensual and simplistic variety—has allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanize the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide]. …”
Gaza has descended into chaos. Hamas, which despite Israeli propaganda has never mustered the sustained resistance Hezbollah carried out during the Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon, will be ruled in the future by antagonistic bands of warlords, clans and mafias. Gaza will resemble Somalia. And out of that power vacuum will rise a new generation of angry jihadists, many of whom may spurn Hamas for more radical organizations. Al-Qaida, which has been working to gain a foothold in Gaza, may now have found its opening.
“Hamas will win the war, no matter what happens,” Avnery said. “They will be considered by hundreds of millions of Arabs heroes who have recovered the dignity and pride of Arab nations. If at the end of the war they are still standing in Gaza this will be a huge victory for them, to hold out against this huge Israeli army and firepower will be an incredible achievement. They will gain even more than Hezbollah did during the last war.”
Israel operates under the illusion that it can crush Hamas and install a quisling Palestinian government in Gaza and the West Bank. This puppet government will be led, Israel believes, by the discredited Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, now cowering in the West Bank after being driven out of Gaza. Abbas, like most of the corrupt Fatah leadership, is a detested figure. He is dismissed as the Marshal Pétain of the Palestinian people, or perhaps the Hamid Karzai or the Nouri al-Maliki. He is as loathed as he is powerless.
Israel’s destruction of Hamas and reoccupation of Gaza will not bring peace or security to Israel. It will merely obliterate the only internal organization with enough stature and authority in Gaza to maintain order. The Israeli assault, by destroying Hamas as a governing force, has opened a Pandora’s box of ills. Life will become a nightmare for most Palestinians and, in the years ahead, for most Israelis.
A conversation with Uri Avnery, senior statesman of Israel’s peace movement.
I meet Uri Avnery in his modest Tel Aviv apartment. He is dressed completely in black – a man of presence and intellect. He says he is almost 80 – exactly five years older than Arafat and Sharon who are the same age. He doesn’t need much prompting to let you know what he thinks. Avnery has seen them come and seen them go. He was here in the beginning – fought with the Irgun to create the state of Israel back in the 1940s. ‘You can’t tell me about terrorism, I was a terrorist.’ He has been a leading national journalist and a member of the Knesset. Today he is the senior statesman of the Israeli peace movement. He helped pull together the Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) and is its best-known spokesperson. Gush recently helped organize a huge demonstration (60,000 to 100,000 people) to oppose the occupation. He refers to himself these days as a post-Zionist. When it was hardly possible to admit the existence of Palestinians he was recommending a two-state solution. He was one of the first Israelis to meet with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization when it was illegal. He knows personally all of the major players of Israeli politics (and on the Palestinian side too) and is more than blunt in his opinions about them. The current Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, he refers to as a ‘completely worthless person’. The former Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, he dismisses as a crook: ‘I am not afraid of crooks. I am afraid of men like Sharon.’
He has more respect for Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, whom he refers to as ‘serious men’. The latter he feels is deeply amoral in the pursuit of his goals and has no interest in making any settlement at all with the Palestinians. On the contrary, Avnery believes that he wants war with them. He sees Sharon as the last leader of a movement for Jewish liberation, the élan of which is dying out. For Avnery the clash in the Middle East is not between two nation states but between two liberation movements, which accounts for both its intransigence and its brutality. ‘When you are in a war of liberation different sets of values apply than in a conflict between existing states.’ When I asked him if he was not bothered by the suicide bombings, he is again characteristically to the point. ‘No more than any other kind of violence. It is a product of the vast disparity of force between the two sides.’ Surprisingly Avnery is optimistic about the chances for peace: ‘A product of my age and my temperament.’ He sees the Israelis as basically having no choice but to make a deal with the Palestinians, even though he thinks 90 per cent of the population would like a country without any Arab population at all. But he also feels it will take a strong break with the past to accomplish it. He is fond of quoting Lloyd George’s famous phrase that ‘one cannot cross an abyss in two jumps’.
Avnery’s eyes dance as he sees me off with a joke about the settlers: ‘It’s like someone parachuting into the middle of a village and yelling “Help, I’m surrounded on all sides, send in the army!”’
