Monday, December 29, 2008

Gaza: Food for thought -- or derision

On his blog, as well as over here, Dr. Lozowick, of Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations fame, has sort of prompted me to comment on the situation in Gaza.

One annoying aspect of Lozowick's bloggering is his didactic tone, always explicitly stating the conclusions that a less sophomoric pundit would leave it for his readers to draw (namely, that anti-Zionists are a bunch of morons, jackasses, nutcases and kneejerks). I suspect he's not so much interested in my opinions as in the possibility of making fun of me (although in a way it will be mostly his diehards who will find terribly funny) in a paragraph that will begin with the word "predictably".

Even so, I have a few ideas of my own re the situation in Gaza, and it will do no harm to express them even if I risk the doctor's derision.

1. I don't understand Hama's use of rockets against Sderot and other Israeli towns. It makes no sense even if you subscribe to some idiotic theory that "all Israelis are soldiers or future soldiers" or such. To put it cynically, if you know the world will condemn you for your actions, at least you should make it sure you hit your enemy hard. For instance, the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit, also indefensible under any civilized standard, at least made sense under a tortured tit-for-tat logic: Israel kidnaps Palestinians, so Hamas kidnapped an Israeli to gain bargaining power and possibly exchange him for the Palestinians held by Israel. Immoral, but not crazy. However, the rockets on Sderot achieve the rare feat, even by Hamas' standards, of being both immoral and crazy. Without dismissing the anguish and stress suffered by southwestern Israelis, it is pain Israel can live with, while Israel's responses (first a crippling blockade, now widesacale bombings, next possibly an invasion) are pain Gaza is much less likely to be able to cope with.

2. It's appalling that certain commentators are using the words "genocide," "Holocaust" or "Nazi" in connection with the Israeli op. These words do a great disservice to the Palestinian cause and make their users' credibility plummet. No; unlike those who have generalized the word "antisemitism," and now apply it to, say, people who don't talk about Tibet, I don't find it acceptable to similarly devalue the word "genocide." It means the systematic killing of a people, like the Armenians under the Turks, the Jews and Gypsies under the Nazis, the Tutsis under the Hutus and possibly the Pygmies under Les Éffaceurs. Israel has clearly never committed, will never in any likelihood commit and is certainly not comitting genocide in the present Gaza action.

3. That said, a lot of bad faith has been on display on the Zionist side in the context of explicating (is there such a word as "hasbarizing"?) the Gaza op. We know that the brainwashed will repeat clichés with admirable discipline, but the problem is with the brainwashers who supply them with the sound bites, who would seem to be missing (but one suspects are not) a few important points.

One ususally-made argument is "Israel withdrew from Gaza, and the Palestinians, instead of building a state, started to launch rockets." This is disingenuous for several reasons:

a) Gaza is a small and overcrowded strip of land with virtually zero natural resources and can hardly constitute the basis for a future state.

b) While Israel can disengage from Gaza, Gaza can't be "disengaged" from the West Bank. To make an analogy both silly and sound, if the United States took over Mexico and then withdrew from Baja California, the Mexicans living in the peninsula couldn't be reasonably expected not to keep on fighting for the rest of their country.

c) The disengagement was not part of an agreement, and involved none of the guarantees that are vital to get an economy functioning, such as freedom of movement into and out of the territory, the right to collect and use taxes, etc. Of course a point can be made that Israel can't offer that for security reasons, but the failure to build a state in Gaza can't be analyzed as if such guarantees had been in place.

d) Most importantly, Israel didn't withdraw from Gaza to allow the Gazans to rule themselves. It withdrew, in part, because Gaza is not a valuable piece of real estate; it has no water, scarce arable land and little strategic importance; it wasn't worth the budget it consumed. But it also withdrew precisely to be able to charge the Palestinians with not building a(n impossible) State and thus justify the failure to implement further withdrawals, for instance from any reasonable fraction of the at least 105 illegal outposts the Jewish settlers have established in the West Bank. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon's foreign policy adviser at the time of the disengagement, explained it with remarkable candor in an interview with Haaretz:

“When you freeze that process [i.e. the political process with the Palestinians], you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem...Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state . . . has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

"The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

I want to remind you that there will also be a withdrawal in the West Bank.

"The withdrawal in Samaria is a token one. We agreed to only it so it wouldn't be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza."

"On the other hand, in regard to the large settlement blocs, thanks to the disengagement plan, we have in our hands a first-ever American statement that they will be part of Israel."

4. Another argument that has been put forward is that Israel had to do something about the rockets raining on Sderot and that the only thing it could do is what it did. Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, former commander of the IDF's Gaza Division, begs to differ:

"The state of Israel must understand that Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact, and it is with that government that we must reach a situation of calm."


In Zakai's view, Israel's central error during the tahadiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce that formally ended on Friday, was failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip.


"We could have eased the siege over the Gaza Strip, in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would understand that holding their fire served their interests. But when you create a tahadiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues, it's obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahadiyeh, and that their way to achieve this, is resumed Qassam fire.

"The carrot is improvement of the economic situation in the Gaza Strip. You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they're in, and to expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing. That's something that's simply unrealistic."

This general with some on-the-ground experience seems to sense what the flat-screen warriors in Europe and the US don't, namely that a political process is necessary even under an imperfect truce, and that not punishing a whole population, even if it's the same population that voted for Hamas, over the rockets on Sderot, might be a good idea. "All stick and no carrot makes Israel a dumb boy..." or how was it?

5. Finally, the issue of proportionality. During a six-month period there was low-level violence materialized in isolated rockets (but not barrages) thrown from the Strip, causing stress but no victims, met with a crippling blockade of Gaza on Israel's part, also causing stress but no victims. Then on Nov. 5 Israel killed 6 people in Gaza. Call them terrorists, militants or resistance fighters: the fact is that they were the first people to be killed in the truce period.

Although much has been made of the fact that the Qassams are fired randomly and thus any rocket can kill people, the fact that no person had been killed does have relevance. (Even though the Zionists spoke of unbearable Israeli pain in Sderot, they are the same Zionists who were boasting that the terrorists hadn't been able to disrupt national life -- what gives?) If you use missiles that have an extremely low probability of hitting someone, not firing enough of them that a person will likely be killed is a form of restraint. And Qassams (and Grads, and Katyushas) began to be thrown in casualty-causing amounts only after the six Gazans were killed by Israel.

The Israeli bombing campaign started on Saturday does not seem to meet a reasonable standard of proportionality. While popular belief has it that civilian casualties are wrong and noncivilian ones are right, the actual distinction is between combatants and noncombatants. And for instance the young cops who died in large numbers at a police academy graduation ceremony are clearly noncombatants. Although Israel plays on the West's image of a Palestinian policeman as a dark-skinned, thick-eyebrowed guy with shining black eyes and a knife between his teeth, the group is more likely to be mostly composed of cops like this:

who doesn't strike me as an immediate threat to Israel's security.

Also, the destruction of administrative infrastructure would seem to indicate that the lessons of Iraq have been lost on some. The Americans destroyed the whole Baathist administrative apparatus (instead of recycling it for democratic purposes) and made the local population pay dearly for it during the period of chaos that ensued. But it's not that Mr. Ehud Barak doesn't know this. The answer may lie in the coming Israeli election and the deep dive of his Labor party in the polls. It's a dangerous thing when a candidate is accountable to a public that wants blood.

One thing is for sure: bombing 'em into the Stone Age won't do the trick. Any long-term solution requires a political strategy, complete with goals, sticks, carrots and the intervention of international players. And I don't see the Israeli leadership formulating any policy other than the ephemeral manu militari solution it is currently implementing.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The phone book as criminal evidence

Q.: What do Baruch Sofer, Elad and Noa Mandel, Tehila Cohen and Eitan Klein have in common?
A.: They are all listed in Israel's phone books.

So what, you'll say. So are 4 million other Israelis.

But these people live in illegal Israeli outposts in the West Bank. Sofer is a resident of Amona, the Mandels live in Palgei Mayim, Cohen calls Neveh Erez home and Klein is a dweller of Nofei Nehemia, Rehelim, the first outpost listed in the Sasson Report, a 2004 document that examined the State of Israel's role in assisting the settlers in the establishment of those unlawful outposts.

How did these folks get to have a telephone line in the first place? At first sight it would look a bit illogical. The current Israeli government claims to be opposed to the unilateral seizure of Palestinian land by the settlers. Now since there exists a State entity that regulates the telecommunications business, all lines installed in territories under Israeli control must be approved by the State. Therefore, the lines in the outposts enjoy the legal approval of the State of Israel, the same state that has called the outposts illegal. Surprised?

