It’s almost enough to restore your faith in the political process! Independent Senator Nick Xenophon slams the Australian government over its semantic shenanigans – re-categorising the ‘Occupied Territories’ in Palestine as ‘Disputed Territories’.
Certainly Australia’s record of support for Palestine has never been much better than dismal, but under the Abbott government it has reached new lows!
It is a shame that it takes an independent senator to tell the truth in Parliament. The major parties wouldn’t dare speak the truth if it meant offending the Zionist lobby.
I guess that’s no basis for a restoration of faith in our system but it does remind me that an inspired individual can still rise above the system and that gives me hope. 🙂
Xenophon Smashes Brandis-Abbott Spin On Occupied Palestine
Brandis digs himself a hole on Israel, so Abbott hands him a shovel. Chris Graham reports on the ensuing stunning rebuke by Nick Xenophon.
Independent federal Senator Nick Xenophon has delivered a comprehensive – and at times stunning – dismantling of the Abbott Government’s apparent decision to no longer refer to areas of Palestine as “occupied” by Israel, describing the Commonwealth’s actions as “factually untrue, legally ignorant and most unhelpful”.
Senator Xenophon, an independent from South Australia, delivered the speech to the federal Senate yesterday evening. It followed Attorney General George Brandis ‘freestyling’ during a Senate Estimates hearing on June 5 over disputed territories in the Middle East.
Brandis’ latest brain snap was sparked by a late night question from Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, to the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese: “Why did the Australian ambassador to Israel attend a meeting in occupied East Jerusalem with the Israeli minister for housing and construction, the same minister who is forecasting a 50 per cent increase in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories in the next five years?”
Varghese never got to answer. Brandis interrupted him and decided, on the fly, to single-handedly rewrite Australian Government policy on Israel-Palestine.
“The Australian government does not refer to East Jerusalem by the descriptor ‘occupied East Jerusalem’. We speak of East Jerusalem,” Brandis replied.
The following morning, Brandis poured fuel on a growing fire by reading from a written statement: “The description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied …’ is freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott tried to dig his party out of the hole, referring Brandis’ comments as a “terminological clarification”, but in the process introducing the phrase “disputed territories”.
The ‘policy on the fly’ approach to Middle East relations, not surprisingly, sparked widespread outrage, with Arab threats of sanctions worth $2 billion against Australia’s live cattle trade, and more internal party rumblings at yet another stuff up from senior Liberals.
Yesterday evening, Xenophon set the record straight with a point-by-point decimation of Abbott’s and Brandis’ and claims, which he described as “false and actually most unhelpful to the process of achieving a lasting peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict”.
“According to the 1949 Geneva conventions and the 1907 Hague regulations, territory is considered occupied when it comes under the actual authority of the invading military.
“There are certain objective tests.
“One – has the occupying power substituted its own authority for that of the occupied authorities? Yes. It is a matter of fact that Israel’s authority prevails in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“Two – Have the enemy forces been defeated, regardless of whether sporadic local resistance continues? Yes. It is a matter of fact that Israel defeated its military adversaries in the June 1967 war.
“Three – Does the occupying power have a sufficient force present to make its authority felt? Yes. It is a fact that Israel has sufficient force to make its authority felt.
“Four – Has an administration been established over the territory? Yes. It is a fact — a poignant fact — that even the Palestinian leaders who wish to enter or leave the occupied Palestinian territories cannot do so without permission from Israel. Even the Palestinian president cannot go to the United Nations in New York, or indeed to anywhere else in the world, without permission from Israel.
“Five – Has the occupying power issued and enforced directions to the civilian population? Yes. It is a fact that Israel has issued and enforced such directions.
“Indeed, Israel’s highest court — the High Court of Justice — stated in paragraph 23 of its verdict in the case of Beit Sourik Village Council v The Government of Israel on 30 June 2004 that ‘Israel holds the area in belligerent occupation’.
“I concede that here the word ‘occupied’ is ‘freighted with implications’, but to say they are pejorative is factually untrue and legally ignorant.”
Senator Xenophon also pointed to a landmark opinion handed down by the International Court of Justice in 2004 around the illegal establishment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and the construction of a wall by Israel to separate it from parts of Palestine, and to regulate the movements of Palestinians.
That judgment repeatedly refers to ‘occupied’ territory in East Jerusalem.
“Australia is quite happy to accept the wisdom of the International Court of Justice when it comes to whales,” Xenophon said, “but not, it seems, the Palestinians.”