Some time before that, a similar crime was committed in England. The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.
This is the description that would now appear in the history books – if the Germans had won the war.
Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as “hostages” and exploit the women and children as “human shields”, they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.
IN THIS WAR, as in any modern war, propaganda plays a major role. The disparity between the forces, between the Israeli army - with its airplanes, gunships, drones, warships, artillery and tanks - and the few thousand lightly armed Hamas fighters, is one to a thousand, perhaps one to a million. In the political arena the gap between them is even wider. But in the propaganda war, the gap is almost infinite.
Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli government (“The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets”) has been accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are a retaliation for the siege that starves the one and a half million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.
Only when the horrible scenes from Gaza started to appear on Western TV screens, did world public opinion gradually begin to change.
True, Western and Israeli TV channels showed only a tiny fraction of the dreadful events that appear 24 hours every day on Aljazeera’s Arabic channel, but one picture of a dead baby in the arms of its terrified father is more powerful than a thousand elegantly constructed sentences from the Israeli army spokesman. And that is what is decisive, in the end.
War – every war – is the realm of lies. Whether called propaganda or psychological warfare, everybody accepts that it is right to lie for one’s country. Anyone who speaks the truth runs the risk of being branded a traitor.
The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.
An example of this process surrounds the most shocking atrocity of this war so far: the shelling of the UN Fakhura school in Jabaliya refugee camp.
Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army “revealed” that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.
Later the official liar claimed that “our soldiers were shot at from inside the school”. Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees.
But the admission made hardly any difference anymore. By that time, the Israeli public was completely convinced that “they shot from inside the school”, and TV announcers stated this as a simple fact.
So it went with the other atrocities. Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas terrorist. Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a “symbol of Hamas rule”. Thus the Israeli army retained its purity as the “most moral army in the world”.
THE TRUTH is that the atrocities are a direct result of the war plan. This reflects the personality of Ehud Barak – a man whose way of thinking and actions are clear evidence of what is called “moral insanity”, a sociopathic disorder.
The real aim (apart from gaining seats in the coming elections) is to terminate the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In the imagination of the planners, Hamas is an invader which has gained control of a foreign country. The reality is, of course, entirely different.
The Hamas movement won the majority of the votes in the eminently democratic elections that took place in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. It won because the Palestinians had come to the conclusion that Fatah’s peaceful approach had gained precisely nothing from Israel - neither a freeze of the settlements, nor release of the prisoners, nor any significant steps toward ending the occupation and creating the Palestinian state. Hamas is deeply rooted in the population – not only as a resistance movement fighting the foreign occupier, like the Irgun and the Stern Group in the past – but also as a political and religious body that provides social, educational and medical services.
From the point of view of the population, the Hamas fighters are not a foreign body, but the sons of every family in the Strip and the other Palestinian regions. They do not “hide behind the population”, the population views them as their only defenders.
Therefore, the whole operation is based on erroneous assumptions. Turning life into living hell does not cause the population to rise up against Hamas, but on the contrary, it unites behind Hamas and reinforces its determination not to surrender. The population of Leningrad did not rise up against Stalin, any more than the Londoners rose up against Churchill.
He who gives the order for such a war with such methods in a densely populated area knows that it will cause dreadful slaughter of civilians. Apparently that did not touch him. Or he believed that “they will change their ways” and “it will sear their consciousness”, so that in future they will not dare to resist Israel.
A top priority for the planners was the need to minimize casualties among the soldiers, knowing that the mood of a large part of the pro-war public would change if reports of such casualties came in. That is what happened in Lebanon Wars I and II.
This consideration played an especially important role because the entire war is a part of the election campaign. Ehud Barak, who gained in the polls in the first days of the war, knew that his ratings would collapse if pictures of dead soldiers filled the TV screens.
Therefore, a new doctrine was applied: to avoid losses among our soldiers by the total destruction of everything in their path. The planners were not only ready to kill 80 Palestinians to save one Israeli soldier, as has happened, but also 800. The avoidance of casualties on our side is the overriding commandment, which is causing record numbers of civilian casualties on the other side.
