August Issue 2014

By | News & Politics | Opinion | Viewpoint | Published 10 years ago

The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has a problem with “telegenically dead” victims of his nation’s formidable firepower. It is the sort of phrase that Adolf Hitler or Josef Goebbels might have been expected to come up with, had television existed in the 1930s or ’40s, and chosen to focus on the Jewish victims of the Nazi killing machine.

Back in the mid-1940s, the widespread international reaction, once that particular killing machine had been put out of operation, was: “Never again.”

The futility of that quest has been demonstrated time and again in the nearly 70 years since then, but seldom has it been so potent as when the aggressive role that has been played by the purported victims of the Holocaust, frequently on the basis that their actions were intended to forestall a recurrence of that catastrophe.

The unfortunate implication is that massacres of innocents are fine as long as the aim is to forestall… what exactly? Tunnels from an occupied territory intended as a conduit for “terrorists” who invariably end up dead? Crude rockets that hardly ever claim any victims?

The invariable response delivers “telegenic” corpses — of infants who will never run about as children; of children who will never grow up; of mothers and fathers who will never see their buds flower into adults.

The world is expected to accept that these corpses are the responsibility of Hamas, rather than of the soldiers who pulled the triggers or pushed the buttons. They are “human shields” — collateral damage that would never have accrued had Hamas had the decency to place its fighters and weapons in an isolated spot on an incredibly narrow and densely populated strip of land.

Hospitals, schools and mosques are fair targets because they are supposedly harbouring missiles, bombs and terrorists. Much was made of the complaint from the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) that rockets had been found stored in two of its schools. Those schools were empty, though. Unlike the first one attacked by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), where hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge.

Had any other nation embarked on a killing spree of such proportions outside its own territory, there would no doubt have been a clamour for international military action. That was never going to happen in the case of Israel, though. After all, whenever US President Barack Obama opens his mouth on the subject, even to express “concern” about the level of civilian Palestinian casualties, he feels obliged to reiterate his support of Israel’s “right to self-defence.” As if killing infants can ever be justified on that dodgy basis.

Obama’s spokespeople, too, routinely kowtow to this weird notion of Israeli exceptionalism. And there’s hell to pay if they ever make the cardinal error of deviating from the Omerta, intentionally or otherwise. There were calls for his secretary of state, John Kerry, to resign some months ago when he was overheard expressing the fear that Israel would end up as an apartheid state if it abjured the supposed peace process.

More recently, Kerry, shortly before appearing on a Fox News show, was captured on a microphone conversing with an aide. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” he was heard saying, ostensibly in response to information about the latest massacre in Gaza. Was he, a Fox anchor asked him shortly afterwards, “upset that the Israelis are going too far?”

Kerry instinctively tied himself up in knots, and the State Department later followed suit. After all, even implicit criticism of Israel is supposedly political suicide in the United States. In a vote on the subject, the US Senate voted unanimously in favour of Israel. Not a single senator dared to dissent, not even the few who purport to be progressive.

In contrast, a dedicated bunch of Jewish-American activists have been distancing themselves from Israeli actions in the strongest possible terms. They tend to be ignored by the mainstream media, though, and hardly stand a chance against the well-oiled machinery of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other well-funded Zionist organisations. Their ability to channel the debate would have mightily impressed Goebbels.

Much of the mainstream American media tends to obediently abide by the Israel lobby’s rules. There are, however, alternative outlets, and there is some evidence that opposition to Israeli aggression — funded by US$ 3 billion in annual American military aid —  is gradually growing. A broad change in the popular attitude remains a very distant goal, though. Amazingly, the Zionists have no qualms about accepting the allegiance of Christian fundamentalist organisations that back Israeli supremacy in the Middle East explicitly on the grounds that it will hasten the end of the world.

TOPSHOTS Smoke and debris fill the air during an Israeli strike on Gaza City early on July 26, 2014. A 12-hour truce between Israel and Hamas entered into force with emergency workers taking advantage of the lull to uncover 35 bodies from the rubble of Gaza homes. They took the overall Palestinian death toll in the 19-day conflict to 926, many of them civilians. Meanwhile, the Israeli army said two more soldiers had been killed, taking its toll to 37 dead. AFP PHOTO/GIL COHEN-MAGEN

On the other hand, they are knee-jerkingly quick to dub as anti-Semites all — including Jews — who distance themselves from the official Israeli narrative.