“We already know, thanks to the so-called Palestine Papers — which are the biggest leak of secret documents in the history of the Middle East conflict — that a solution is already available.
“The Palestinian negotiating team in 2008 offered a formula where Israel would annex 1.9 per cent of the West Bank in the context of a land swap, allowing Israel to retain within its borders 63 per cent of the illegal settler population.
“We also know, according to the same leaks, that Israel’s negotiating team turned down this offer.
“Australia, by adopting these rejectionist statements, has given comfort to the extremists and has weakened the position of the moderate and reasonable Israelis and Palestinians.
“We should instead encourage our great friend Israel to accept the generous offer made in 2008 so that we can have a real, lasting and durable peace in the Middle East.
“The statement made by the Australian government on 5 June this year is not only wrong; it is factually untrue, legally ignorant and most unhelpful.”
For his part, Brandis reportedly blamed the ‘misunderstanding’ on “journalist-led confusion of an innocuous statement”.
This is a powerful and brutal analysis of the current state of the State of Israel. Hedges pulls no punches. His starting point – that Israel has been “poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war” and “morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood” says it all! The rest is just commentary.
Having said that, the article is intended primarily as a review of Max Blumenthal’s new book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” – a book that is evidently equally blunt and brutal in its assessment of the Jewish state.
I have nothing but admiration for both of these men – Hedges and Blumenthal. They risk intimidation and ostracism by speaking out so frankly about the crisis in Israel. Most media outlets prefer to look the other way.
There are no guarantees that prophetic voices like Hedges and Blumenthal are going to bring about significant change, but we can be assured that if no one speaks out, nothing will change.
Imploding the Myth of Israel
By Chris Hedges
Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that rivals the brutality and racism of apartheid South Africa. Its democracy—which was always exclusively for Jews—has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country toward fascism. Many of Israel’s most enlightened and educated citizens—1 million of them—have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists—Israeli and Palestinian—are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, has become an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy.
And yet, the hard truths about Israel remain largely unspoken. Liberal supporters of Israel decry its excesses. They wring their hands over the tragic necessity of airstrikes on Gaza or Lebanon or the demolition of Palestinian homes. They assure us that they respect human rights and want peace. But they react in inchoate fury when the reality of Israel is held up before them. This reality implodes the myth of the Jewish state. It exposes the cynicism of a state whose real goal is, and always has been, the transfer, forced immigration or utter subjugation and impoverishment of Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories. Reality shatters the fiction of a peace process. Reality lays bear the fact that Israel routinely has used deadly force against unarmed civilians, including children, to steal half the land on the West Bank and crowd forcibly displaced Palestinians into squalid, militarized ghettos while turning their land and homes over to Jewish settlers. Reality exposes the new racial laws adopted by Israel as those once advocated by the fanatic racist Meir Kahane. Reality unveils the Saharonim detention camp in the Negev Desert, the largest detention center in the world. Reality mocks the lie of open, democratic debate, including in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, where racist diatribes and physical threats, often enshrined into law, are used to silence and criminalize the few who attempt to promote a civil society. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.
There are very few intellectuals or writers who have the tenacity and courage to confront this reality. This is what makes Max Blumenthal’s “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel. Blumenthal burrows deep into the dark heart of Israel. The American journalist binds himself to the beleaguered and shunned activists, radical journalists and human rights campaigners who are the conscience of the nation, as well as Palestinian families in the West Bank struggling in vain to hold back Israel’s ceaseless theft of their land. Blumenthal, in chapter after chapter, methodically rips down the facade. And what he exposes, in the end, is a corpse.
I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, including months in Gaza and the West Bank. I lived for two years in Jerusalem. Many of the closest friends I made during my two decades overseas are Israeli. Most of them are among the Israeli outcasts that Blumenthal writes about, men and women whose innate decency and courage he honors throughout his book. They are those who, unlike the Israeli leadership and a population inculcated with racial hatred, sincerely want to end occupation, restore the rule of law and banish an ideology that creates moral hierarchies with Arabs hovering at the level of animal as Jews—especially Jews of European descent—are elevated to the status of demigods. It is a measure of Blumenthal’s astuteness as a reporter that he viewed Israel through the eyes of these outcasts, as well as the Palestinians, and stood with them as they were arrested, tear-gassed and fired upon by Israeli soldiers. There is no other honest way to tell the story about Israel. And this is a very honest book.
