How we became a night unto the nations (Israelis crying for the imaginary dream that never was true)

The first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, is the one who said Israel should be a light unto the nations. The great powers, who didn’t lift a finger to destroy the death camps during World War II, were not only sympathetic to Israel’s establishment, but admired its valor in repulsing the Arab states’ onslaught.

Renowned foreign journalists came here and wrote glowing reports about this war of David against Goliath, about the young immigrants who were taken from the boat straight to the battlefield, about the Jewish volunteers who arrived to help establish this state that was fighting for its life. They also described the hatred of the Arabs, who in their stupidity refused to reach peace agreements with Israel. Because of this, the Rhodes armistice agreements awarded Israel far more territory than the UN did in its resolution of November 29, 1947.

The second wave of admiration for Israel stemmed from the speed with which it defeated the Arab armies in the 1967 war. The Six-Day War is taught in military academies worldwide, and the international media once again described the campaign as a war of David against Goliath. Israel proved that it was in no danger of being destroyed, desite what its fund-raisers in America liked to claim.

But admiration for Israel’s strength gradually turned into resentment over the side effects of the prolonged occupation. Don’t speak Hebrew in public places overseas, tourists to Europe are warned today. Indeed, the days when someone could ask what language we were speaking and we would answer “Hebrew” with pride are long gone.

Israel’s military might and its unrestrained use of this might have turned the David-versus-Goliath analogy into an asset for the Palestinians. Israel is no longer described as at risk of being destroyed, but as a strong country, aggressive and domineering, as Charles de Gaulle once said. President Shimon Peres was recently greeted by angry demonstrations in Argentina and Brazil. Many countries boycott Israeli products, and Israeli lecturers on college campuses throughout the West endure catcalls. During Ehud Olmert’s recent lecture tour of the United States, he was greeted almost everywhere he went with cries such as “child killers!”

Of greatest concern is what is happening on American campuses, which are slowly becoming pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. That is dangerous because this is where America’s future leaders are bred. But our opponents are not motivated by anti-Semitism, as our political hacks like to claim. If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then anti-Semitism is the last refuge of the occupier.

Control over the territories is also taking a heavy toll on Israelis’ conduct. On one hand, there is the increasingly brutal treatment of the Palestinians; on the other, there are growing doubts among our soldiers about whether to carry out missions to evacuate settlers. Today, no one is interested in how we became embroiled in the 1967 war, how we survived the Yom Kippur War by the skin of our teeth or how, despite peace with Egypt and Jordan, Palestinian terror continued, producing intifada after intifada.

From a light unto the nations, Israel has become a maligned and ostracized nation. The UN Security Council doesn’t condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for announcing his intention to destroy Israel, but Israel, which has been fighting for its life for six decades, has become the most denounced and criticized country on the face of the globe.

Ever since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, officers in the Israel Defense Forces have been at risk every time they land in an international airport.

Former defense minister Moshe Arens said last week that while a civilian defense minister is preferable to a military one, that doesn’t mean every idiot is capable of being defense minister. Though Arens named no names, Amir Peretz took offense. But on the other hand, a former IDF chief of staff such as the current defense minister, who views military overreaction as the solution to the state’s problems, is not necessarily the ideal man for the job, either. It is not for nothing that the United States bars retired senior generals and admirals from serving as secretary of defense for 10 years after leaving the service.

Before sticking our noses into the problem of Iran’s nuclear program, which is a source of international concern, it would be preferable for our government to discuss how we got to where we are – no longer a light unto the nations – and what needs to be done to stop the freefall in our international image before it’s too late.

Ref: Haaretz

Hiding Behind Civilian: April 2009 Update Report Al Mezan report onThe Use of Palestinian Civilians as Human Shields by the Israeli Occupation Forces

In this update report Al Mezan presents seven case studies on the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). These case studies, based on comprehensive field investigations and witness statements, demonstrate that the IOF continues to systematically use Palestinian civilians as human shields, in breach of international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law (IHRL) and even Israeli domestic law. Six of these incidents took place during Operation Cast Lead launched against the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, and one took place earlier in 2008.