That means the conscious choice of an especially cruel kind of warfare – and that has been its Achilles heel.
A person without imagination, like Barak (his election slogan: “Not a Nice Guy, but a Leader”) cannot imagine how decent people around the world react to actions like the killing of whole extended families, the destruction of houses over the heads of their inhabitants, the rows of boys and girls in white shrouds ready for burial, the reports about people bleeding to death over days because ambulances are not allowed to reach them, the killing of doctors and medics on their way to save lives, the killing of UN drivers bringing in food. The pictures of the hospitals, with the dead, the dying and the injured lying together on the floor for lack of space, have shocked the world. No argument has any force next to an image of a wounded little girl lying on the floor, twisting with pain and crying out: “Mama! Mama!”
The planners thought that they could stop the world from seeing these images by forcibly preventing press coverage. The Israeli journalists, to their shame, agreed to be satisfied with the reports and photos provided by the Army Spokesman, as if they were authentic news, while they themselves remained miles away from the events. Foreign journalists were not allowed in either, until they protested and were taken for quick tours in selected and supervised groups. But in a modern war, such a sterile manufactured view cannot completely exclude all others – the cameras are inside the strip, in the middle of the hell, and cannot be controlled. Aljazeera broadcasts the pictures around the clock and reaches every home.
THE BATTLE for the TV screen is one of the decisive battles of the war.
Hundreds of millions of Arabs from Mauritania to Iraq, more than a billion Muslims from Nigeria to Indonesia see the pictures and are horrified. This has a strong impact on the war. Many of the viewers see the rulers of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority as collaborators with Israel in carrying out these atrocities against their Palestinian brothers.
The security services of the Arab regimes are registering a dangerous ferment among the peoples. Hosny Mubarak, the most exposed Arab leader because of his closing of the Rafah crossing in the face of terrified refugees, started to pressure the decision-makers in Washington, who until that time had blocked all calls for a cease-fire. These began to understand the menace to vital American interests in the Arab world and suddenly changed their attitude – causing consternation among the complacent Israeli diplomats.
People with moral insanity cannot really understand the motives of normal people and must guess their reactions. “How many divisions has the Pope?” Stalin sneered. “How many divisions have people of conscience?” Ehud Barak may well be asking.
As it turns out, they do have some. Not numerous. Not very quick to react. Not very strong and organized. But at a certain moment, when the atrocities overflow and masses of protesters come together, that can decide a war.
THE FAILURE to grasp the nature of Hamas has caused a failure to grasp the predictable results. Not only is Israel unable to win the war, Hamas cannot lose it.
Even if the Israeli army were to succeed in killing every Hamas fighter to the last man, even then Hamas would win. The Hamas fighters would be seen as the paragons of the Arab nation, the heroes of the Palestinian people, models for emulation by every youngster in the Arab world. The West Bank would fall into the hands of Hamas like a ripe fruit, Fatah would drown in a sea of contempt, the Arab regimes would be threatened with collapse.
If the war ends with Hamas still standing, bloodied but unvanquished, in face of the mighty Israeli military machine, it will look like a fantastic victory, a victory of mind over matter.
What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet.
In the end, this war is a crime against ourselves too, a crime against the State of Israel.
|Molten Lead |
JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT, Aljazeera’s Arabic channel was reporting on events in Gaza. Suddenly the camera was pointing upwards towards the dark sky. The screen was pitch black. Nothing could be seen, but there was a sound to be heard: the noise of airplanes, a frightening, a terrifying droning.
It was impossible not to think about the tens of thousands of Gazan children who were hearing that sound at that moment, cringing with fright, paralyzed by fear, waiting for the bombs to fall.
“ISRAEL MUST defend itself against the rockets that are terrorizing our Southern towns,” the Israeli spokesmen explained. “Palestinians must respond to the killing of their fighters inside the Gaza Strip,” the Hamas spokesmen declared.
As a matter of fact, the cease-fire did not collapse, because there was no real cease-fire to start with. The main requirement for any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip must be the opening of the border crossings. There can be no life in Gaza without a steady flow of supplies. But the crossings were not opened, except for a few hours now and again. The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets. It paralyzes life in the Gaza Strip: eliminating most sources of employment, pushing hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation, stopping most hospitals from functioning, disrupting the supply of electricity and water.