“Goliath” is made up of numerous vignettes, some only a few pages long, that methodically build a picture of Israel, like pieces fit into a puzzle. It is in the details that Israel’s reality is exposed. The Israeli army, Blumenthal points out in his first chapter, “To the Slaughter,” employs a mathematical formula to limit outside food deliveries to Gaza to keep the caloric levels of the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped inside its open air prison just above starvation; a government official later denied that he had joked in a meeting that the practice is “like an appointment with a dietician.” The saturation, 22-day bombing of Gaza that began on Dec. 27, 2008, led by 60 F-16 fighter jets, instantly killed 240 Palestinians, including scores of children. Israel’s leading liberal intellectuals, including the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, blithely supported the wholesale murder of Palestinian civilians. And while Israelis blocked reporters from entering the coastal Gaza Strip—forcing them to watch distant explosions from Israel’s Parash Hill, which some reporters nicknamed “the Hill of Shame”—the army and air force carried out atrocity after atrocity, day after day, crimes that were uncovered only after the attack was over and the press blockade lifted. This massive aerial and ground assault against a defenseless civilian population that is surrounded by the Israeli army, a population without an organized military, air force, air defenses, navy, heavy artillery or mechanized units, caused barely a ripple of protest inside Israel from the left or the right. It was part of the ongoing business of slaughtering the other.
“Unarmed civilians were torn to pieces with flechette darts sprayed from tank shells,” Blumenthal writes. “Several other children covered in burns from white phosphorous chemical weapon rounds were taken to hospitals; a few were found dead with bizarre wounds after being hit with experimental Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) bombs designed to dissolve into the body and rapidly erode internal soft tissue. A group of women were shot to death while waving a white flag; another family was destroyed by a missile while eating lunch; and Israeli soldiers killed Ibrahim Awajah, an eight-year-old child. His mother, Wafaa, told the documentary filmmaker Jen Marlowe that soldiers used his corpse for target practice. Numerous crimes like these were documented across the Gaza Strip.”
By the end of the assault, with 1,400 dead, nearly all civilians, Gaza lay in ruins. The Israeli air force purposely targeted Gaza’s infrastructure, including power plants, to reduce Gaza to a vast, overcrowded, dysfunctional slum. Israel, Blumenthal notes, destroyed “80 percent of all arable farmland in the coastal strip, bombing the strip’s largest flour mill, leveling seven concrete factories, shelling a major cheese factory, and shooting up a chicken farm, killing thirty-one thousand chickens.”
“Twelve [years old] and up, you are allowed to shoot. That’s what they tell us,” an Israeli sniper told Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass in 2004 at the height of the Second Intifada, Blumenthal writes. “This is according to what the IDF [Israel Defense Force] says to its soldiers. I do not know if this is what the IDF says to the media,” the sniper was quoted as saying.
The 2008 murderous rampage is not, as Blumenthal understands, an anomaly. It is the overt policy of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocates “a system of open apartheid.” Israel, as Blumenthal points out, has not lifted its state of emergency since its foundation. It has detained at least 750,000 Palestinians, including 10,000 women, in its prisons since 1967. It currently holds more than 4,500 political prisoners, including more than 200 children and 322 people jailed without charges, Blumenthal writes, including those it has labeled “administrative detainees.” Israel has a staggering 99.74 percent conviction rate for these so-called security prisoners, a figure that any totalitarian state would envy.
Blumenthal cites a survey of Jewish Israeli attitudes on the Gaza bombing, known as Operation Cast Lead. The survey, by Daniel Bar-Tal, a political psychologist from Tel Aviv University, concluded that the public’s “consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians, and insensitivity to their suffering.” Bar-Tal tells Blumenthal “these attitudes are the product of indoctrination.” And Blumenthal sets out to chronicle the poison of this indoctrination and what it has spawned in Israeli society.