In endangering the lives of civilian men, women and children through systematically using them as human shields, the IOF is committing crimes tantamount to war crimes and crimes against humanity according to IHL. Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have taken all steps within their power to protect Palestinian civilians from this cruel and lethal practice, winning in 2005 a legal battle to secure a prohibition on the use of civilians as human shields under Israeli law. The Israeli authorities continue to refuse to implement the orders of their own highest judicial body, let alone adhere to their clear obligations as an occupying power under IHL. These practices, and the culture of impunity within the Israeli military system, compel the international community, and especially the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to act.

The practice of using human shields is just one of many grave violations perpetrated against Palestinian civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). The State of Israel continues to impose a near total blockade on Gaza, carry out expulsions and home demolitions in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and kill civilians on a daily basis. During Operation Cast Lead alone, when Israel launched a wide-scale 22-day military offensive, at least, 1,410 Palestinians were killed (including 324 children and 109 women) and at least 4,004 were injured (including 860 children and 448 women). Thousands of houses were destroyed as a result of targeted air strikes and demolitions carried out by the IOF, as well as hundreds of vital public facilities, including police stations, the main prison in Gaza and civilian ministry buildings.

The first section of the report briefly presents relevant legal provisions related to the use of Palestinians as human shields. The second section presents seven case studies which provide yet further evidence of widespread and systematic grave violations of IHL and IHRL.

In the first incident a 15-year-old boy was used as a human shield by the IOF and then detained in a hole for four days. The boy now suffers from serious mental health difficulties.

In the second incident a 10-year-old boy was forced to carry-out life endangering tasks
. When he was unable to complete a task, he was hit by an IOF soldier.

In the third incident an elderly man was forced to run in front of IOF soldiers to protect them from potential attacks in an area that was under fire, placing the life of the man in grave danger. In the fourth incident, IOF soldiers ordered a civilian man to go into a house where Palestinian fighters were hiding to retrieve their weapons thereby putting his life in grave danger. The victim now suffers from psychological problems.

In the fifth incident, the IOF used two brothers as human shields. One brother was shot and bled to death after the IOF fired on a rescue convoy including Red Crescent ambulances and a UN vehicle. The other brother was injured, denied medical care and as a result had two fingers amputated.

In the sixth incident, a young man was used as a human shield by the IOF and severely beaten.

In the seventh incident an old man is used as a human shield for several days and detained in Israel before being sent back to Gaza. The final section of the report calls on the international community to uphold its legal obligation to take immediate and effective action to protect Palestinian civilians

Ref. Mezan

GAZA: ONE YEAR ON ‘Punish, humiliate, terrorise’

As the one year anniversary of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip is marked, it is vital to re-examine Operation Cast Lead within the wider context of Israel’s approach to both Gaza and the Palestinians.

There is a danger that the scale of the devastation and the international protests which followed the war can deflect attention from the broader Israeli policies of collective punishment and deliberately-engineered socio-economic collapse.

The first important part of this context for both before – and since – Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip is the crippling blockade.

The isolation of the Gaza Strip actually goes back to the early 1990s, when Israel first implemented the system of ‘closure’ and fenced off the territory. But Israel’s current tight control of the Gaza Strip dates back to the aftermath of the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006, and then Hamas’ armed defeat of Fatah in the summer of 2007.

Thus even before the widespread targeting of civilian infrastructure by the Israeli military a year ago, the Gaza Strip had been subjected to what the Goldstone report described as “a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation”.

‘Economy dismantled’

Since 2007, aid as a proportion of all imports into the Gaza Strip has increased eightfold. Workforce unemployment stands at around 40 per cent, with only seven per cent of factories operational. The weekly average for truckloads of goods entering Gaza is a quarter of the quantity in the first half of 2007.

Months before Operation Cast Lead, an aid agency report described how the blockade “is destroying public service infrastructure in Gaza” and “has effectively dismantled the economy”.