Well, you shouldn't be. The whole issue is part of a bigger problem, namely the Israeli governments' constant equivocation when it comes to the settlements; their saying one thing and doing another. Their denouncing the settlers while allocating resources to build homes for them like crazy. Their decreeing that this or that outpost will be evacuated while looking for the legal loopholes that will allow the decision not to be implemented. Their claiming that they only intend to keep those settlements next to the Green Line (1967 border) in a final agreement, while approving a new civilian settlement in Maskiyot, far removed from that line.

No amount of evacuation promises will convince the international public that Israel's government has the determination or even the wish to remove the illegal outposts from the West Bank, when it can't even bring itself to remove them from the phone book.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Can one say "the Jews"?

I don't mean "the Jews" as in "the Jews have won one-fourth of all Nobel prizes." I mean "the Jews" as in "the Jews have poisoned wells and fields in the West Bank." Can one say that? There seems to exist a stigma attached to the suggestion that if a Jew does something wrong it has anything to do with his being Jewish -- a stigma that does not apply to other peoples. If a Hungarian beats up a Jew, for instance, that's yet another example of perennial Magyar antisemitism. If a Jew beats up an Arab, on the other hand, we rush to show evidence that the man is deranged and that his Jewishness played no role in the event.

It is true that, in principle, generalizations should never be made. It is wrong to say "the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982," for instance. I'm an Argentinian and I didn't invade the Falklands, nor do I support the notion that our (in my opinion) legitimate claim to sovereignty over the islands should be realized by military means, or that our rights should trump the rights of the population already living there, for whom becoming Argentinians is anathema. But I don't go ballistic over hearing "the Argentinians invaded the Falklands" because, after all, the invaders were not private agents, but representatives (even if unelected ones) of Argentinian interests. It's unfair to the substantial minority of Argentinians who believe the invasion was wrong on moral grounds; but it can hardly be described as an outright outrage.

Things get a little fuzzier with the following kind of generalization:

Many goyim watch these movies, not out of compassion, but out of self-congratulatory sentiment. Alas, the Jews of the Holocaust are used - used for their juxtaposing of the Nazis and fascists for being as evil as we see them. Or did the double-standards not occur to you - of how those Jews butchered by the Soviets and the Romanians and the Poles and the Czechoslovaks are rarely mentioned in leftist-dominated visual media, but the suffering of those Jews butchered by the Nazis and fascists is always on our screens?

Did "the Poles" butcher Jews? Or did some Poles murder Jews, with most others taking no part in the killings, and not condoning them? Were the Poles comparable to the Nazis (i.e. State agents) -- or to the Jewish kapos who actively collaborated in the massacres (i.e. individual wrongdoers)? Sure, lots of Poles did kill Jews, there's no denying that -- but did they kill them as Poles, or as people who wanted to take over their houses, or were moved by irrational superstitions? The author of the quoted excerpt seems to think they acted as Poles. Others would beg to differ.

Now let's fast forward 60 years and change continents. In recent years there have been reports of water well poisoning in the Israeli-occupied West Bank -- and according to Israeli police estimates, Jewish settlers are to blame (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5, Source 6, Source 7). Poisoned wheat kernels have been spread over the Palestinians' pasture fields as well; and, again, Jewish settlers have been deemed responsible (Source 8).

In the Middle Ages, the Jews were falsely accused of trying to poison the Christians, especially through well-poisoning. Any suggestion that the recent instances of poisoning in the West Bank can be blamed on "the Jews," as opposed to a collection of individual Jews, touches thus a very sensitive nerve and should not be irresponsibly made.

Now the fact that an accusation shouldn't be irresponsibly made does not mean it can't be made at all. Only, a threshold of responsibility must be established, composed of very stringent criteria. Thus, it would appear to be unfair to collectively blame the Jews for an act of violence unless the following conditions are met:

  1. It must be carried out in the name of Jewish interests.
  2. It must be part of a policy.
  3. It must be done with the support and connivance of official Jewish institutions.
  4. It must not be condemned by the majority of the Jewish public.

In the case of the Jewish poisoners in the West Bank, all four conditions are unfortunately met. The settlers don't try to poison the Arabs for personal reasons, but to make them flee from the land given by God to the Jews. They don't do the poisoning in isolation, but as part of a violent combo that also includes clubbing elderly shepherds, uprooting fruit trees, torching houses, desecrating cemeteries, smashing cars and market stands, stoning schoolgirls and more. They must not fear retaliation from the local population because they have the full weight of the Israeli army behind them. Although investigations are ostensibly opened, those responsible are never caught, much less jailed. Finally, neither the Israeli citizenry nor a relevant percentage of Diaspora Jews demand for Israel's government to crack down on the settlers or else.

Of the four conditions, the most critical one, in my view, is #3. The settlers could not rampage the West Bank if they did not enjoy heavy subsidizing and military support from Israel, as well as the impunity ensured by the State's justice system. (Which is irrespective of whether fig leaves are donned or not. "We strongly condemn the settlers" is no substitute for actually jailing them; even Czarist Russia prosecuted a few perpetrators after the worst pogroms.) Here, in the support provided to the settlers, is where the self-styled Jewish state takes their crimes out of the private sphere and makes them the responsibility of the whole population represented by that state -- i.e. Israeli Jews (Israeli Arabs are not represented, only contained, by the State), as well as Diaspora Jews who accept for Israel to act in their name.

It's in those Jews' power to dismantle Israel as a racist state and reinvent it as a state of all its citizens that won't tolerate and support acts of violence against defenseless minorities. Until they do, saying "the Jews have poisoned wells and fields in the West Bank" will be just as fair as saying "the Argentinians invaded the Falklands in 1982."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Getting a kick out of the kick

Israel has never been a soccer powerhouse, but in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers help might come from two unexpected sources -- the settlers and the police.

Meet Roni (not his real name), a settler from Kyriat Arba. Roni believes Israel scores too few goals from free kicks, and plans to join the national squad as a free-kick specialist. So being so busy with the settlement of the God-given West Bank, when and how does he train?

The following video clarifies it. Although it was taken from a distance (training sessions are secret), be sure to notice how at 0 min 13 sec Roni takes a free kick and his teammates surround him to celebrate:

For his part, Gadi (not his real name either), a sergeant with the Israeli police, thinks more goals should be scored from headers -- and trains to help the national team in that field. In the following video, notice how Gadi trains to score with the head at 0 min 19 sec and, again, at 0 min 41 sec:

Asked why they used the heads of Palestinians for their training, instead of, well, soccer balls, both would-be stars had different answers. Said Gadi: "You can't take a soccer ball with you everywhere. On the other hand, there's always a Palestinian head available for you to head-butt, so that I can train when and where I wish." When a reporter noted that he wore a rigid plastic helmet which wouldn't be allowed at the World Cup, he countered "Yes, but soccer balls are by no means that hard!"

Roni, for his part, says it all boils down to motivation. "One of the basic shortcomings of training sessions," he observes, "is that the adrenaline is missing. You play your own teammates and you don't see them as rivals. On the other hand, training on the head of a Palestinian you feel exactly the same lust to demolish your rival as when you play a championship game. When you kick a Palestinian," he summarizes, "you get a kick out of the kick."

Monday, December 8, 2008

On becoming a peace partner

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations is a pleasurable blog to read. Not because of its contents, mind you, but because it's clearly and elegantly written, and us language professionals do appreciate good craftsmanship in the art of joining words together when we spot it.

Still, you can write good English and make wrong arguments. One idea that runs through much of Lozowick's writing is that Israel is prepared to make peace any time, only the Palestinians have failed to come up with a viable proposal. A recent post summarizes this thinking:

The pattern from Saadat onwards, including Netanyahu in 1996-9, has always been that when an Arab leader appears who is capable of delivering, his Israeli counterpart will rise to the challenge. Especially since the Israeli electorate will always back the move, and given we're such a pro-active electorate, that's the crucial consideration.

There is no scenario in which a Palestinian (or other Arab) leader makes a credible offer of peace and the Israeli electorate turns him down. But I don't see the opposite, either: no Israeli leader can make a real offer unless there's a real Palestinian (or other Arab) leader to make it too.

Actually, there's an Arab peace offer on the table -- the Arab Peace Initiative, which was formulated in 2002 and has not been withdrawn. The Israeli electorate has turned it down by not demanding from its leaders that they seriously consider the proposal. Since the offer provides for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and all Arab League countries (an unprecedented move of revolutionary consequences), one would expect an Israeli leader to "rise to the challenge," but it hasn't happened.

But even if no Arab offer were on the table -- would it mean Israel wants peace but has no one to negotiate with?