Those who decided to close the crossings – under whatever pretext – knew that there is no real cease-fire under these conditions.
That is the main thing. Then there came the small provocations which were designed to get Hamas to react. After several months, in which hardly any Qassam rockets were launched, an army unit was sent into the Strip “in order to destroy a tunnel that came close to the border fence”. From a purely military point of view, it would have made more sense to lay an ambush on our side of the fence. But the aim was to find a pretext for the termination of the cease-fire, in a way that made it plausible to put the blame on the Palestinians. And indeed, after several such small actions, in which Hamas fighters were killed, Hamas retaliated with a massive launch of rockets, and – lo and behold – the cease-fire was at an end. Everybody blamed Hamas.
WHAT WAS THE AIM? Tzipi Livni announced it openly: to liquidate Hamas rule in Gaza. The Qassams served only as a pretext.
Liquidate Hamas rule? That sounds like a chapter out of “The March of Folly”. After all, it is no secret that it was the Israeli government which set up Hamas to start with. When I once asked a former Shin-Bet chief, Yaakov Peri, about it, he answered enigmatically: “We did not create it, but we did not hinder its creation.”
For years, the occupation authorities favored the Islamic movement in the occupied territories. All other political activities were rigorously suppressed, but their activities in the mosques were permitted. The calculation was simple and naive: at the time, the PLO was considered the main enemy, Yasser Arafat was the current Satan. The Islamic movement was preaching against the PLO and Arafat, and was therefore viewed as an ally.
With the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, the Islamic movement officially renamed itself Hamas (Arabic initials of “Islamic Resistance Movement”) and joined the fight. Even then, the Shin-Bet took no action against them for almost a year, while Fatah members were executed or imprisoned in large numbers. Only after a year, were Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his colleagues also arrested.
Since then the wheel has turned. Hamas has now become the current Satan, and the PLO is considered by many in Israel almost as a branch of the Zionist organization. The logical conclusion for an Israeli government seeking peace would have been to make wide-ranging concessions to the Fatah leadership: ending of the occupation, signing of a peace treaty, foundation of the State of Palestine, withdrawal to the 1967 borders, a reasonable solution of the refugee problem, release of all Palestinian prisoners. That would have arrested the rise of Hamas for sure.
But logic has little influence on politics. Nothing of this sort happened. On the contrary, after the murder of Arafat, Ariel Sharon declared that Mahmoud Abbas, who took his place, was a “plucked chicken”. Abbas was not allowed the slightest political achievement. The negotiations, under American auspices, became a joke. The most authentic Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, was sent to prison for life. Instead of a massive prisoner release, there were petty and insulting “gestures”.
Abbas was systematically humiliated, Fatah looked like an empty shell and Hamas won a resounding victory in the Palestinian election – the most democratic election ever held in the Arab world. Israel boycotted the elected government. In the ensuing internal struggle, Hamas assumed direct control over the Gaza Strip.
And now, after all this, the government of Israel decided to “liquidate Hamas rule in Gaza” – with blood, fire and columns of smoke.
THE OFFICIAL NAME of the war is “Cast Lead”, two words from a children’s song about a Hanukkah toy.
It would be more accurate to call it “the the Election War”.
In the past, too, military action has been taken during election campaigns. Menachem Begin bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor during the 1981 campaign. When Shimon Peres claimed that this was an election gimmick, Begin cried out at his next rally: “Jews, do you believe that I would send our brave boys to their death or, worse, to be taken prisoner by human animals, in order to win an election?” Begin won.
Peres is no Begin. When, during the 1996 election campaign, he ordered the invasion of Lebanon (operation “Grapes of Wrath”), everybody was convinced that he had done it for electoral gain. The war was a failure and Peres lost the elections and Binyamin Netanyahu came to power.
Barak and Tzipi Livni are now resorting to the same old trick. According to the polls, Barak’s predicted election result rose within 48 hours by five Knesset seats. About 80 dead Palestinians for each seat. But it is difficult to walk on a pile of dead bodies. The success may evaporate in a minute if the war comes to be considered by the Israeli public as a failure. For example, if the rockets continue to hit Beersheba, or if the ground attack leads to heavy Israeli casualties.
