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.