The racist narrative, once the domain of the far right and now the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream, demonizes Palestinians and Arabs, as well as all non-Jews. Non-Jews, according to this propaganda, will forever seek the annihilation of the Jewish people. The Holocaust, in which Israeli victimhood is sanctified, is seamlessly conflated with Palestinian and Arab resistance to occupation. The state flies more than 25 percent of Israeli 11th-graders to Poland to tour Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps a year before they start army service. They are told that the goal of Arabs, along with the rest of the non-Jewish world, is another Auschwitz. And the only thing standing between Israelis and a death camp is the Israeli army. Israeli high schools show films such as “Sleeping With the Enemy” to warn students about dating non-Jews, especially Arabs. Racist books such as “Torat Ha’Melech,” or “The King’s Torah,” are given to soldiers seeking rabbinical guidance on the rules of engagement. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, the authors of the 230-page book, inform soldiers that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and may have to be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven commandments [of Noah] … there is nothing wrong with the murder,” Shapira and Elitzur write. The rabbis claim that under Jewish law “there is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”
These narratives of hatred make any act of deadly force by the Israeli army permissible, from the shooting of Palestinian children to the 2010 killing by Israeli commandos of nine unarmed activists on the Turkish boat the Mavi Marmara. The activists were part of a flotilla of six boats bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The Israeli propaganda machine claimed that the small flotilla was a covert terror convoy. Never mind that the Mavi Marmara was in international waters when it was attacked. Never mind that no one on the boat, or any of the five other boats, was armed. Never mind that the boats were thoroughly searched before they left for Gaza. The Israeli lie was trumpeted while every camera, video and tape recorder, computer and cellphone of the activists on board was seized and destroyed—or in a few cases sold by Israeli soldiers when they got back to Israel—while those on the boats were towed to an Israeli port and detained in isolation. The ceaseless stoking of fear and racial hatred—given full vent by the Israeli government and media in the days after the Mavi Marmara incident—has served to empower racist political demagogues such as Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, a camp follower of Meir Kahane. It has also effectively snuffed out Israel’s old left-wing Zionist establishment.
“In Israel you have three systems of laws,” the Israeli Arab politician Ahmed Tibi observes in the Blumenthal book. “One is democracy for 80 percent of the population. It is democracy for Jews. I call it an ethnocracy or you could call it a Judocracy. The second is racial discrimination for 20 percent of the population, the Israeli Arabs. The third is apartheid for the population in the West Bank and Gaza. This includes two sets of governments, one for the Palestinians and one for the settlers. Inside Israel there is not yet apartheid but we are being pushed there with … new laws.”
As Blumenthal documents, even Israeli Jews no longer live in a democracy. The mounting state repression against human rights advocates, journalists and dissidents has reached the proportions of U.S. Homeland Security. The overtly racist cant of the political elite and the masses—“Death to Arabs” is a popular chant at Israeli soccer matches—has emboldened mobs and vigilantes, including thugs from right-wing youth groups such as Im Tirtzu, to carry out indiscriminate acts of vandalism and violence against dissidents, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and the hapless African immigrants who live crammed into the slums of Tel Aviv. Israel has pushed through a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that eerily resemble the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law, for example, permits “small, exclusively Jewish towns planted across Israel’s Galilee region to formally reject applicants for residency on the grounds of ‘suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.’ ” And all who denounce the steady march of Israel toward fascism—including Jewish academics—are attacked in organized campaigns as being insufficiently Zionist. They are branded as terrorists or collaborators with terrorists. As a headline in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz read: “The settlers are the real government of Israel.”
“Woody [a law school graduate from New York] became my initial liaison to Tel Aviv’s radical left, introducing me to a loose-knit band of a few hundred anarchists, disillusioned ex-soldiers, disaffected children of ultra-Zionists, queers, academics, and generally idealistic and disillusioned young people who came of age during the Second Intifada when the liberal Zionist ‘peace camp’ closed ranks with the militaristic right wing,” Blumenthal writes. “This tiny band of social deviants comprised the only grouping of people I met who sincerely embraced multiculturalism and who took concrete action against the discriminatory foundations of their country’s political apparatus. Right-wingers and many Jewish Israelis who considered themselves part of the social mainstream referred to members of the radical left as smolinim, which simply means ‘leftists,’ but the word carried a deeply insulting connotation of an unacceptable caste, an Other. As branded social outcasts, inflexible in their principles, disdainful of ordinary politics, and brazen in their racial liberalism they resembled nothing so much as the pre-Civil War abolitionists.”
The late Amnon Dankner, the former editor of Maariv, one of Israel’s major newspapers, Blumenthal notes, denounced “neo-Nazi expressions in the Knesset” and “entire parties whose tenor and tone arouse feelings of horror and terrifying memories.” David Landau, the former editor-in-chief of Haaretz, has called on Israelis to boycott the Knesset “to stand against the wave of fascism that has engulfed the Zionist project.” And Uri Avnery, a left-wing politician and journalist, says: “Israel’s very existence is threatened by fascism.”