Those who think so appear to believe that a peace process begins when a peace offer is made. Not so. A big -- a fundamental -- step towards peace is to remove the obstacles to that peace that may exist.

In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, one major obstacle are the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. It may not be the most important obstacle, but it's a major one, and it's in Israel's power to remove it. It's not like the Palestinian Authority can any time it wishes go with bulldozers and tear down the settlers' illegal outposts.

What can Israel do about the settlers? Ideally, it should jail them when they go on rampages, assaulting Palestinians, burning fields and trees, smashing cars and desecrating cemeteries. This would involve, of course, massive arrests in Kiriat Arba and Hebron proper, Tapuah, Susia, Maon and elsewhere, but then Israel has some experience in wholesale detentions. But it hasn't happened and it won't happen. Some point to the practical difficulty of such law enforcement, but the fact that justice is not easy to do is no excuse not to do it.

If Israel is not prepared to arrest the settlers, however, it could at least not back them. Experience shows, however, that Israeli governments have thrown the full State support behind the settlers. Every time the settlers set up an outpost on private Palestinian land, the State rushes to provide it with electric power, clean water, phone lines and, most important of all, military protection. In fact, the Sassoon report found that even the trailers for the outposts were provided by the State.

But even if Israel is not prepared to arrest the settlers and is not prepared to stop providing material support to them either, it could at the very least not accord official status to new settlements. But even in this symbolic field Israel is failing. Earlier this year, at the same time that Prime Minister Olmert was busy denouncing the settlers, Defense Minister Barak approved a new civilian settlement in Maskiyot, the first one in a decade, where only military facilities had been allowed before.

In sum, Israel could, proactively, remove obstacles its own citizens have created, so as to pave the way for negotiations when a credible Arab leader arises; but it has failed to do so. Pardon my antisemitism, but I just can't see any hint of Palestinian responsibility there.

It may well be that Israel has no credible partner for peace; we haven't even gotten into that in this post. But one thing is clear: it has a long way to go before it itself becomes one.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How to squander moral authority

Yesterday's Haaretz carried an article by Judea Pearl, a distinguished professor of computer science and the father of Daniel Pearl, a journalist kidnapped and beheaded in Afghanistan, apparently for the sole reason of being Jewish. After his son's murder, Pearl started a movement called Daniel Pearl Muslim-Jewish Dialogue of Understanding; he has since been described as an international pacifist.

The article bears the promising title For the sake of peace, Israel and Palestinians should apologize to each other. One is further encouraged upon reading in the first paragraphs "The two sides are locked in a fundamentally immobile stalemate." The professor seems about to describe the things both Israelis and Palestinians are doing wrong and how they could redress them.

And here comes the big disappointment. Says Pearl:

Israel cannot accommodate a sovereign neighbor rocket-range away from its vital airports while militant elements can and vow to use the shelter of sovereignty to accomplish their aims.

So much for Israel's deadlock; what about the Palestinians'?

And Palestinian society, having taught its youngsters for decades that Israel's existence is temporary, is unable to restrain its militants from pursuing their aims, especially under conditions of occupation, when Iran promises to render those teachings a reality.

So that you see; the Israelis are deadlocked and it's the Palestinians' fault; and the Palestinians are deadlocked and it's also the Palestinians' fault.

He could have said:

The Israeli society, having told its settlers to grab West Bank hilltops before a permanent agreement is reached on the area where Palestinians hope to build an independent homeland, is unable to restrain its fundamentalists from pursuing their aims, especially under conditions of occupation, when wealthy foreign donors are subsidizing the land grab.

Or he could have said:

The Palestinians can't accept a State with wedges of Israeli settlements cutting deep into the West Bank, cris-crossed by Israeli-only roads, with Israeli military presence on the Jordan Valley and in which the land will be returned not immediately but gradually.

He could have blamed Israel for the Israeli deadlock and the Palestinians for the Palestinian deadlock. Or the Palestinians for the former and Israel for the latter. Or he could have put the full blame on Israel. But of all the possible combinations, he chose to blame the Palestinians for both deadlocks.

The rest of the article doesn't interest me. Pearl will probably call for a conference in which both parties apologize. But it's not a sincere call, because he thinks only the Palestinians have things to apologize for, and the Israeli apology would essentially be a goodwill gesture, even a painful concession, designed to save the Palestinians' face.

As the father of a terror victim, Judea Pearl enjoys an enormous moral authority. Too bad he squanders it making bogus analyses of realities he's not acquainted with, and patronizing the people he pretendedly seeks to understand.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Catholic than the Israeli Pope

The last thing one would expect from a Jewish person is to be more Catholic than the Pope; but when it comes to defending the indefensible (i.e., Israel), everything is possible. The Pope is in this case the Israeli government, and the display of religious fervor consists of stubbornly denying there's anything illegal about its behavior, even when the government itself acknowledges or, at least, does not deny the illegality.

A good example is the 2006 war in Lebanon. Despite the scandalous extent of Israeli destruction in the land of the cedars in response to a trivial border incident, Zionist zealots insist that the actions were not disproportionate. For instance, in a primer titled How to talk about the Crisis in Israel, a rabbi instructed his readers:

Israel's response, particularly in Lebanon, is not “disproportionate,” as some have charged. Israel is attacking only targets directly related to the terror unleashed upon Israel. Because Hezbollah hides rockets in and around civilian homes, the loss of life in Lebanon is a tragic but unavoidable consequence, and is entirely Hezbollah's doing. Israel, like all of us, is deeply saddened by the loss of civilian life in Lebanon.

A think tank, for its part, moaned:

Israel's overall response was not disproportionate when considering the enemy Israel was fighting, the tactics Hizballah used, and the past unprovoked attacks that had been left unaddressed.

However, the Israeli government itself never called into question the disproportionality of the response. In fact, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, stated before a US audience at the time:

Let us finish the job! You know better than anyone else that what we are doing is doing your own work: fighting terror.... And to those countries who claim we are using disproportionate force, I have only this to say: you're damn right we are!

In fact, disproportionate force has since been unabashedly adopted as policy by the Israeli army. As commander Gadi Eisenkot stated to the newspaper Yediot Ahronot:

"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases," he said. "This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized."

The candid Eisenkot had no qualms calling a spade a spade. He may have his reasons for supporting the measure, but he does not deny the disproportionality of the proposed response -- unlike Israel apologists.

Something similar happens with the concept of occupied territories. While the Israeli government does not use the term to describe the situation in the West Bank, it doesn't object, not at least actively, to the adjective "occupied" being applied to the territory. And in Israeli national discourse, whether there are legal loopholes that may allow the territories to be called "disputed" is a nonissue. Israel fanatics, however, think otherwise, and believe that if only they can put together a complicated legalistic argument the world will be convinced that the West Bank is not occupied.

One such apologist is British pundit Melanie Phillips. In a recent article in The Spectator, Phillips lambasts the British government over its decision to enforce an EU boycott of produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Phillips reports she asked the Foreign Office the reasons behind the decision; the FO answered, quite reasonably, that it was because Israel was illegally occupying the West Bank.

Wrong, Phillips alleges; Israel is not occupying the West Bank:

First, Article 2 of the Geneva Convention provides that the agreement applies ‘to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a high contracting party’, or sovereign territory. Thus the Convention cannot apply to the West Bank, nor to East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for that matter, because these have never been recognized as sovereign territory. As part of Mandatory Palestine, they never belonged to any sovereign state but were occupied and administered illegally by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967 after the Arab war of aggression against Israel in 1948.

This is pure nonsense. The Geneva Convention does apply to the West Bank according to an International Court of Justice advisory opinion issued in 2004. Notice, also, the extremely legalistic approach which, nevertheless, does not explain why Israel has any right to settle the West Bank. The fact that a territory has never been sovereign does not mean it's up for grabs to the first country that wants to take it. The rights of the people already living there certainly trump the rights of newcomers.

Philips continues with her Hasbara:

Second, Article 49 of the Geneva Convention provides that an occupying power ‘shall not deport or transfer part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’ This was designed to prohibit inhumane practices such as by the Nazis and the Soviets before and during the Second World War in forcibly transferring or deporting people into or out of occupied territories. But the Israeli settlers in the West Bank went there voluntarily. They have not been ‘deported’ or ‘transferred’ by the government of Israel.

There are several layers of deception in this paragraph. In the first place, Phillip's version of what Article 49 was intended for is her personal interpretation, not a ruling or an advisory opinion of any legal body. My interpretation, and I think many others would concur, is that the prohibition for a country to deport or transfer its citizens to an occupied land is primarily designed to protect the rights of the occupied people and avoid the creation of "facts on the ground."

