Archive for the ‘THE IRON WALL’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: IS ISRAEL A NORMAL COUNTRY?   Leave a comment

 

IS ISRAEL A NORMAL COUNTRY?

Critique of an article with the same title in Toronto’s Globe and Mail by Ian Buruma

 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/is-israel-a-normal-country/article1635159/

John Chuckman

This article starts with a brave question, and I think for most people the answer is apparent with the asking of the question.

But like the famous line of T.S. Elliot, the piece ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.

After asking a question which would never pass the lips of Israel’s establishment, the article makes the very claims and assertions the Israeli government would make.

“Israel has never done anything comparable to the late Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad’s 1982 massacre of more than 20,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama.”

While I’m the last to defend dictators, this is a completely unsubstantiated claim of what happened in Syria. Perhaps worse, the assertion about Israel is just false. Israel’s first invasion of Lebanon was just about that bloody.

And what of the achievements of the Six Day War, a war deliberately calculated by Israel’s establishment to win the land of the self-defined Greater Israel – all the Palestinian territories plus slices of Syria and Lebanon – it had failed to grab at its founding?

Israel went so far as to attack ruthlessly an American intelligence ship to suppress information of General Dayan’s movements of armor, the general’s purpose being the quick seizure of all the lands Israel desired and then presenting the world with a fait accompli.

And how do you reckon the toll of misery of decade after decade of hundreds of thousands of refugees plus the forty-plus years of truly abusive occupation?

I could continue, for unquestionably the invasion of Iraq was about and for Israel’s benefit. That’s million people killed and a couple of million refugees, refugees taken, in large part, by poor Syria.

“So is it true, as many defenders of Israel claim, that the Jewish state is judged by different standards from other countries? I believe it is.”

 

This completely ignores the fact of Israel’s establishment constantly claiming that is the only democracy and representative of human rights in its part of the world.

If you claim one standard but behave by another – truly indistinguishable from the region’s dictators – I do think the world is entitled to comment. Israel holds ten thousand illegal prisoners, imposes a ghastly blockade for over three years, imposes countless checkpoints on people’s ordinary lives in the West Bank, regularly assassinates those with whom it disagrees, and uses every underhanded technical gimmick it can think of to keep stealing other people’s land.

Indeed, it could be well argued that the kind of Israel we see has effectively retarded the development of democracy in the Arab world. Israel’s cooperative friend Mubarak, a dictator of thirty years, is supported by everything the United States can think of, suppressing all genuine democratic movements. For a long time, it was the same with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Opposing Israel’s excesses has provided a rallying cry for every dictator in the region. At the same time, the United States and Israel would prefer these populations suppressed by dictators who in private mind their own business or are even rather cooperative, a la Mubarak.

“That all Jews, including Israeli Jews, should remain haunted by a horrible past is understandable. But it must never be used to justify aggression against others.”

But that is precisely what Israel’s establishment and its army of apologists abroad do, day and night. It is, if you will, a ghastly form of special pleading.

“There are other reasons, however, for the double standard directed at Israel. One is what the liberal Israeli philosopher and peace activist Avishai Margalit has called “moral racism.” The bloodlust of an African or Asian people is not taken as seriously that of a European – or other white – people.”

 

But isn’t that exactly what happens inside Israel? Day in and out in countless ways, Sephardic Jews are not treated with the same respect and regard as Ashkenazi Jews. And the poor small lot of dark-skinned African Jews are treated with palpable contempt. The world should have higher standards than Israel itself in these matters?

“…the legacy of colonialism works against Israel in another way, too.”

 

Oh please, this is tiresome old idea to trot out. Besides, in the eyes of most Arabs, Israel is itself an example of colonialism. Here is a tiny enclave – truly a garrison state – living in the midst of many tens of millions of people for whose cultures and aspirations it has absolutely no understanding or sympathy. You could draw a parallel to Israel’s position today with that of European Crusaders who built massive forts in the Middle East at places like Acre.

In the end, if Israel expects to be treated as a normal country, it must behave like one.

Surely, most people, including likely most Jews, know Israel has yet to behave as anything resembling a normal country.

__________________________

Note: Response to the comment of a reader

“Islam is the problem behind virtually all the problems that Israel faces.”

What a preposterous statement.

Does the author realize that there are more than a billion Muslims in the world?

How can any thinking person speak this way, condemning with one glib sentence about a fifth of the world’s population?

There is no history, also, of Muslims being especially hostile to Jews. Indeed, Islam adopted many of Judaism’s prophets and customs as its own.

Further still, until the creation of modern Israel, most Muslims in the Middle East treated Jews decently.

Israel, since its inception, has practiced a behavior towards its neighbors summed up by the Zionist slogan, “the iron wall.”

“The iron wall” means ignoring neighbors as legitimate residents of the region, treating neighbors with contempt and violence – in effect, a very hostile form of shunning.