The disillusionment among idealistic young immigrants to Israel dots the book. As one example, Canadian David Sheen is recorded as saying that everything he had known about Israel and Palestinians was, in Blumenthal’s words, “a fantasy cultivated through years of heavy indoctrination.” But perhaps what is saddest is that Israel has, and has always had, within its population intellectuals, including the great scholar Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who sought to save Israel from itself.
Leibowitz, whom Isaiah Berlin called “the conscience of Israel,” warned that if Israel did not separate church and state it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult.
“Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” said Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous and would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and any hope of democracy. “Our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution.” He foresaw that “the Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.” He warned that the rise of a virulent racism would consume Israeli society. He knew that prolonged occupation of the Palestinians would spawn “concentration camps” for the occupied and that, in his words, “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.”
But few, then or now, cared to listen. This is why Blumenthal’s new book is so important.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, has previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
It is encouraging to hear about this new reporters’ guidebook – one that makes the bold attempt to help journalists be more objective in their reporting of Israel-Palestine. It is encouraging at least because it recognises that the words we use are often laden with values and judgements of the kind that journalists are generally keen to avoid. Even so, to suggest that a mere substitutions of sensitive terms will in some way improve media coverage in the Middle East is patently absurd!
Certainly using the term ‘Security Fence’ rather than ‘Apartheid Wall’ to describe the barrier that separates Israel from the West Bank shows clearly which side the writer is on. Even so, the construction and deconstruction of political narratives is far more complex than any simple change in vocabulary.
To write in any detail about the suffering of the Palestinian people is in itself an act that subverts the dominant narrative. And even if writers were able to discuss the violence with clinical objectivity, this would not suggest impartiality by any means! Evil scientists have performed monstrous experiments on living beings, and that fact that they can describe their results in purely scientific terms actually reinforces the horror of their acts!
What we need is not ‘objective’ reporting (whatever that is) but reporting where the agenda is not concealed. For me personally, my sympathies are with the Palestinians, and I say that unashamedly. For me to refer to the ‘Apartheid Wall’ as anything else would be dishonest!
A new reporter’s guidebook released on October 23 aims to balance media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a field that often spirals into semantic mudslinging at the cost of clear news coverage.
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) published Use With Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict after a year of joint work between six anonymous Israeli and Palestinian media veterans. The two sides worked on separate content submissions, which IPI then combined through several months of back-and-forth editing.
The glossary comprises some 150 terms ranging from “terrorist” to “martyr.” Each word or expression is presented in English, Arabic and Hebrew, with an explanation of why it might be sensitive to Israeli and/or Palestinian audiences. Most entries include a suggested alternative term.
For example, the guide explains why “Apartheid wall” and “security wall/fence” are respectively offensive to Israelis and Palestinians, recommending that journalists use “separation barrier” instead. Many of the entries also address unnecessary adjectives, asking that reporters drop the modifiers from terms like “innocent civilians” and “peaceful demonstration.”
Instead of “Judea and Samaria,” “eternal capital of the Palestinian people” or “united capital of Israel,” the guide recommends geographically specific terms like the West Bank, East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. “Israel” is recommended over both “Zionist entity” and “Jewish state.” The former is tendentious because it is perceived to deny Israeli statehood, the guide says, while the latter ignores Arab history predating the State of Israel and implies that non-Jewish Israelis are not fully part of the state.
Other terms are less obvious. “Middle East expert” is problematic, the guide says, because ideologues and activists are often referred to as experts without disclosure of their partisan views.
“This tactic is used to magnify and repeat the views that certain journalist or media wish to promote. It is dishonest and is partly to blame for the fact that audience stereotypes and viewpoints are repeatedly reinforced instead of being challenged,” the guide says. “It creates an echo-chamber effect, in which pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian readers, viewers, and listeners believe that only their frame of reference is reasonable and enlightened, while the other side is hateful, prejudiced, and extreme.”
read the rest of this article here
Sharmine Narwani is no fool and if she says that Israel will be the target of a Syrian retaliatory strike, I believe her.
It makes me sick to the stomach. That’s not because I consider Israel an innocent party in the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, the ‘rock solid evidence’ that the US claims to have of Assad’s culpability in the chemical weapons attack probably comes from Israel, and the Israeli government has provoked Syria repeatedly this year with acts of aggression. It sickens me simply because this will inevitably lead to massive escalation of the conflict – to a third world war and untold human suffering.
As someone who is considering going to Damascus as a human shield, I appreciate that my chances of surviving the American assault are not great, but my chances of surviving an Israeli assault are close to zero.