The timing was chosen meticulously from another angle too. The attack started two days after Christmas, when American and European leaders are on holiday until after New Year. The calculation: even if somebody wanted to try and stop the war, no one would give up his holiday. That ensured several days free from outside pressures.
Another reason for the timing: these are George Bush’s last days in the White House. This blood-soaked moron could be expected to support the war enthusiastically, as indeed he did. Barack Obama has not yet entered office and had a ready made pretext for keeping silent: “there is only one President”. The silence does not bode well for the term of president Obama.
THE MAIN LINE was: not to repeat the mistakes of Lebanon War II. This was endlessly repeated on all the news programs and talk shows.
This does not change the fact: the Gaza War is an almost exact replica of the second Lebanon war.
The strategic concept is the same: to terrorize the civilian population by unremitting attacks from the air, sowing death and destruction. This poses no danger to the pilots, since the Palestinians have no anti-aircraft weapons at all. The calculation: if the entire life-supporting infrastructure in the Strip is utterly destroyed and total anarchy ensues, the population will rise up and overthrow the Hamas regime. Mahmoud Abbas will then ride back into Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks.
In Lebanon, this calculation did not work out. The bombed population, including the Christians, rallied behind Hizbullah, and Hassan Nasrallah became the hero of the Arab world. Something similar will probably happen this time, too. Generals are experts on using weapons and moving troops, not on mass psychology.
Some time ago I wrote that the Gaza blockade was a scientific experiment designed to find out how much one can starve a population and turn its life into hell before they break. This experiment was conducted with the generous help of Europe and the US. Up to now, it did not succeed. Hamas became stronger and the range of the Qassams became longer. The present war is a continuation of the experiment by other means.
It may be that the army will “have no alternative” but to re-conquer the Gaza Strip because there is no other way to stop the Qassams – except coming to an agreement with Hamas, which is contrary to government policy. When the ground invasion starts, everything will depend on the motivation and capabilities of the Hamas fighters vis-à-vis the Israeli soldiers. Nobody can know what will happen.
DAY AFTER DAY, night after night, Aljazeera’s Arabic channel broadcasts the atrocious pictures: heaps of mutilated bodies, tearful relatives looking for their dear ones among the dozens of corpses spread out on the ground, a woman pulling her young daughter from under the rubble, doctors without medicines trying to save the lives of the wounded. (The English-language Aljazeera, unlike its Arab-language sister-station, has undergone an amazing about face, broadcasting only a sanitized picture and freely distributing Israeli government propaganda. It would be interesting to know what happened there.)
Millions are seeing these terrible images, picture after picture, day after day. These images are imprinted on their minds forever: horrible Israel, abominable Israel, inhuman Israel. A whole generation of haters. That is a terrible price, which we will be compelled to pay long after the other results of the war itself have been forgotten in Israel.
But there is another thing that is being imprinted on the minds of these millions: the picture of the miserable, corrupt, passive Arab regimes.
As seen by Arabs, one fact stands out above all others: the wall of shame.
For the million and a half Arabs in Gaza, who are suffering so terribly, the only opening to the world that is not dominated by Israel is the border with Egypt. Only from there can food arrive to sustain life and medicaments to save the injured. This border remains closed at the height of the horror. The Egyptian army has blocked the only way for food and medicines to enter, while surgeons operate on the wounded without anesthetics.
Throughout the Arab world, from end to end, there echoed the words of Hassan Nasrallah: The leaders of Egypt are accomplices to the crime, they are collaborating with the “Zionist enemy” in trying to break the Palestinian people. It can be assumed that he did not mean only Mubarak, but also all the other leaders, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian President. Seeing the demonstrations throughout the Arab world and listening to the slogans, one gets the impression that their leaders seem to many Arabs pathetic at best, and miserable collaborators at worst.
This will have historic consequences. A whole generation of Arab leaders, a generation imbued with the ideology of secular Arab nationalism, the successors of Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, Hafez al-Assad and Yasser Arafat, may be swept from the stage. In the Arab space, the only viable alternative is the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism.