Who can defend such treatment instead of living in peace and respect?

Yes, there were always bound to be some hostilities – after all, Israel proper is on land taken from people who lived there for countless generations – but I think a different approach would have achieved different results.

Israel could easily have made it worth the Palestinians’ while with assistance and compensation instead of spending vast sums on armaments in a mini-Cold War.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: DELUSIONAL EXPECTATIONS OF ISRAEL   Leave a comment

DELUSIONAL EXPECTATIONS

John Chuckman

At this writing, Israel has killed six hundred civilians in Lebanon, including more than one hundred children, and killed another one hundred and fifty in Gaza. It has created hundreds of thousands of refugees and destroyed enough bridges and power stations and apartments to create misery for years to come.

Nothing is more dishonest than attempting to justify this barbarism with “Islamist fundamentalists declare their goal openly to destroy the state of Israel and kill Jews.”

There is no possibility that Israel can be destroyed by Islamic fundamentalists: the notion is simply a fantasy. This is so not just because of Israel’s ready willingness to bomb and kill, but because of great-power guarantees. It is so also because no Arab state believes any longer that Israel’s destruction is a sensible or possible goal, despite their leaders’ public rhetoric. And it is true because the enemies Israel claims are so threatening, organizations such as Hezbollah or Hamas, are militarily weak by any rational standard of calculation.

Israel began by moving into a bad neighborhood, and everyone involved understood this from the beginning, yet Israel behaves as though it should be normal to enjoy a pristine Disney-like suburb with white-picket fences. It reacts to activities in the bad neighborhood that disturb its fantasy with ferocious indignation. Israel’s destructive behavior is explained largely by this delusional expectation.

If Israel had spent half the resources it has spent on war over the last fifty years instead on helping its neighbors and building up their economies, the region would be a far better place today. And if Israel had been willing to make reasonable concessions to the needs of others in the region, there might well be lasting peace today.

The irony of Israel’s current destructive behavior is that a healthy, prosperous Lebanon is in Israel’s long-term interest, just as it is in Israel’s interest to have all of its neighbors prosperous and flourishing.

But, instead, Israel’s response to any provocation from any gang or individual is always war and maintaining “the iron wall” – an early Zionist phrase that has provided the foundation of Israeli policy for over half a century – against all outsiders with disregard for their interests or needs.

Deception is an important tool in any war, and Israel’s extensive use of it shows us how it regards neighbors and others it should have cultivated as friends. Look at the bombing of a UN observation post in Lebanon, killing four unarmed UN workers. Israel says it was an accident, but the post had been there for years, and it was well marked. Moreover, the UN workers were killed in a bunker, meaning that a certain kind of munition had to be used to kill them. According to a BBC report, the UN peacekeepers had contacted Israeli forces ten times about artillery shelling in the hours before they were hit by a precision-guided missile. How possibly can this have been an accident?

Could the failed international conference in Rome where proposals for an immediate cease-fire and an international force in Southern Lebanon were advocated have provided Israel’s motive? The cease-fire proposal was quickly killed by the United States to give Israel more bombing time. Was the proposal for an international force the target of Israel’s attack? Who would commit observers or troops if this is what would happen to them? We know Israel does not want outside interference in Lebanon. More broadly, Israel has shown intense hostility towards the UN for years, perhaps one of its closest bonds with Bush’s mob.

There is some evidence that the Israeli soldiers kidnapped at the beginning of the current bombardment were actually kidnapped inside Lebanon on a provocative mission. I have no idea whether this true, but it is far from improbable. The kidnapping has certainly provided an excuse for bombing the hell out of southern Lebanon.

Israel’s many past deceptions naturally enough leave one uncomfortable about any of its official statements on any important matter. First was the covert creation of a nuclear arsenal, a fact not acknowledged to this day. Then there was Israel’s secret assistance to apartheid South Africa, including still-unacknowledged assistance in creating and testing a nuclear weapon. There was Israel’s manipulation of events leading to the Six Day War, a war Israel knew it could handily win for great gains (see my March, 2003, article, Was Einstein Right? ). There was Israel’s attempt to sink the U.S.S. Liberty, an American spy ship, during the Six Day War, an event never meaningfully explained but likely intended to prevent evidence of atrocities against captured Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai being recorded. A large group of Israeli spies was arrested after 9/11, but their extensive activities in the United States leading up to that event have never been explained. Only a few weeks ago, before its attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, Israel mounted an effort claiming the munition which wiped out a Palestinian family on a Gaza beach belonged to someone else, when in fact a collected scrap of casing clearly showed its American origin, a type of munition not made available to anyone else in the region.

All gangs and individuals who rudely remind Israel that it really does live in a bad neighborhood are simply flattened, but flattening the perpetrators is never enough. Always Israel takes the lives of innocents and destroys their property, believing that such ruthlessness eventually will intimidate everyone around into a zombie-like peace, but this is simply another delusion.