Next, she rewrites the Oxford English Dictionary to restrict the meaning of "transfer." If the Convention says "deport" and "transfer," it's because "deport" is forcible, and "transfer" not necessarily so. Not that she's not aware of this: a few years ago, the Moledet party in Israel made the "voluntary transfer" of Arabs from Israel to any of their 21 countries part of its program. The party was not expelled from the Knesset precisely because the proposed transfer was voluntary. Yet Phillips, a well-informed person where Israel is concerned, did not raise her voice against Moledet reminding them that transfer was necessarily forcible. So that the Geneva Convention, by forbidding "deportation" and "transfer," in fact banned both forcible and voluntary movements of people to occupied territories.

Finally, Phillips deceives her readers by inflating the level of "voluntariness" involved in the transfer of Israeli Jews to the West Bank. Many, if not most, went there because they were subsidized to a degree that they could afford housing out of their reach in Israel proper. I.e., economic pressure was used.

But Phillips has further reasons to scold the British FO:

[T]he West Bank is not Palestinian land in any sense. As said before, it was originally part of the British Mandate and then illegally occupied by Jordan. Nor have the settlers occupied individual Palestinians’ land, but have mainly built on empty space. I do not condone the actions of some of these settlers against their Arab neighbours, nor their attitudes; and I would like them to leave most of these territories, in Israel’s own interests. But the claim that Israel has ‘stolen’ Palestinian land is simply a lie.

Note that, in the face of extensive settler violence in the West Bank, Phillips does not "condone the actions of some of these settlers," but says nothing about the Israeli government that does condone those actions by not jailing the settlers. That aside, the claim that "the claim that Israel has ‘stolen’ Palestinian land is simply a lie" is itself a lie. Earlier this year, Haaretz reported:

All 450 homes in Ofra, the "mother of settlements" in Samaria, were built on privately owned Palestinian land, Vice Premier Haim Ramon said during a session at the Knesset State Control Committee two months ago. (...)

According to the transcript of the February 25 meeting, which addressed the outposts and the implementation of the Sasson Report, committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev asked Ramon: "To add 20 more homes in Ofra has political implications? I want to understand the point." Ramon responded: "From many standpoints Ofra is not a good example for you, because all of it is build on private Arab land, private Palestinian property."

Ramon said the pressure to enlarge Ofra and other settlements does not stem from a housing shortage, but rather is an attempt to undermine any chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.

But formal settlements are only part of the story. A big chunk of land grab is done through informal outposts established on private Palestinian property with the Israeli government turning a blind eye. In 2006, State prosecutor Talia Sasson reported that:

  • The housing ministry supplied 400 mobile homes for outposts on private Palestinian land
  • The defence ministry approved the positioning of trailers to begin new outposts
  • The education ministry paid for nurseries and their teachers
  • The energy ministry connected outposts to the electricity grid
  • Roads to outposts were paid for with taxpayers' money

I.e., the State fully supported the stealing of Palestinian land by settlers establishing outposts.

Just to cite another of Phillips' disingenuous inaccuracies, she also claims that:

Israel is ‘occupying’ the West Bank (which on a day-to-day basis is not ‘occupied’ but ruled by the Palestinians) entirely within its rights under international law[.]

To borrow a term from the Brits, this is bollocks. The West Bank consists of three areas. Area A comprises 17% of the land but 55% of the Palestinian population and is under Palestinian control and Palestinian administration. Area B comprises 24% of the land but 41% of the Palestinians, and is under Israeli control and Palestinian administration. Finally, Area C comprises 59% of the land but just 4% of the Palestinians and is under Israeli control and Israeli administration.

That is, the Israelis have gerrymandered the land so that almost all Arabs are confined to the 41% of the territory under their administration (of which, however, just 17% is under their control). This allows some, Phillips included, to state "91% of Palestinians already enjoy self-rule," as if self-rule consisted just of controlling the people, and not the natural resources (such as land or water) those people need to live.

Those are the inaccuracies in Phillips' Hasbara points. Let's turn now to the general critique of her argumentation.

What Phillips doesn't explain is exactly what the nature of Israel's presence in the West Bank is. She fails to describe it as an occupation; but she also fails to describe it as the exercise of sovereignty. It would appear that Israel is in the middleground between both, but this is not an internationally recognized alternative. There's no such legal status as "just being there."

One can understand why she doesn't explain it. Either option would inexorably lead to a contradiction.

If Israel is an occupying power, then it's bound by the Geneva Convention and can't move its own civilians there.

If Israel is exercising sovereignty, then it must give the vote to the Palestinians.

Unless Phillips reasons that the West Bank is occupied enough not to give voting rights to the Arabs, but not enough for its production to be boycotted. Hardly the kind of argument that will convince any reasonable person that the Foreign Office is unfair in supporting the boycott.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Emanuel Sr., Ahmadinejad and common sense

In a recent contribution to Harry's Place, Ben Cohen, the editor of Z-Word Blog, takes on those who saw the appointment of Rahm Emanuel to the influential post of Chief of Staff in Barack Obama's future administration as the continuation of the George W. Bush Administration’s pro-Israel policies. Emanuel is the son of Benjamin Emanuel, an Israeli medical doctor and former member of the rightwing Irgun paramilitary group that carried out countless atrocities against Arabs in the 30s and 40s.

Before actually writing the magic words "conspiracy theorists," Cohen lambasts critics of the appointment in the following terms:

Perspectives like these echo the basic thesis of Mearsheimer and Walt’s flawed book “The Israel Lobby” - that the disproportionate representation of pro-Israel individuals and groups in the upper echelons of US government determines why the US does what it does. And that, perhaps, is a more comforting explanation than the more obvious conclusion, namely that the basic values and strategic goals of the US and Israel spectacularly coincide.

It's beautiful to believe in values in foreign policy, but it's also somehow naïve. Countries are markedly egoistic when it comes to dealing with other countries. Also, one has a hard time grasping how supporting the tyrannical monarchy in Saudi Arabia can be a basic value, or even a coincident strategic goal, of the US and Israel.

That aside, it's worth it to pay a look at the conspiracy theorists' evidence. Rahm Emanuel is said to be an Israeli citizen. While I haven't found conclusive evidence to support this claim, very respectable sources have upheld it. Also, he worked as a civilian volunteer at an Israeli Army base during the first Gulf War.

Does this mean he'll tilt Obama's administrarion towards Israel's interests? One very significant person seems to believe so -- Rahm Emanuel's father. According to the Jerusalem Post,

In an interview with Ma'ariv, Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

Although Rahm was quick to disengage himself from the racist overtones of his father's statement, he didn't deny the part of influencing Obama in Israel's favor. Still, believing in Emanuel Sr.'s words about his own son is considered by Ben Cohen and similar pundits to be theoretically conspirative, or, in more worldly language, antisemitic.


We all know Iran plans to get nukes, don't we? They're refining uranium, and they said that they want to destroy Israel. This they expect to achieve by dropping a nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv, for instance.

Although I can't use the words "conspiracy theory," since they're a trademark registered by someone else, I'm entitled, as a citizen of the free world, to ask for some evidence for the claims.

Is there any? While we are day in and day out bombarded with information about Iran's rhetoric about wiping out Israel, the fact is that there has been no announcement that Iran itself will do the annihilation. On the contrary, in a story earlier this year the official news agency IRIB clarified that:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday that the Zionist regime is inherently doomed to annihilation and there is no need for Iranians to take action.

My emphasis. These words should have brought relief to the international Zionist community, but for some reason they were not given the same relevance as other Ahmadinejad statements.

The clown who rules Iran (or, at least, serves as its president; the true rulers are the mullahs) may have talked, thus, about the obliteration of Israel (or of the Zionist regime, which is not the same; but I won't pretend to know Farsi), but he has also clearly stated that the destruction will come about spontaneously and it's not Iran's business to speed it up. This is "spectacularly coincident" with Iran's proven history of never having attacked another country.

Also, no evidence has been provided by any agency that Iran currently pursues nuclear weapons. As Prof. Gerald Steinberg reports:

The U.S. government's latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has concluded that Iran froze its active efforts to manufacture nuclear weapons in 2003, and will not have such a capability until at least 2012.

So, how can we say that Iran wants to get nukes to bomb Israel with?

The only answer is common sense. You see, if Iran hates Israel, and Iran is enriching uranium, it logically follows that Iran will try to get a bomb for use against its declared foe.

But, if we are going to be led by common sense, it's also logical to think that an ardent Zionist who collaborated with the Israeli army, whose father is Israeli and who may himself hold Israeli citizenship will try and tilt the Obama administration towards Israel's interests, like his father says -- even when a neutral stance would be more convenient to the US's interests.

