What's Left
July 26, 2002

The Deep Roots of Israeli Mendacity

By Stephen Gowans

A day after calling an operation that killed Hamas founder Salah Shehada (and at least 14 others including nine children) "one of our biggest successes," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon backtracked, saying he would never have approved the operation had he known so many would be killed.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres disavowed any involvement in approving the operation, laying blame for the public relations debacle on the Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet and the Israeli army. They did not tell Sharon or Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who okayed the attack, of the dangers to civilians, Peres insisted.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who blamed Shehada himself for the civilian deaths a day earlier (the Hamas founder had maliciously located himself near civilians, Katsav said), backpedaled, describing the slaughter as a terrible and tragic mistake.

It could be said that the deluge of criticism from around the world convinced Israel's leaders that they had committed a disastrous public relations faux-pas, but Israel has been condemned before, and presses on, sloughing off  criticism as anti-Semitism or idealistic naiveté.  As long as Washington is onside, Israel's sang froid remains undisturbed.

But this time, even Washington had to admit that by the very tolerant standards applied to Israeli outrages, dropping a one-ton bomb on a densely packed neighborhood at night was embarrassingly far over the line. The operation, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, was "a deliberate attack on the site knowing that innocents would be lost in the consequence of the attack."

Israel had always maintained the fiction that unlike Palestinians, it did not deliberately target civilians. Now, the lie was obvious.

Israelis, stung by criticism from their patron, lashed out, blaming anti-Semitism for the double standard that condemns Israeli military operations for civilian deaths but absolves the Pentagon of blame for massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

This, of course, amounts to saying, if Americans kill civilians, so can we, and anyone who says we can't, must hate Jews. Some North American Zionists also point to the ethnic cleansing of North America's aboriginal Indian population, and ask, If European settlers drove the Indians from their land, why the fuss about Jews driving Palestinians from their land? According to this moral calculus, past crimes justify future crimes.

But the double standard has nothing whatever to do with anti-Semitism, and everything to do with the view cultivated in Washington that, while the crimes of allies may often be overlooked, only Americans are invariably beyond reproach. What Israel's supporters fail to understand (and hence the misapprehension of anti-Semitism) is that only the US has a halo.

This was made clear only days after the F-16 attack when the United States, along with Cuba, China, Egypt and Pakistan voted against a prison inspection plan designed to give weight to the UN's convention against torture.

Opposition to the plan was attributed to dissenting states having something to hide, with one exception: the United States, whose opposition was attributed to "the broad view of the Bush administration that outside interference has no place in the U.S. judicial system or the affairs of Americans and is, moreover, unconstitutional," as one newspaper put it.

On the other hand, "Havana's unwillingness to open its jails to international monitors" was considered "unsurprising," as "too was resistance to the protocol...from such other notorious human-rights violators as China, Egypt and Pakistan."

It's taken as a given that the United States couldn't possibly be a notorious human rights violator, hence, the attribution of lofty motives to Washington's opposition. However, a quick review of Amnesty International news releases over the last three years will quickly deflate the puffed up and shockingly naive view that the US is a champion of human rights, as too, more recently, will such names as Jose Padilla (jailed indefinitely without charge), John Walker Lindh (held in solitary confinement in an unheated cargo container, and repeatedly interrogated without a lawyer being present) and Guantanamo Bay (an egregious affront to human rights.)

Osama bin Laden claiming he had no idea that crashing two jets into the World Trade Centre would cause such massive devastation and loss of life would be an apt parallel of the Israeli leadership's claim that it had no idea that dropping a one-ton bomb in a densely packed neighborhood at night would cause massive civilian casualties. This is a contest of stupidity. Either we believe Sharon, Katsav, Peres, and Ben-Eliezer are so unrelievedly obtuse they couldn't see how firing a 2,000 pound missile at a densely packed neighborhood would create enormous casualties, or Sharon, Katsav, Peres, and Ben-Eliezer believe the rest of us are such notorious dunderheads we'd fall for such a transparent lie. Sad to say that with the help of a complicit media, many have.