The logic of Israel’s behavior taken to its limit would have a two- or three-hundred mile perimeter around Israel’s border (whatever that is) bulldozed and paved over. This would certainly provide complete security, but it is utter fantasy, just as impossible as the destruction of Israel.

What is the solution in the Middle East? It is found in so simple an act as Israel’s dealing fairly with its neighbors and negotiating to sort things out. Israel has never yet done this. It presents only an iron wall, bristling with weapons. When breakthroughs do come, as with the Oslo Accords, Israel’s establishment quietly ignores them or works actively against them while still talking about peace.

Israel has all the advantages. It has advanced weapons. It has great-power guarantees. It has billions of dollars in assistance every year. It has unmatched access to American intelligence and government. By comparison, Hamas and Hezbollah are pretty anemic forces.

Organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas owe their very existence to Israel’s past behavior. Hezbollah flourished as a guerrilla force opposing Israel’s previous invasion of Lebanon and its long-term partial occupation. It served also as an important charity in the midst of chaos. Hamas was created with the deliberate help of Israeli intelligence, intending to create a rival for the PLO and introduce instability into Palestinian politics. When Hamas was elected recently as part of the government of Palestine, it was only after innumerable excuses from Israel for not meeting with Abbas and after imprisoning and threatening Arafat for several years before his death. How are Palestinians to deal with an Israel that always has an excuse for not negotiating, for not even speaking, to its government? Israel has now kidnapped the cabinet of an elected government, but this is quietly supported by Bush’s democracy-loving mob.

Israel wants us to accept the simplistic assertion that organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas are proof of Islamist determination to destroy Israel. So long as this is the accepted view, greatly over-simplifying a truly complex situation, there can be no understanding and no sensible approach to peace. Refusing even to talk with the democratically-elected Hamas government and cutting it off from all connections and revenues was an act of war in response to party slogans. You can’t build peace on fantasy.

I said Israel could not be destroyed by anyone, but there is an important exception to that statement: Israel could well be destroyed by itself.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: WAS EINSTEIN RIGHT?   1 comment

WAS EINSTEIN RIGHT?

John Chuckman

“My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.” Albert Einstein

Einstein is one of my favorite twentieth-century characters. He was remarkable, and I don’t mean only for his profound contributions to our understanding of the physical world. He was someone who drove authoritarians like J. Edgar Hoover mad. He was one of those rare souls, like George Orwell, who despite mistakes and flaws, consciously worked to direct his actions, and redirect them after missteps, by principles of decency, humanity, and rational thought. He never subscribed to menacing slogans like “My country, right or wrong” or “You’re either with us or against us.” Quite the opposite, he knew any country was capable of being wrong at times and did not deserve blind allegiance when it was.

Einstein’s was one of the most important names lent to the cause of Zionism. His name and visits and letters raised a great deal of money towards establishing universities and resettling European Jews suffering under violent anti-Semitism long before the founding of Israel.

But even in a cause so dear to his heart, Einstein never stopped thinking for himself. He not only opposed the establishment of a formal Israeli state – he was after all a great internationalist – but he always advocated treating the Arabic people of Palestine with generosity and understanding.

Clearly Einstein’s Zionist path was not the one followed. The actual path chosen by Israel has been pretty much that of “the iron wall,” a phrase put forward by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1920s as the appropriate posture for Zionists to adopt towards Arabs in Palestine.

Charles de Gaulle, up until the Six Day War, demonstrated great understanding and support for Israel. This thoughtful and highly individualistic statesman felt an instinctive sympathy for the struggle of the Jews, but the Six Day War caused him to alter France’s policies towards the Jewish state.

The Six Day War was a much darker and more complex affair than it is portrayed in official Israeli myths. The war was not simply an attack by a gang of Arab states against Israel – a description which suggests not just Goliath, but the entire tribe of Philistines, attacking little David with his slingshot. While this is an appealing image, naturally arousing great sympathy in American Puritans raised on the Old Testament, it is not an accurate one. A fine Jewish scholar like Avi Shlaim, a specialist in the first half century of Israeli policy, recognizing that not all important documents bearing on the matter have been released, agrees there are doubts and ambiguities here rather than light and darkness.

Before the Six Day War, David Ben Gurion made it clear to de Gaulle and other western leaders that Israel wanted more land to absorb migrants. Before the war, Israel also high-handedly diverted water from the Jordan river, a hostile act in a water-short region and the kind of thing that caused more than one “range war” in America’s Southwest.

A very tense situation arose with a surge in Soviet armaments to Arab states, although any knowledgeable observer understood that Israel continued to hold the upper hand in any potential conflict. A major diplomatic mission was undertaken by Abba Eban to gather support for Israel’s intended violent response to Egypt’s blockade of the Straits of Tiran. Just as we now have Bush’s obdurate, hasty demand for war with Iraq, Eban made it clear that Israel had no stomach for diplomacy to end the blockade. The blockade meant war.