Yes, Syria and Hezbollah Will Hit Israel if US Strikes
By Sharmine Narwani
Informed insiders have confirmed that Syria and Hezbollah plan to retaliate against Israel in the event of an American-led military attack on Syria. Says one: “if even one US missile hits Syria, we will take this battle to Israel.”
An official who spoke to me on the condition that neither his name or affiliation is published, says the decision to retaliate against Israel “has been taken at the highest levels within the Syrian state and Hezbollah.”
Why attack Israel after a US strike?
“Israel has been itching for a fight since their 2006 defeat by Hezbollah,” explains an observer close to the Lebanese resistance group. “They have led this campaign to draw the US into a confrontation with Syria because they are worried about being left alone in the region to face Iran. This has become an existential issue for them and they are now ‘leading’ from behind America’s skirts.”
The “Resistance Axis” which consists of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and a smattering of other groups, has long viewed attacks on one of their members as an effort to target them all.
And Israeli aggression against this axis reached a new high in 2013, with missile strikes and airstrikes unseen for many years in the Levant.
Israel has reportedly conducted at least three separate, high profile missile strikes against Syria this year, effectively ending a 40-year ceasefire between the neighboring states. The last overt violation of this uneasy truce was in 2007 when the Jewish state destroyed an alleged nuclear site inside Syria.
Then two weeks ago, Israel launched its first airstrike in Lebanon since the 2006 war, bombing a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP-GC) target in an entirely unprovoked attack. Earlier, four rockets had been launched into Israel from Lebanese territory, but an unrelated Al Qaeda-linked group took credit for that incident.
When asked whether Syrian allies Russia and Iran would participate in retaliatory strikes against Israel or other targets, the official indicated that both countries would back these efforts, but provided no information on whether this support would include direct military engagement.
The Russians have stated on several occasions that they will not participate in a military confrontation over Syrian strikes. Iran has not offered up any specifics, but various statements from key officials appear to confirm that strikes against Syria will result in a larger regional battle.
On Tuesday during an official visit to Lebanon, Iranian parliamentarian and Chairman of the (Majlis) Committee for National Security and Foreign Policy Alaeddin Boroujerdi told reporters: “The first party that will be most affected by an aggression on Syria is the Zionist entity.”
His comments follow a steady stream of warnings by senior Iranian officials, which have escalated in tenor as western threats to attack Syria have intensified.
“The US imagination about limited military intervention in Syria is merely an illusion, as reactions will be coming from beyond Syria’s borders,” said the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari last Saturday.
Even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stepped into the fray, warning the US and its allies: “starting this fire will be like a spark in a large store of gunpowder, with unclear and unspecified outcomes and consequences”.
Concurrent with these warnings, both Iran and Russia have been urging the West to avoid further confrontation and return to the negotiating table to resolve Syria’s 29-month conflict. But instead, western officials and diplomats in the Mideast have spent the past few weeks hitting up their regional sources for information on how Syria’s allies will react to a strike.
An unusual visit to Tehran by UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman (a former senior US State Department official) was one such “feeler.”
According to several media outlets, the Iranians had a singular response to Feltman’s efforts to gauge their reaction to a US strike: if you are serious about resolving the Syrian crisis, you must first go to Damascus, and follow that by launching negotiations in Geneva.
Gunning for a fight
While Israel plays heavily in the background, by turns provoking and encouraging western military intervention in Syria, it publically denies any role in this business.
Just this week, Israeli President Shimon Peres attempted to distance the Jewish state from events in Syria by insisting: “It is not for Israel to decide on Syria, we are in a unique position, for varying reasons there is a consensus against Israeli involvement. We did not create the Syrian situation.”
He’s right about one thing. Any visible Israeli military intervention in Syria will likely raise the collective ire of Arabs throughout the region. But Peres is being disingenuous in suggesting that Israel hasn’t played a pivotal role in dragging the region to the brink of a dangerous confrontation.
In fact, since its establishment as a state, Israel has possibly never been more motivated to force a military confrontation in the Mideast:
The Arab uprisings, a shift in the global balance of power, increased isolation and the waning influence of Israel’s superpower US ally have all served to remind Israel that it stands increasingly alone in the Mideast in confronting its longtime adversaries – Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and various Palestinian resistance groups.
Before a US exit from the region becomes patently clear to one and all, Israel needs to disarm its foes – and it needs the Americans to do that. For years, the Israeli establishment has regularly threatened military strikes against Iran, in most part attempting to inextricably embroil Washington in this military venture.