Little wonder then that the World Health Organisation’s mission to Gaza reported in May this year that “since 2006, the health effects of the blockade have included stagnating life expectancy, worsening infant and child mortality, and childhood stunting”.

Israel has also maintained a tight control over Gaza’s air space and territorial waters, the population registry, and movement between Gaza and the West Bank.

Political strategy

The second crucial context for Operation Cast Lead is the overarching political strategy behind Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza. For the humanitarian catastrophe documented in numerous reports by the UN and NGOs is not, of course, a ‘natural disaster’ but a deliberate, political policy.

War was intended to diminish civilian support for Hamas, White says [EPA]

One of Israel’s main aims over the last few years has been to keep Hamas diplomatically and internationally isolated. Tzipi Livni, the then foreign minister, told a press conference a few days into Operation Cast Lead of how it was “important to keep Hamas from becoming a legitimate organisation” (a reason for Israel preferring not to extend a six-month truce).

Another key Israeli goal, evident in both the ongoing blockade as well as the brutal military assault of Operation Cast Lead, is to punish the civilian population in the hope of turning them against Hamas.

In early 2006, an advisor to Ehud Olmert, the then Israeli prime minister, said that “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet” in order to pressure the elected Hamas-majority government.

In September 2007, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported on the Israeli military’s plans “to limit services to the civilian population in Gaza” in order “to compromise the ability of Hamas to govern”.

It was this logic that shaped Israel’s military operations which, in the words of the UN’s Goldstone report, were “directed by Israel at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population”.

‘De-developing’ Gaza

That this was a “carefully planned” assault intended “to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population” was clear at the time.

The Jerusalem Post reported Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, as saying that Israel’s aim was to “to provide a strong blow to the people of Gaza so that they would lose their appetite for shooting at Israel”.

As hundreds of Palestinians were being killed, The Washington Post related how the “hope” of Israeli officials was that “Gazans become disgusted with Hamas and drive the group from power”.

An Israeli ex-national security adviser told The New York Times that “the terrible devastation” caused by going beyond just “military targets” would lead to “a lot of political pressure” on Hamas.

Targeting civilians to advance a political goal is a standard definition of terrorism: in the words of the US state department, “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets”. US federal law describes terrorism as violence or “life-threatening acts” apparently intended “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population”.

A final part of Israel’s political strategy for the Gaza Strip is to turn the territory into a depoliticised humanitarian crisis, its population rendered utterly dependent on international aid. This is the strategy of ‘de-development’ that has been going on for decades and which is now intensified and more brutal.

Zionism’s contemporary dilemma

But the third and final context for recalling the events of a year ago means looking beyond just Gaza to take in Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as a whole.

Israel’s regime of control over the Palestinians, both those in the Occupied Territories as well as those with citizenship in the pre-1967 borders, is a response to political Zionism’s historic and contemporary dilemma: how to create and maintain a Jewish state in a land with a non-Jewish population.

In 1948 and 1967, Israel was able to carry out the mass expulsion of Palestinians. Since then, however, Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, aimed at maintaining the domination of one group over another, have been guided by two, parallel principles: maximum land with the minimum number of Arabs, and, the maximum number of Arabs on the minimum amount of land.

That is how the blockade of Gaza and Operation Cast Lead fit in with the eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the consolidation of the settlement blocs in the West Bank, and Israeli state policy toward the Negev and Galilee.

Slowly, Palestinians are being forced out, whether through house demolitions, the removal of residency permits, or the creation of conditions which make the continuation of normal life impossible.

There is no ‘solution’ to Gaza outside of a just peace for Palestinians and Jewish Israelis that can only emerge when the Palestinian people’s rights under international law are realised, and Israel’s policies of dispossession, separation, and structural discrimination are seriously challenged.

Ref: Al Jazeera

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have appeared in publications like the Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’, New Statesman, Electronic Intifada, Middle East International, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and others. His first book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, was published earlier this year by Pluto Press.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.