But for some reason, using common sense in the case of Rahm Emanuel is considered antisemitic. And NOT using common sense in the case of Ahmadinejad (and asking for solid evidence for the nuclear-weapons-pursuit claim) is also considered antisemitic.

It's sort of boring when you're an antisemite no matter what.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Israel tested --and failed-- on the population exchange theory

The population exchange theory holds that as many Arabs "voluntarily fled" from Israel as Jews "were expelled" from Arab lands. While it may be true that certain Palestinians owned property that was taken over by Israel, Jewish property was taken over by Arab governments as well. In short, Arab grievances against Israel cancel out with Jewish grievances against Arab countries and there should be no right of return for either. Since the Jews haven't been asking to return to Iraq, Yemen or Morocco, this basically means that the Palestinians should renounce their right of return to Israel. Sixty years have passed and it's not reasonable not to accept that.

Of course, the theory rests on the premise that Oriental Jews who emigrated to Israel were refugees, and a number of objections can be made to that claim; but that will be covered in another post and I'd like to focus here on another aspect of the problem.

A little known fact about the population displacements that took place in 1948 is that some Arab refugees from West Jerusalem went to live in as nearby a place as... East Jerusalem. When Israel occupied and annexed the eastern city following the Six-Day War, those refugees became Israeli residents.

Among those people, Haaretz informs us, were Mohammed al-Kurd and his wife Fawzieh. In 1956, the couple were provided housing by the Jordanian government and a UN refugee agency in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Fifty years later, a Jewish group moved into part of the house, maintaining that an Ottoman-era bill of sale granted ownership of the property to the Committee for the Sephardic Group. The al-Kurds started a legal battle for their house which was adjudicated in July 2008, when a Jerusalem District Court issued a ruling in favor of the Sephardic Group, which transferred the property to a settler organization called "Shimon's Estate." The al-Kurds were ordered to leave the property, amid protests from human rights groups and, unusually, the United States.

Finally, today, at 4:45 in the morning, some 20 IDF vehicles and seven police minibuses sealed off much of the neighborhood, and proceeded to evict the al-Kurds.

Apart from the horrendous humanitarian dimension of a couple well into their seventies being thrown out of their home by the military in the wee hours, this incident puts the population exchange theory to test.

Granted, the Sephardic Group may have been the true owners of the house. But doesn't their right "cancel out" with the rights of, say, the inhabitants of Ein Hod whose mosque was turned into a posh café for Jewish artists? And if the inhabitants of Iqrit and Birim (who are Israeli Arabs expelled by the IDF) don't have the right to return to their villages, why should the "Shimon's Estate" group enjoy the right to "return" to an East Jerusalem house where neither they, nor their parents or grandparents, ever lived?

Why is it assumed that the Palestinians must accept the outcome of a population exchange (i.e., the loss of their property), but the Jews don't have to accept their part of that outcome?

Israel has been tested on the population exchange theory, and the result is FAIL.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The double standards of vandalization


What would the international reaction to this news be? Actually, we don't need to do much asking. We know that the story would be prominently carried by the world's major news outlets, such as this, this or this.

This defies all logic, since much more relevant human rights violations take place on a daily basis elsewhere in the world. Recently, for instance, Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army killed three adults who were guarding a school, and then proceeded to kidnap a classroomful of students. These children will be reeducated and turned into guerrilla fighters, as is the LRA's horrible practice. Yet we don't learn about this from the same sources that give detailed information on Jewish grave desecrations.

Of course, this is a disingenuous analysis. News agencies and newspapers are businesses and, as such, they tend to pay greater attention to events that are closely followed by their audiences. And, as the saying goes, Jews are news. They are --to put it crudely-- a much more "interesting" people than dark skinned ethnic groups in remote parts of the globe.

But what if the Jews were the ones desecrating graves? Would it be widely reported on? In principle, it would have to. Jews are news, both when they're victims and when they're victimizers.

But nope. You won't learn from an International Herald Tribune headline that today, in the West Bank town of Hebron, a group of Jews vandalized an Islamic cemetery. As the Jerusalem Post reports:

Some 100 settlers waited at the Federman Farm outpost on the outskirts of Kiryat Arba late Sunday night for the IDF soldiers they fear will evacuate the site for the second time in 24 hours.

Close to 1 a.m. on Sunday, soldiers, border policemen and police surprised the two families who lived at the outpost, located within the settlement's municipal boundaries, down a hillside from one of the main roads.

They quickly evacuated the families and destroyed the two homes; one belonged to the family of well-known far-right activist Noam Federman, and the other to the family of the singer Sinai Tor.

By evening, as soldiers and border policemen stood on the hill above, activists had built a small, white one-room structure at the site and set up a generator.

Sunday morning's evacuation sparked an immediate protest by activists, who slashed the tires of Palestinian cars and vandalized a Muslim cemetery in nearby Hebron.

Here's a picture of the vandalized graves:

Why won't we learn about how these members of a people who has had its own graves desecrated for the past 20 centuries are now vandalizing other people's cemeteries? It would be a most interesting story!

The answer seems to be that the Jewish people is given the benefit of the doubt to an extent that would be the envy of any other people. When French teens desecrate a grave, it is assumed something's wrong with the French nation. When Jewish teens desecrate a grave, it is somehow forbidden to think it has anything to do with their Jewishness, and it is assumed it's just a few loonies acting on their own.

Are they? The short answer is no. Although the Israeli state ostensibly condemns their actions, they're given green light to do most of their vandalism, much in the same way as Czarist Russia allowed the pogroms while prosecuting a few perpetrators once the brutality was over. Also, the Israeli state heavily subsidizes the Jewish grave desecrators, giving them cheap housing and providing them with services. In fact it was the State that encouraged them to settle in the West Bank in the first place.

Yet none of this is given the prominence it would deserve by the world press. Double standards anyone?

UPDATE: I was wrong in claiming that the IHT didn't publish this story. It did here, as one of our readers pointed out in a comment to this post.

The IHT is a thick newspaper, and I suspect the story was deeply buried in the inner pages, if printed at all. Unfortunately, the IHT doesn't give its virtual readers free access to the print version (or at least I haven't been able to access it; if someone knows how, please tell me); other, less glorious newspapers, like Buenos Aires' Clarín, do offer readers that possibility, and I was thus able to compare the prominence given in the cover to terrorist attacks against Jews and against others (see here). But in this case, I wasn't talking about prominence; I claimed that the event wasn't reported at all by the IHT, and the statement was flatly inaccurate. Making a point is important, but sticking to the truth is much more important still.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shot in the foot: a follow-up

When faced with evidence of Israeli wrongdoing, especially by the Army, Hasbara peddlers can always be counted on to state that:

1) the regrettable, but isolated, incidents come to light because Israel grants freedom of speech to all; and
2) Israel investigates the few rotten apples that do bad things.

On the surface, it would look like yes. If the crimes are reported, it's because someone was allowed to do the reporting; and cases are in fact opened against bad-behaving soldiers or settlers.

However, the Middle East being what it is, it's always healthy to aim for a deeper level of analysis. And when one does so, two questions arise: Are people actually free to report on the Israeli army's criminal actions -- or do they face consequences? And the cases that are opened against soldiers who commit crimes -- do they lead to convictions?

To try and answer these questions, I decided to look into an incident we have already talked about on this blog: the shooting of a blindfolded, handcuffed Palestinian in the foot by an Israeli soldier in July. It's not the only crime of the Israeli army I'm aware of, but I'm rather lazy and I took advantage of this incident about which a lot of information was available.

Who denounced the shooting? A Palestinian girl, who filmed the incident with a camera that had been provided to her by her school to film a student's party. She handed the video over to B'Tselem, an Israeli human-rights organization funded by European churches and leftist institutions.

Good. She filmed it and the story hit the headlines. But was she encouraged by the Israeli State to keep on with her work -- or at least left alone?

Er, no. Since the day she filmed the army's criminal action, her house has been shot at on a daily basis by the Israeli Defense Forces, the same ones that "take extreme care not to hurt any civilians." As can be read in her testimony:

“Since my video was shown, the soldiers shoot at our house all the time,” she said. The shattered and cracked windows at the front of the building confirm her story. “When we leave the windows open, they fire tear gas inside too.”

A photo of her in her house is available:

Be sure to notice the bullet hole in the window right at the center of this blown-up detail:

So we have here that the Israeli "freedom of speech" means that if you expose the army and are not fortunate enough to be Jewish, your house will be shot at. Just like in those pseudodemocracies where newspapers are not closed down, but contrarian journalists suffer strange accidents.