Forcing ‘red line’ narratives into western political discourse – whether it be the use of chemical weapons in Syria or a civilian nuclear program in Iran – has become a clever way to commit allies to an Israeli military agenda.
When US President Barack Obama last week appeared to suddenly revise his plans to launch a strike on Syria by deferring the decision to Congress, Israel went into overdrive:
Two Israeli missiles were launched off the Syrian coast in the Mediterranean Sea to raise temperatures again. Whether this was meant to be veiled threat, a provocation, or an attempt to pin the deed on Syrians is unclear. What is certain is this: Russian early radar systems caught the activity and publicized it quickly to ward off misunderstandings that might trigger counter-strikes.
This quick reaction forced Israel – under US cover – to acknowledge it had participated in unannounced ballistic missile tests. The Iranians reacted very skeptically. Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi, said the missiles were “a provocative incident” conveniently executed as western nations withdrew from plans to attack Syria, and called Israel “the region’s warmonger.” He further charged: “If the Russians had not traced the missiles and their origin, a Zionist liar would have alleged that they belonged to Syria in a bid to pave the way for breaking out a war in the region.
On an entirely different front, Israel has been amassing its considerable army of US supporters and lobbyists to ensure a compliant Congressional vote on strikes against Syria.
All its heavy hitters have now stepped up to push US lawmakers into backing military intervention, even though polls continue to show the majority of Americans rejecting strikes.
The Israeli lobbying effort has been particularly critical to ensure there is bipartisan consensus and that Obama’s Republican opponents join the bandwagon. To ensure this, the scope of the “surgical strikes” had to be expanded for GOP members opposed to a cursory punitive strike against Syrian government interests.
Key Republicans have since piled on, and already there are soundings of ‘mission creep.’ Obama told lawmakers on Tuesday that his plan “also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region.”
This suddenly sounds remarkably like President George W. Bush’s plans to remake the Middle East. And it is everything Syria and its allies have both feared and suspected from the start.
Existential for you, existential for me
If ever there was a real ‘red line’ in the region, this is it. Any “limited” or “broad” military intervention in Syria is simply unacceptable to Syria, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, China and a whole host of other nations that want to turn the page on US hegemonic aspirations in the region and beyond.
Washington has miscalculated in thinking that an attack in any shape or form would be palatable to its quite incredulous adversaries. They are all intimately familiar with the slippery slope of American interventionism and its myriad unintended consequences.
Israel, in particular, appears to be victim to a false sense of security. Analysts and commentators there seem to think that the lack of a Syrian military response to recent Israeli missile strikes is a trend likely to continue. Or that Hezbollah and Iran would have no ‘grounds’ to climb aboard a counterattack if Syria were attacked.
But the fact is that, to date, no member of the Resistance Axis has faced a collective western-Israeli-GCC effort to strike a blow at their core. This promised US-plus-allies strike against Syria makes their calculation aneasy one: there is nowhere to go but headfirst into the fracas.
As Israel warplanes pounded Lebanon during the 2006 war, then-US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice got one thing right. Refusing to call for a ceasefire, Rice explained that battle was sometimes necessary to break free of the status quo and emerge with a new regional order. The carnage, in short, was simply “the birth pangs of a New Middle East” – something to endure in order to reach a desired outcome.
But in 2006, conditions were not yet ripe for an all-out confrontation on multiple fronts. Today’s confrontation, however, has all the ingredients to fundamentally shift the region in a clear new direction, depending on which side emerges victorious.
What Rice did not anticipate seven years ago was that a few thousand Hezbollah fighters could shake the region beyond Lebanon’s small borders in a mere 33 days – simply by emerging from battle with Israel, leadership and capabilities intact.
The US has never predicted outcomes successfully in the Middle East and is unlikely to do so this time given that its strategic and military objectives seem even more muddled than usual. What we do know is that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has promised that the “next battle” will take place inside Israel’s borders and that he will fight proportionately this time – striking Israeli cities when Israel hits Lebanese ones.
On the Syrian front, Israel imagines a war-weary adversary. But the Syrian armed forces have the kinds of conventional weapons and ballistic missiles that can level a town in short shrift – that is not an outcome Israel has the capacity to endure.
In yet another corner is Iran, boasting a rare combination of military manpower, hardware, technology and tactical skills that Israel has never faced in any adversary on the battlefield. Russia looms large too – it may provide military intelligence to its allies or it may just use its clout in the UN Security Council to intervene at opportune moments in the fight. Either way, Moscow is a huge asset for the Resistance Axis – and will be joined by China to coach and calibrate responses to the fighting from the ‘international community.’