De Gaulle made a remarkably prescient observation to the Israeli government: “If Israel is attacked, we shall not let her be destroyed, but if you attack, we shall condemn your initiative. Of course, I have no doubt that you will have military successes in the event of war, but afterwards, you would find yourself committed on the terrain, and from the international point of view, in increasing difficulties, especially as war in the East cannot fail to increase a deplorable tension in the world, so that it will be you, having become the conquerors, who will gradually be blamed for the inconveniences.”

De Gaulle also understood that Israel’s behavior was nourishing nationalistic aspirations on the part of the Palestinians, a development Israel either greatly underestimated or chose to ignore, perhaps reflecting the arrogance of those supported by great power towards those without power. De Gaulle’s advice was, of course, ignored. Israel managed easily to overwhelm the Arab states, as its leaders had known it would, and it has occupied a good portion of the territories seized ever since. It has ignored many quiet diplomatic voices on this matter. It has stood in contempt of UN resolutions for years. It has suffered innumerable guerilla attacks and launched innumerable reprisals, even starting a bloody war in Lebanon complete with atrocities. Israel finally came to toy with the notion of a Palestinian state but never made the genuine effort or concessions necessary to see this become a reality. It has, in short, fulfilled de Gaulle’s warning of trouble more than thirty years ago.

The 9/11 attack on America, coming under the administration of perhaps the most aimless, blundering, and least informed president in American history, was a godsend for Israel’s belligerent policy. The people Israel has occupied and mistreated for a third of a century are regarded by this American president as something akin to al Qaeda. We have even had trial balloons released by Republican figures like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Armey concerning Israel’s right to hold the land and drive out its people, although it is possible these represent pre-assault softening-up by Washington to make Palestinians grateful for a second pathetic offer of statehood now in the works, pathetic because it is impossible to imagine anything else being blessed by both Bush and Sharon.

Perhaps most revealing of the moral state to which Israel has been reduced since the Six Day War were preparations for Mr. Bush’s war on Iraq. All Israeli citizens were issued gas masks. A debate and legal moves centered around whether foreign workers, of which there are large numbers, should also receive gas masks. If they wanted gas masks, they must rent or buy them, and the masks available for rental were those considered as expired and unsuitable for Israelis. In families of mixed marriages, apparently spouses who remain unregistered under Israel’s now more restrictive registration requirements, do not receive gas masks. Most Palestinians under Israeli occupation are not issued gas masks, it being considered the responsibility of the broken Palestinian Authority, almost without resources, to look after this.

There is something especially repugnant in establishing a hierarchy of people whose safety should be the responsibility of the state, and the various adjustments made to this hierarchy in the face of criticism hardly reflect humane policies.

In recent months, not a week passes in which Israel’s army does not kill fifteen or twenty Palestinians. Often, this many are killed in a day or two. These killings are generally reported as the deaths of “militants,” although we have no way of determining the legitimacy of that term. We do know that quite a number of people who cannot possibly be characterized as militants, including women and children and peaceful foreign observers, have been killed by Israeli soldiers. Of course, even those who might justifiably be called militants are in their view only putting up a pathetic defense of their homes against Merkava tanks and Apache helicopters.

The assassination of suspected terrorists is now an accepted, ordinary event in Palestine, and Mr. Bush has granted Israel the right to extend this violence to America territory. Mr. Sharon’s secret services have conducted scores of assassinations. Perhaps assassination is the wrong word since it is generally used to describe the killing of a high-level political opponent. Mr. Sharon’s bloody work is precisely that of a police force murdering, instead of arresting, criminal suspects by the score.

At this writing, as America bombs and burns its way through Iraq, Israel has again rolled out its bulldozers and tanks into Gaza – killing, wrecking, and making many improper arrests. Most horrifying is what Israel is doing to Bedouin farmers in the Negev desert. Israel has used crop dusters spraying poisonous chemicals to destroy the Bedouin crops. The charge is that they are illegal squatters – a remarkable accusation coming from those who still hold lands seized in 1967 and regularly build new settlements on them for brand-new, heavily-armed immigrants.

Defenders of Israel’s excesses in the United States have been driven to advocate policies as chilling as creating a legal framework for torturing terrorist suspects in the United States and Israel’s undertaking the cold-blooded reprisal killing of the families of desperate suicide bombers. These are powerful measures of the corrupting long-term effects of the Six Day War and Israel’s determination to retain control over much or all of the seized land.

Regrettably, Einstein appears to have been right about what Israel had the potential for becoming. No person of principle can support Israel’s present policies, and I believe there is little doubt that would include Einstein had he lived. Perhaps it is just as well he did not.