But what about the commander who ordered the shooting and thus faced the implacable investigative machinery of the Israeli army? To be sure, he was prosecuted. But was he jailed, or dismissed from the Army?

Er, again no.

Omri Burbag --such is the beast's name-- was removed from the command of the battalion, transferred to another position and tried in the military court on the relatively light charge of "unworthy conduct."

What other position? Well, he went on to command the armored branch at the training center for warfare on land near Ashkelon. See here (Hebrew).

That's right: the commander who ordered a prisoner to be shot is now training other soldiers.

The bottom line would seem to be that Palestinians can't freely expose the Israeli army's crimes; and that while cases are opened against offending soldiers, they don't result in convictions. Which dispels yet two more Hasbara myths.

Hat tip: Jews sans frontières.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A cartoon of Muhammad driving on Yom Kipur

This year's celebration of Yom Kipur, or the Day of Atonement, the most solemn holiday on the Jewish calendar, has been marred by a wave of ethnic rioting in the Israeli town of Acre, one of the few population centers officially recognized as "mixed cities" by the country. Approximately one-third of Acre's 45,000 inhabitants are Arabs; the remaining two-thirds are Jews.

As is usual in these cases, reporting on the events is contradictory. Both Jews and Arabs accuse each other of making a pogrom. Cars and shops have been smashed and about a dozen Arab houses have been torched. Both groups have suffered heavily in terms of property damage, although no victims have been reported.

However, what is not disputed is the incident that triggered the riots. According to Haaretz:

The riots, some of the worst the city has seen in years, began around midnight on Wednesday after an Arab resident of the Old City of Acre drove his car into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in eastern Acre, where he said he lived. Jewish teens at the scene said the Arab man was deliberately making noise and smoking cigarettes. The teens attacked the man and shortly afterward, a group of Arab teens arrived at the scene, igniting a riot.

I personally don't like people who make noises and smoke. I prefer quiet nonsmokers. That said, I acknowledge that neither activity is illegal.

The problem here, however, is that both operating machines (such as cars or CD players) and smoking are forbidden during Yom Kipur, and the Jewish population saw the Arab's attitude as a provocation.

And do you know what this reminds me of? The Danish cartoons of Muhammad. The Muslims were enraged at the clearly provocative cartoons, but, remember?, they should have kept rational. After all, they have no right to force their beliefs on European Christians.

I'm not seeing those who expounded that argument applying it to the situation in Acre. The Jews have no right to impose their superstitious ban on certain activities at given dates on the Arab citizenry of Israel. But the champions of rationalism who were quick to bash the Muslims for their reaction to the cartoons are suddenly understanding the Jewish ire at those who don't observe Yom Kipur -- or at least failing to condemn its irrationality and unequivocally assert that it was the Jews, not the Arabs, who started the riots after absurdly taking offense.

What's worse, the Israeli Arab leaders themselves have apologized for an individual Arab exercising his freedom! A declaration by notable Arab residents of Acre stated:

On Yom Kippur and all the Yom Kippurs, we respected, out of our own free will and sensitivity, the holiness of the day for Jews and refrained, almost every one of us, from violating its sanctity by declining to hold events and by not driving our cars. (...) We regret that a tiny minority of us did not take such care and chose to drive their cars in a Jewish neighborhood and hurt the feelings of their Jewish neighbors.

This statement is very telling of the state of Dhimmitude, or protected-minority status, in which Israeli Arabs live. As second-class citizens, they have to be very careful not to "hurt the feelings" of people who came to Acre only 60 years ago, when not a single member of the existing Arab population had ever in their life sighted a yarmulke. Of course, there's no reciprocation, and the Acre Jews freely drink beer, forbidden by Islam, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The response to the Arab notables' nonsensical mea culpa was a Jewish call posted on the Internet:

We will no longer buy anything from Arabs, we will not honor any of their holidays or any place of theirs. Arabs of Acre, go find your place in the villages. (...) A Jew is the son of a king, an Arab is the son of a dog.

This is a very irrational world we're living in.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Morality and hypocrisy

In a debate we're having elsewhere (Spanish), one of my opponents, Buena Prensa, disagrees with my view that Israel's behavior should be closely scrutinized. His (rather common) argument is that Israel is a country like any other: not better or worse, as Golda Meir already said several decades ago. So why should a country imbued with so much normalcy deserve any particularly close inspection?

But scratching a little under the surface it's evident that's not the way Israel sees itself.

A couple of months ago, an Israeli soldier shot a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian prisoner in the foot. A 16-year-old Palestinian girl filmed the incident and handed over the video to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, which released it at both the national and international levels. In an article translated by the Z-Word Blog, Israeli analyst Mario Wainstein reported:

[T]he B’Tselem organization, which brought the event to light and which gave the camera to the person who filmed it, did so because they had received numerous complaints that this sort of thing was happening but lack [sic] sufficient proof.

Already here we have a small but telling distortion: actually, the girl filmed the event with her own camera and on her own initiative, not with a camera provided by B'Tselem and in the context of a B'Tselem program. The Israelis are depicted as having at least as much merit as the Palestinians in exposing the incident.

Further on, Wainstein wrings his hands over the anti-Zionists' gloating about the incident and using it to bash Israel. In the critical section of the article, he notes:

It was to be expected that a Jewish soldier shooting a Palestinian with a rubber bullet in the foot and causing him an injury to his big toe would be more widely reported on and provoke more moral condemnation than the glorification of someone, not a Jew, who beat a four year old girl to death. It shares the same logic as the release of hundreds of Palestinian Arabs in exchange for a single Israeli prisoner.

I say it without any irony, I believe you are right. There is no question of a double standard. Quite simply, you know that we are morally superior and therefore demand from us what you don’t demand from others. I believe that this is how things are and that you are right. We are superior, so superior that the revelation of immoral conduct came from us, not from you, from an Israeli and Jewish NGO called and, and not by chance, B’Tselem, which means “in the image of” , a name taken from the Bible which says that all men were created in the image and likeness of God.

Instead of accepting that Israel is a State like any other, which in war situations does evil actions, Wainstein goes over the top to minimize the event and praise Israeli behavior. "A rubber bullet": wrong; it's a rubber-coated metal bullet, which mustn't be fired from less than 10 meters (it was fired 1 meter away from the prisoner). "The revelation of immoral conduct came from us, not from you": again wrong; the revelation came from a Palestinian girl, and if it was reported to B'Tselem it was because she knew that the affair would have been covered had she reported it to the police or the army -- the institutions that do represent the State.

Notice how Wainstein appropriates B'Tselem's work, which he passes off as representative of Israel's national values, when in fact it's a group of marginal members of the society, despised by the majority and with no political power whatsoever, who quixotically (but not heroically; the one hero was the girl who filmed it, as we'll see in an upcoming post) devote themselves to exposing what Israel would like to sweep under the rug.

In short, Israel doesn't mean to be the most moral country in the world, hence there's no particular reason for focusing on our war crimes. At the same time, Israel is the most moral country in the world, and this makes up for our shooting bound and blindfolded prisoners in the foot.

The polite thing to say is that one can't have it both ways. The impolite thing to say is that one can't be such a hypocrite.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Why don't they talk about Russia -- or the Tamils?

On Zionist blogs, like this, this or this, there has been a great fuss over Russia's recent invasion of Georgia. They do body counts and call on the world to protest against the imperialist Russian Federation; they even give the addresses of its embassies so that people will go and demonstrate.

But let's not deceive ourselves (though I don't think there's much self-deception actually going on, not at least on the Zionists' part): they don't give a damn for the Georgians. The situation in the Caucasus interests them only as a means to divert attention from the oppression of the Palestinians and accuse Israel's critics of (surprise, surprise) antisemitism.

The reasoning goes as follows: Israel critics don't talk about Russia; that's double standards and singling out for demonization; since that demonization is directed against the Jewish state, they're antisemites. Why do they criticize Israel and not China over the Tibet, Sudan over Darfur, India over Cachemira (although with the increasing ties between Israel and India the latter example is being dropped)?

Of course, we could just answer "because we want to." No one's under any obligation to write a treatise on human rights abuses whenever he denounces a particular case. There exist certain absolutes in war (for instance: not using children as human shields), and there's nothing wrong with pointing out Israel's breaking of those rules, even if other countries also break them.

Another possible answer is that while many countries violate human rights, Israel is the only one that does so while making a claim on the high moral ground. The phrase "we've got the most moral army in the world" has been ritually repeated by all Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents since I have use of memory. Apparently Zionists want to enjoy the right to proclaim themselves the most moral ones, but don't accept an audit on the claim's validity.