There is considerable sensitivity to anti-Semitism on the other side of the Atlantic, too — and certainly not without reason, giv en a history that includes within living memory the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust. There can also be little doubt that there is indeed residual anti-Semitism on the Continent —  not least among far right activists who tend to detest Muslim immigrants as well. And some of the latter tend to share the neo-Nazi perspective on Jews.

Yes, it’s complicated, and abhorrent — and it contributes to confusing the issues in the context of the growing distress over Israeli actions among people who see it simply as a demonstration of gross inhumanity by one group of people against another. Enough of the truth seeps through the broad bias of mainstream western media, or is conveyed via alternative sources, to influence popular perceptions. As the umpteenth assault on Gaza gathered force, so did protests in European capitals.

There have even been protests within Israel, with left-wing demonstrators assaulted by neo-Nazi hooligans. Which is more than can be said for much of the Muslim world.

When Hamas some months ago felt sufficiently pressured to join hands with Fatah to back a technocratic Palestinian Authority administration, the outcome was generally accepted internationally —  but Israel saw it as an affront instead of an opportunity. It is easy to forget, as most people tend to do, that Israel once supported the influx into the occupied territories of offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood. The aim, in part, was to dilute the influence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). If that part of the plan worked — as it did, not least because the PLO’s willingness to compromise was barely reciprocated —  the likely consequence was the emergence of a foe that would be easier to demonise. For many years now, almost every official Israeli reference to Hamas has been accompanied by the word “terrorists.”

Coincidentally or otherwise, this tallies with the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It isn’t difficult to find fault with the ideology of the Brotherhood and associated groups such as Hamas, but to dismiss them as nothing more than terrorist entities is both unjustifiable and counterproductive. The tangled enmities help to explain why Hamas turned down the option of a Cairo-proposed ceasefire which would have stopped the bloodshed but left in place the tight siege to which the Gaza Strip has been subjected since 2007 by Israel, with Egyptian assistance. Reports from the war zone suggest that most Gazans back this stance. So does Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, who has frequently bent over backwards to accommodate Israeli demands, invariably to no avail.

Late last month, as the Gaza death toll neared 1,000 — most of then noncombatants and many of them children —  efforts for a truce intensified, and it seemed likely one would eventually be achieved, possibly with minor concessions on Israel’s part serving to deflect the adverse publicity it has lately attracted, but without any substantial shift in an untenable status quo.

The Netanyahu administration has no intention of ceding any ground conducive to a two-state solution, which has for some time now already seemed unrealistic, given the extent to which illegal Jewish settlements have encroached on the West Bank. A one-state solution — that is to say, a democratic entity shared by Jews and Arabs – is anathema to all but the most enlightened Israelis and Palestinians.

Massive western pressure on Israel, particularly from the US, would be a sine qua non of progress towards any long-term agreement based on the accepted parameters of a return to the 1967 borders plus negotiated land swaps, and the more contentious issues of a shared capital in Jerusalem as well as the right of return for displaced Palestinians.

Notwithstanding subtle shifts in perceptions of Israel each time its bloodlust becomes impossible to ignore, the requisite degree of pressure, entailing suspension of military aid and sanctions, is not only inconceivable in the short run — given that anything that could be construed as even mild criticism of the Jewish state has to be accompanied by protestations about Israel’s “right to defend itself,” and that Netanyahu has more clout on Capitol Hill than Obama — but also hard to envisage in the longer term, barring some sort of a political earthquake.

There are likewise almost no grounds for expecting substantial progressive change within Israel, notwithstanding the brave efforts of relatively small groups and individuals who resolutely refuse to dehumanise their Palestinian neighbours. If anything, the trends point the other way. As devoted well-wishers of Israel such as Peter Beinart have pointed out, the threat to its democracy grows more grievous the longer it remains an occupier.

Perhaps one day the realisation will finally dawn on Israel that, no matter how efficient its machinery of mass extermination, the Palestinians cannot be wished away. Perhaps one day the West will pluck up the courage to call Israel’s bluff.

Perhaps. One day.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2014 issue.

Mahir Ali is an Australia-based journalist. He writes regularly for several Pakistani publications, including Newsline.