This war is a writing on the wall: Israel is missing the historic chance of making peace with secular Arab nationalism. Tomorrow, It may be faced with a uniformly fundamentalist Arab world, Hamas multiplied by a thousand.
MY TAXI DRIVER in Tel-Aviv the other day was thinking aloud: Why not call up the sons of the ministers and members of the Knesset, form them into a combat unit and send them off to head the coming ground attack on Gaza?
Uri Avnery (Hebrew: ???? ??????, also transliterated Uri Avneri, born September 10, 1923 in Beckum, Germany as Helmut Ostermann), is a German-born Israeli journalist, left-wing peace activist, and former Knesset member, who was originally a member of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist movement.
Avnery made aliyah (emigrated to the region that would become the State of Israel) in 1933. He abandoned school after the 7th grade (age 14) in order to work and help his parents starting out as a clerk for a lawyer, a job he held for 5-6 years.
He also joined the Revisionist Zionist paramilitary group, the Irgun, at age 15 and was writing for an inside journal. He started writing for outside papers at the age of 17 and left the Irgun at the age of 19 after becoming disenchanted with their tactics, stating in a 2003 interview that "I didn't like the methods of terror applied by the Irgun at the time", noting he did not back killing people in retaliation for similar acts by the Arabs.
Uri Avnery at a Hadash rally against the 2006 Lebanon War.
In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War Avnery was a fighter in the Samson's Foxes commando unit (and also wrote its anthem). Afterwards, he wrote a book about the war, called In the Fields of Philistia (Hebrew: ????? ?????, Bi-Sdot Pleshet).
During the 1950s and the 1960s Avnery was, with Shalom Cohen, co-publisher and editor of the HaOlam HaZeh weekly magazine, an anti-establishment tabloid known for many sensational scoops and for featuring nudes on its back cover. The formula seemed to work, as for many years it was Israel's leading alternative-media publication.
In 1965 Avnery created a political party bearing the name of his and Cohen's magazine, HaOlam HaZeh – Koah Hadash, and was elected to the Knesset in the 1965 election. Although he retained his seat in the 1969 election, the party disintegrated and Avnery founded a new party, Meri, though it failed to win any seats in the 1973 elections. He returned to the Knesset as a member of the Left Camp of Israel after the 1977 election, but did not retain his seat in the 1981 election. He was later involved in the Progressive List for Peace.
Yasser Arafat and Uri Avnery.
Avnery famously met Yasser Arafat on July 3, 1982, during the Siege of Beirut — said to have been the first time an Israeli met personally with Arafat.
He later turned to left-wing activism and founded the Gush Shalom (Hebrew: ??? ?????, Peace Bloc) movement in 1993, which he continues to lead as of 2007. He is a devout secularist and strongly opposed to the Orthodox influence in religious and political life.
In 1975, Avnery was seriously injured in a knife attack; the attempted assassin was later officially declared insane. In 2006, settler activist Baruch Marzel called on the Israeli military to carry out "a targeted killing" against Avnery whilst being interviewed on Channel 10.
"You can’t talk to me about terrorism, I was a terrorist."
* Avnery is a contributor to the news and opinion sites CounterPunch, Information Clearing House, LewRockwell.com and The Exception Magazine.
* In 2002, a documentary directed by Yair Lev was made about Avnery's life entitled Uri Avnery: Warrior for Peace.
* Avnery, Uri (1968): Israel Without Zionists: A Plea for Peace in the Middle East, MacMillan Co., New York, Hardbound (1st Edition in 1968; many reprints)
* Avnery, Uri (1986): My Friend, the Enemy, Zed Books; Paperback. 1986 ISBN 0862322154 Paperback; Lawrence Hill & Co, 1987 ISBN 0882082132 Hard cover; Lawrence Hill Books (1987) ISBN 0882082124
* Avnery, Uri (2008): 1948: A Soldier's Tale - The Bloody Road to Jerusalem, Oneworld Publications; Paperback. 2008 ISBN 978-1-85168-629-2 (English edition of two books originally published in Hebrew in 1949 and '50)