But the most relevant point is that these Zionist complaints are disingenuous. Certain peoples attract more attention than others, and the Jewish people is one of them. Thus, the actions of the State that claims to represent all Jews get more coverage than those of other countries. But --and this is what Zionists pretend not to see-- crimes committed against Jews also get far more attention.

The emblematic example is the Holocaust. While many peoples have been victims of genocide, only the Jewish people saw the perpetrators prosecuted and executed; only the Jewish people got reparations in the order of hundreds of billions of current dollars; only the Jewish people's genocide is recognized by all Western nations; and only Holocaust deniers are shunned (by comparison, Armenian Genocide denier Bernard Lewis was honored by the American Congress).

And with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict, whereas Israeli atrocities get ample coverage, it is also true that Palestinian terrorism is immensely --immensely-- more publicized than that carried out by other peoples against other countries.

Let's see an example. In March this year, a Palestinian terrorist murdered 8 students at Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Talmudic academy. This was the cover of Argentina's foremost daily, Clarín (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE):

The attack is reported on top right.

Meanwhile, in June this year, terrorists from the Tamil Eelam Liberation Tigers group, in Sri Lanka, attacked two buses killing 21 people. Since 21 are more than 8, it would seem logical for Clarín to devote to this attack a prominent space on its cover, like it did when the victims were Jewish. But (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE):

No mention whatsoever of the attack.

Thus, we have that the day that follows a Palestinian attack, this makes headlines; but the day that follows a Tamil attack with many more casualties, no mention is made of it on the paper's cover. Under Zionist logic, there would appear to be a demonization of the Palestinians, because their attacks, and only theirs, are reported, when elsewhere in the world there are much more frequent and lethal attacks...

For my dear Zionist friends, this is Clarín's address:

Tacuarí 1840
(C1139AAN) Buenos Aires
Fax: 4309-7200/7319

I guess they'll write immediately to ask for a fair coverage of all terrorisms.

And the day I see all Tamil attacks with more than 8 dead reported on the daily's cover, I promise, I promise I'll be the first one to demonstrate at the Russian Embassy.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

From Pallywood to the Hollycaust

The Reuters picture above was at the center of a scandal during the war Israel unleashed on Lebanon in 2006, killing 1,191 civilians to avenge a border incident in which exactly zero civilians were killed. The photo was digitally edited, and smoke was added to it to increase the dramatic effect of the Israeli bombing of Beirut. As can be seen, the image would appear tu suggest that, as a result of the Israeli bombs, several buildings in the Lebanese capital burned.

And burn they did, since the picture is the original, not the doctored, one (to compare both, see here; I personally find the undoctored one more impressive). That is, the original photo, on its own, already conveyed a high level of destruction, and the edited image doesn't actually add much dramatism to the scene, which may be indicative of the photo editor's incompetence, but may also indicate the magnitude of the destruction perpetrated by Israel (which was so extensive it was difficult to "enhance").

That notwithstanding, the picture has been widely circulated by the Zionists, who try to establish that if this photo was doctored (even when the "value added" of the edition was irrelevant), all the Israel-inculpating graphic material coming from the Middle East is suspect.

In fact, this is part of a strategy of "denouncing" what they call Pallywood, a name taken from a video by Richard Landes (see it here), which exposes Palestinian journalists and other sources who doctored graphic material, faked war actions that didn't take place, simulated death or injury, etc.

The first thing that strikes one on watching Pallywood is how unimpressive the dramatizations are. Chaotic scenes are shown with people who pretend to have been hit by bullets, persons dragged away from the scene like they were severely injured, etc.; but nothing abnormal in a state of war. The distortion lies in the fact that the actions shown didn't happen, not in any particularly atrocious Israeli behavior being shown. No indictment of the Israeli war conduct could be made based on scenes from Pallywood. This contrasts strongly with the CERTIFIED scenes of Israeli atrocities, like shooting a handcuffed and blindfolded prisoner (video), using a 13-year-old boy as a human shield (photo), punching a student at a checkpoint (video), blowing up the door of a house injuring a woman and leaving her to die while the soldiers tear apart the house's rooms (video), or, in the case of the settlers, brutally clubbing elderly Palestinians, wearing masks that are distrubingly reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan (story and video).

That said, it's undoubtedly wrong for pictures and videos to be doctored, and we agree with Hasbara that such journalistic behavior is unacceptable.

But we don't agree at all with the conclusion they reach: that if the Palestinians lied in the scenes of Pallywood, then they may have lied in all other videos indicting the Israelis. Drawing general conclusions from a careful selection of facts is a well-known rhetorical trick that does not confer any validity on those conclusions.

Unfortunately, Zionists are not alone in using that trick. They are in the dishonorable company of Holocaust deniers, who have pointed to inconsistencies and lies regarding that genocide, and therefore "conclude" that there was no Holocaust.

For instance, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, one of the bulwarks of Holocaust memory preservation, was adding smoke to photographs well before Reuters entered the business.

We can check out that reprehensible behavior using Wayback Machine, an archive that keeps webpages for further use by researchers, even if the page is taken down. Let's see what happened with a SWC page whose history is here. As can be seen, the page was up for the first time in 1999, and was taken down in 2006.

If we access the 18 Nov 1999 version, we see this image:

With the dramatic caption:

As these prisoners were being processed for slave labor, many of their friends and families were being gassed and burned in the ovens in the crematoria. The smoke can be seen in the background.

The smoke is really heart-wrenching. Too bad that, unlike that in Beirut, it was not enhanced: it didn't even exist.

The fraud was noticed by the Holocaust deniers, who in this page denounced the SWC with great sarcasm.

Having been exposed, the Wiesenthal Center replaced the photo with the actual one, as can be seen in the 4 Dec 2000 version:

With the caption:

As these prisoners were being processed for slave labor, many of their friends and families were being gassed and burned in the ovens in the crematoria.

No reference to the former smoke.

In contrast with Reuters, who apologized for their mistake, never did the SWC acknowledge to have doctored the picture, in what we could well term the Hollycaust: edition techniques aimed at making the Holocaust look more spectacular. Of course, the world press did not accord the least importance to this fraud, thus betraying its double standards, since the Beirut doctored photos got an immense and universal coverage (and Zionists don't exercise any control whatsoever over the media!).

But it may be said this picture is anecdotal evidence. There are other examples, however.

All of you know that the Nazis made soap from Jews. For instance, we read in an emotive story about two elderly Holocaust survivors:

Freda was also in Auschwitz, and she spotted David through a wire fence. The women had more food than the men and Freda smuggled soup and bread underneath a wire fence to nourish her starving husband.

"That lasted only a few days," Freda said. "Then David disappeared. I didn't know about him and he didn't know about me."

David was shipped out to another work camp where he was forced to make soap from Jewish bodies.

Well: David lied (although, arguably, unaware of it). Never did the Nazis make soap from the Jews. In 1991 Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer concluded beyond reasonable doubt that it was an unfounded myth. In his eloquent words:

One has to fight wrong perceptions of the Holocaust, even if large numbers of survivors accept them as true. It is not as though the Nazis were not capable of this atrocity [i.e. making soap from Jewish bodies] -- they certainly were -- but they, factually, did not do it.

Holocaust deniers hold on to this to claim that, if the most-often repeated Holocaust anecdote is false, then doubt may be cast on the whole Holocaust concept.

Zionists copycat that technique, and claim that if the actions shown in Pallywood are false, then there's no oppression of the Palestinians, or apartheid in Palestine.

It is true that, as they say in French politics, extremes touch.

Monday, September 22, 2008

MEMRI woes

Those of us who, in our extreme antisemitism, read AntiWar and Counterpunch on a daily basis are used to their periodical "pledge weeks," in which readers are urged to contribute money, lest both sites have to close up shop and neocons are finally free to take over the Earth. But guess who, across the aisle, is also asking for their audience's charity? That's right: MEMRI. When I learned about it, I said to myself, "Hey, why not donate? I give my full support to free speech, and providing high quality translations of carefully selected items from the Muslim countries' media to make them appear as barbarians is, after all, free speech."

And it looks like they're in sore need of the money. The Middle East Media Research Institute has, in fact, issued an urgent appeal in the following terms:

As a reader of MEMRI, you are familiar with our continued efforts over the past decade to 'Bridge the Language Gap Between the Middle East and the West.' This undertaking is no longer possible.

At this critical point,we urge you to Help MEMRI continue its operations [Donate online at (URL for donations)]

  • Over the past decade, MEMRI has accumulated the largest open archives of translations and analysis from Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, and Urdu primary sources. These archives include tens of thousands of pages of reports and over 15,000 minutes of translated TV clips from Arab and Iranian TV channels.
  • MEMRI releases, on average, over 10 major reports every week, and updates its nine websites and blogs with new information on a daily basis.