Meanwhile, as if unable to stop a ‘war trajectory’ once it starts, the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee has just voted to widen and deepen the scope of a US attack on Syria. The new goal? To “reverse the momentum on the battlefield” against the Syrian army and “hasten Assad’s departure.”
This is no different than Libya, Afghanistan or Iraq. Israelis and Americans need to understand that language and behavior threatening ‘regime-change’ gives their adversaries only one choice: to retaliate withall their capabilities and assets on all fronts. Washington just made this existential. No more games, no more rhetoric. Any strike on Syria will be ‘war on.’ In US military parlance: a ‘full-spectrum operation’ will be heading your way. And you can call it Operation “Tip of the Iceberg” out of sheer accuracy, for a change.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter@snarwani
The real horror of this sort of abuse is that it is just so everyday. If 14 year-old Mohammad hadn’t been an American we probably would never have heard about this incident.
Shining a light on Israel’s military detention abuses
By George Bisharat, professor, Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco
At 2 am on April 5, eight heavily armed Israeli soldiers burst into the home of Mohammad Khaleq, a 14-year-old New Orleans honors student on a family visit to Silwad in the West Bank. Jolting Mohammad and his family awake, the soldiers arrested the youth, tied his hands, and threw him roughly onto the floor of a jeep. Later, Mohammad reports, the soldiers beat him and pushed him down, damaging his orthodontic braces on a rock.
He was shackled, blindfolded, handcuffed and held for 12 hours in Ofra, an Israeli settlement, before being transported to a police station. Two hours of incommunicado interrogation later, the boy admitted to charges of throwing rocks at Israeli cars. He says he confessed after Israeli interrogators promised him that was the only way to see his father.
Mohammad was eventually released after serving 14 days and paying a fine of about $800. His case fits a pattern chillingly familiar to many Palestinian youngsters, and one that is increasingly condemned.
A June 2012 report authored by nine distinguished British lawyers found Israel to be violating legal obligations to Palestinian children under both the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In August 2012, an organization of Israeli soldiers called “Breaking the Silence” published testimonies by more than 30 troops describing a reign of terror against Palestinian youths, with beatings, intimidation, humiliation, verbal abuse, night-time arrests and injuries at the hands of Israeli forces. One soldier, while justifying arrests of children, marveled at a “kid who actually lay there on the ground, begging for his life, was actually nine years old… A loaded gun is pointed at him and he has to plead for mercy? This is something that scars him for life.”
Meanwhile, according to a UNICEF study published in February 2013,
“Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” Approximately 7,000 Palestinian juveniles, including some as young as 12, have been detained by Israeli forces in the last 10 years, and 236 are in Israeli prisons today. Many are convicted of throwing stones – an offense punishable under Israeli military law by up to 20 years imprisonment.
The military court system established by Israel soon after seizing the West Bank in 1967 was found in recent years to have a conviction rate of 99.74 percent. A special military juvenile court established in 2009 has failed to quell concerns over mistreatment of Palestinian youths. Few juveniles receive timely representation, and most admit guilt under coercive interrogation, often involving beatings or threats of sexual assault against them or other family members. Physical abuse of detainees of any age – torture – is absolutely barred under international law.
Ironically, the Jewish settlers commonly targeted by Palestinian stone-throwing youths inhabit settlements that, outside of Israel itself, are almost universally regarded as illegal. Jewish settler violence – including, per a 2013 U.N. report, 383 attacks causing injury to 169 Palestinians and damage to more than 8,000 olive trees – is rarely investigated. When charges are filed against Israelis, they are tried with the full protections of domestic Israeli law.
Sentences have often been lenient. None of this justifies Palestinian stone-throwing, which can be lethal. But a justice system that overlooks violence by Jews while crushing Palestinian defendants, including vulnerable and impressionable youths, will never command legitimacy. Instead it ensures a future generation of Palestinians who will know Israelis primarily through their cruelty.
Mohammad was atypical as a U.S. citizen caught up in Israel’s military detention grinder. Yet his case should be a wake-up call for U.S. citizens. As Israel’s principal military and diplomatic protector in the world today, we neglect our ally’s misdeeds at the peril of being tarnished by association. Abusing children is a hard one to live down.
Bisharat is a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and writes frequently on the Middle East.