Monday, January 26, 2009

Israel's lies

One of the most heroic figures in Judaism today is Henry Siegman, director of the US Middle East Project in New York, and a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America. Siegman has courageously put the Jewish tradition of ethics and justice ahead of the kind of barbaric tribalism that has characterized much of Israeli society and behavior over the past several decades. In the London Review of Books, Siegman tackles the lies that Israel has told about the reasons for its assault on Gaza, lies which have been swallowed whole by much of the American news media. Please read the entire article, but here are some extracts:

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division. In an interview in Ha’aretz on 22 December, he accused Israel’s government of having made a ‘central error’ during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing ‘to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . . When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,’ General Zakai said, ‘it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire . . . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.’

Siegman also tackles the real motivations behind Israel's "withdrawal" from Gaza:

The greater lie is that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Ha’aretz in August 2004:

What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns . . . The significance [of the agreement with the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush’s] authority and permission . . . and the ratification of both houses of Congress.

Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians don’t read the Israeli papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they couldn’t figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to?

As for Israel's attitude towards Hamas:

Why then are Israel’s leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian ‘state’ made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israel’s military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but they are entirely right about Hamas.

And Siegman has some advice for Obama and U.S. Mideast policy:

If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas – one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Obama has, of course, now picked a Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, who is no fool when it comes to understanding the region. Let us hope that the new administration does not let Israel play it for a sucker, as it has done with so many American presidents in the past.

PS--Contrast this analysis with that of Thomas Friedman in yesterday's New York Times, which, amazingly for someone whose reputation was made on his Middle East expertise, gets the primary issues completely wrong. Here is the crux of what Friedman had to say:

We’re getting perilously close to closing the window on a two-state solution, because the two chief window-closers — Hamas in Gaza and the fanatical Jewish settlers in the West Bank — have been in the driver’s seats. Hamas is busy making a two-state solution inconceivable, while the settlers have steadily worked to make it impossible.

Now go back and read Siegman's analysis of where Hamas really stands, despite its fanciful rhetoric about destroying Israel, which the Israelis and their supporters love to pretend to take seriously because it suits their interests. But even worse is Friedman's unbelievably naive comment on the settler movement, which implies that around 200,000 people have somehow been holding Israeli policy towards the Palestinians hostage. Those poor Israelis, they would love to make peace with the Palestinians but the settlers won't let them! Quite the contrary: The settlers are now, and always have been, the front group for Israeli determination to hold onto the West Bank. Until and unless the Obama administration understands that and brings Israel to heel, there will indeed be no resolution and no peace. I don't care how they do it--behind the scenes if they like, while holding Israel's hand in public--as long as they do it.

Another Jew says Israel's behavior was shameful. That would be Roger Cohen, no raving radical he, writing in the New York Review of Books. One key graf:

Israel has the right to hit back at Hamas when attacked—but not to blow Gaza to pieces, or deprive people of food, water, and medicine. In at least one appalling incident at Zeitoun, on the east of Gaza City, where children were found next to their mothers' days-old corpses, the International Red Cross has accused Israel of an "unacceptable" failure "to meet its obligation under international law to care for and evacuate the wounded." Israel denies targeting civilians, accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields, and says it works in "close cooperation" with international aid organizations. But at some point—and I would say a couple of hundred dead children in Gaza are already well past that point—such denials become pointless: the facts speak for themselves. No invocation of collateral damage or legitimate defense can excuse such wanton killing. As Avi Shlaim, a professor of international relations and former soldier in the Israeli army, has observed, the Gaza offensive "seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash."

Update on Israel's bracing for war crimes charges. From Jonathan Cook, a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel.

With Gaza, Journalists Fail Again. Former New York Times correspondant Chris Hedges takes the press to task on Truthdig for uncritically reporting Israeli lies.

A remarkable segment on Israel and Palestine on CBS's "60 Minutes."
In which the settlers explain why they are in the West Bank, and the Israeli military's abuse of Palestinians is documented:

Watch CBS Videos Online

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