The Institute goes on to detail the importance of its selfless efforts:


  • The U.S. Armed Forces - Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.
  • Federal departments and agencies such as the The White House, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, and others.
  • State and local authorities in all 50 states, on homeland security issues.
  • Over 500 academic institutions throughout the world. This includes every state in the U.S. as well as 172 countries worldwide.
  • And the public at large.

While the Israel advocacy community can be technically considered part of "the public at large," it's puzzling that they got no specific mention. One can't imagine more avid users of MEMRI than Zionist bloggers and other Hasbara peddlers, yet for some reason they were not given the beneficiary status they deserved.

Also, it's surprising that all the government agencies that are supposed to be benefitting from MEMRI are American. Israeli agencies are completely missing from the list. This is strange, since it seems that Israelis comprise a large part of MEMRI's readership. In fact, on its languages page, where non-English speakers are redirected to the MEMRI site translated into their own language, short explanations of what MEMRI is are given in Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, German, and Spanish -- but not in Hebrew (i.e. Hebrew readers are supposed to be familiar with MEMRI, unlike the others). Also, the Hebrew version has an Israeli domain (, while none of the other versions has a national domain.

That aside, before donating I decided to check out some of MEMRI's reasons why I should let go of my cash. MEMRI claims to 'Bridge the Language Gap Between the Middle East and the West'. As far as I know, Israel is a country in the Middle East, and Hebrew is spoken there, but for some reason MEMRI doesn't provide translations from Hebrew. For instance, when Israel abducted Omar Barghouti, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported:

במצור הראשוני על הבית השתתפו חיילי גדוד מחטיבת שריון ומחלקת חיילים מגדוד החי"ר דוכיפת
חיילי דוכיפת נדחסו לאמבולנס ממוגן כדי להגיע במהירות האפשרית לבית שבו הסתתר ברגותי ולסגור אותו מכל עבריו
על המבצע פיקד מג"ד השריון

Which means:

The initial siege of the house involved soldiers from a battalion of an armored brigade, and soldiers from the Dukhifat infantry battalion. The Dukhifat soldiers were squeezed into a protected ambulance in order to arrive as quickly as possible at the house where Barghouti was hiding, and to seal it off. The head of the armoured battalion commanded the operation.

Since this paragraph did not show up on Haaretz's online English version, its translation would have been very important for us language-impaired Westerners, because we would have learned that the Israelis do exactly what they accuse the Palestinians of, i.e. using ambulances for military purposes.

But for some reason MEMRI did not see it necessary to bridge this particular language gap.

Another reason to help out MEMRI can be found in its mission statement, according to which the Institute was founded

in February 1998 to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East[;] MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501 (c)3 organization.

It's good to see people informing debates, but is that MEMRI's actual goal? Well... not entirely. Back when it was founded, MEMRI's statement read somewhat different:

In its research, the institute puts emphasizes [sic] the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel.

This crucial phrase is now missing. (By the way, why would they claim to champion other causes when they mean Israel? Intellectual dishonesty? Self-hate? I will call it by its true name: antisemitism.)

So that after looking if they really bridged linguistic gaps, and finding that they did so only selectively; and after checking out if they were sincere about their goals, and finding that they weren't, I decided not to donate to MEMRI. I give my full support to free speech, not to liars.


Hat tips to practically everyone on the web, but particularly to:

Lawrence of Cyberia, for reporting on the Haaretz story and providing the translation;

Arab Media Watch, for unearthing MEMRI's original mission statement;

Wayback Machine, for preserving old web pages with the skeletons some people would like to hide in their virtual closets;

and, hold your breath,

Little Green Footballs for making me aware of MEMRI's drive to make handsome profits from scared American Jews.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Who walked away from what

"Barak offered the Palestinians 97 percent of the West Bank, and Arafat walked away from the negotiations." How many times have you read this? For supplementary dramatic effect, it is often added "... without even bothering to make a counterproposal." The formula is indefatigably repeated with minor variations. Sometimes it's 93 percent, or 94, 95 or 98 percent (curiously, 96 percent is never mentioned), but the basic idea is that a generous offer was made and the Palestinians seized yet another opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Did they? First off let us take a look at the claim that they made no proposal of their own. This does not seem to be true. In an interview, Israeli negotiator Shlomo Ben Ami had this to say:

[A]t Camp david I did chance to see some sort of Palestinian map. It was a map that reflected a concession of less than 2 percent on their part in return for a territorial swap in a 1:1 ratio. But the territories they wanted from us were not in the Halutza dunes, they wanted them next to the West Bank. I remember that according to their map, Kochav Yair, for example, was supposed to be included in the territory of the Palestinian state; they demanded sovereignty over Kochav Yair.

No matter how deep in his statement he tries to bury the word "map," the concrete fact is that this man did get to see one -- detailed enough to grasp which towns would be in the Palestinian state and which ones wouldn't. Only, he didn't like the proposal.

Of course, one may say that a negotiation is a negotiation, and you've always got to make concessions. But this particular negotiation was a land-for-peace one: this may be construed as all of the land for all of the peace, not some of the land for all of the peace. The Israelis telling the Palestinians "we'll give you most of your land but we'll retain this or that territory that used to be yours" is like the Palestinians telling the Israelis "we'll stop suicide bombings, but from time to time we'll throw a rocket or two on Sderot." Renouncing 2 pct of your own territory in exchange for a full commitment to peace looks to me a good enough concession.

But even if you disagree with that, is it true that Barak offered upwards of 90 pct of the West Bank to the Palestinians?

The maps would suggest otherwise. Here's what was offered at Camp David (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE):

Green is Palestinian, pink is Israeli, pink with horizontal lines is an Israeli-controlled security zone. Does green look like 93-98 percent to you? Nor does it to me. If I were a mathematician I would be able to make calculations and find out exactly what portion of the map would correspond to the Palestinian State.

But without getting into that detail, anyone who sees this map immediately realizes it's an unacceptable vision of a Palestinian state. It's not contiguous, to begin with: a wide corridor of Israeli settlements, running from west to east, cuts off the northern part from the southern section. Also, there are two settlement wedges that cut deep into Palestinian territory reaching the settlements of Shilo and Ofra, the latter of which was built on private Palestinian land by Israel's own admission. So that in practice, the northern section itself would be divided into three cantons with only partial contiguity.

How much of a land grab does this amount to? While Israel never gave official figures, after the negotiations failed Ehud Barak wrote an article in the New York Times in which he outlined what was needed for Israel's security. Wrote Ehud:

What Israel ought to do now is take steps to ensure the long-term viability of its Jewish majority. That requires a strategy of disengagement from the Palestinians -- even unilaterally if necessary -- and a gradual process of establishing secure, defensible borders, demarcated so as to encompass more than 80 percent of the Jewish settlers in several settlement blocs over about 15 percent of Judea and Samaria, and to ensure a wide security zone in the Jordan Valley.

Now annexing settlement blocs containing about 80 percent of the 180,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank was official Israeli policy all along during Camp David. This article clarifies, at last, the amount of land involved: 15 percent of Judea and Samaria, not 3 to 7 percent. Add to that the "wide security zone," and at the very least 20 percent of the West Bank would remain under Israeli control.

Small wonder the Palestinians walked away. The gulf between their offer of a 2 percent land concession and the Isreali demand of 20 percent was just too deep to be resolved in that negotiation.

However, the negotiations continued, and in December 2000-January 2001 Barak made a second offer in Taba. Here's the map (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE):

Now this looks like a 93-97 percent proposal. The settlement blocs are limited. There's territorial contiguity. The security zone in the Jordan Valley is gone. Why, then, did Arafat walk away from the Taba negotiation?

The answer is that he didn't. It was the Israelis who suspended the negotiations. On February 8, 2001, Barak's media advisor made a statement that:

Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak clarified this evening that the ideas which were brought up in the course of the recent negotiations conducted with the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, including those raised at the Camp David Summit and by President Clinton towards the end of his term in office, are not binding on the new government to be formed in Israel.

Thus, there was an offer rejected by the Palestinians, but it was not of 93-97 percent of the West Bank; and there was a 93-97 percent offer, but it was not rejected by the Palestinians. This can be summarized in the following table:

Negotiation siteWhat was offeredWho walked away
Camp David80-85 pctthe Palestinians
Taba93-97 pctIsrael

By freely mixing the events that happened in Taba (i.e. Barak's 93-97 pct offer) with those that took place in Camp David (i.e. Arafat walking away from the negotiation), the Zionists manage to tell yet another half-truth that amounts to a full lie.