But this lie is only the latest in a vast edifice of deceptions that is the public face of Israel.

Take, for example, the deception foisted upon the Israeli public that an austere military crackdown will solve the problem of Palestinian terrorist attacks. Since the crackdown only exacerbates the irritants that sparked the attacks in the first place, it should have been obvious that Sharon's "get tough on the bastards" approach was tantamount to dropping gallons of kerosene from water bombers on raging forest fires in hopes of extinguishing the flames. Anyone recommending a course of action as patently flawed would, under normal circumstances, be considered a liar concealing ulterior motives.

 Moreover, it should be obvious to anyone whose understanding isn't befogged by the intense desire to believe in the essential goodness of Israel and the legitimacy of its actions, the crackdown has been an abject failure; it hasn't quelled the attacks at all. Indeed, the very opposite has happened; the attacks have become bloodier. And Sharon's latest provocation only adds fuel to the fire. "(T)he attack itself," says the (Toronto) Globe and Mail, "will provoke violent Palestinian groups to strike back."

Is Sharon dumb, or deliberately provocative?

Palestinian retaliation plays into Sharon's hands; it provides him a pretext to tighten control over Palestinian territory, and move further away from even the barebones of the modest Oslo accords Sharon has always so adamantly opposed. Moreover, it offers Israel a stalking horse of self-defense behind which to advance the Zionist project of laying claim to all of historical Palestine.

 "The timing of the Gaza massacre," observes Richard Becker,  "must be seen as part of a pattern of similar operations carried out by the Sharon government. Time after time over the past two years, Sharon has ordered the most provocative actions, including numerous assassinations, in order to derail the "threat" of negotiations."

And, according to the Washington Post, hours before the F-16 attack, Palestinian leaders had worked out an agreement to cease "attacks on Israeli civilians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel." In other words, had the agreement been sealed, Sharon would be deprived of a pretext to continue to tighten his stranglehold on the Palestinians.

Amidst the rhetoric about Sharon being a "man of peace," it's instructive to remember something of his past. There are the allegations of war crimes that crop up again and again.  He was held indirectly responsible by an Israeli commission of inquiry (which could be expected to be less than vigorous in its pursuit of the truth) for the slaughter of hundreds of Palestinians at Sabra and Chatilla. He opposed the Oslo agreement, which would have denied Palestinians their rights and left them with a Bantustan pseudo-state, because it gave away too much. He traveled to the al-Aqsa Mosque (the Temple Mount) and declared it would always be Israeli, sparking the latest Intifada. He oversaw the building, as past prime ministers had, of new Jewish settlements on conquered territory. And with each provocation, Sharon has been rewarded with a predictable retaliation that allows him to tighten his stranglehold further, under cover of self-defense. He's reoccupied the West Bank. He may soon reoccupy Gaza. He's undermined and sought to destroy the Palestinian Authority. His patron, George W. Bush, has put Palestinians on notice they must elect a new president who has "no connection to terrorism," i.e., a quisling-in-waiting. And there's growing support in Israel for "transfer," the forced expulsion of Palestinians to Jordan -- ethic cleansing, in less euphemistic terms. Expulsion, far from being a legitimate act of self-defense, would be the capstone on the Zionist project.

Israel and its supporters cultivate the imposture that the country simply wants to live in peace with its neighbors; it's not after more territory. But the deception is belied by Israel's actions.  Jews are encouraged to settle in conquered Palestinian territory, to establish "facts on the ground,"  de facto claims to what belongs to Palestinians. And though some factions of the Israeli ruling elite supported the Oslo accords, which would have legitimized previous Israeli territorial conquest, and while others, such as Sharon, reject the accords as being far too unambitious, the theme is common -- lay claim to more and more territory, use endless, insincere discussion on peace to temporize, and attribute rational opposition to anti-Semitism. There's never any question of whether Israel should consolidate past conquest; it's only a question of how vigorously to pursue more conquest.

That's hardly the picture Israel likes to present to the world. But it's the lie upon which others are based. Including the latest.


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