Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Israel seems to be in the process of becoming a highly authoritarian state that depends heavily on force. Mairav Zonszein writes in the NY Times:
On July 12, four days after the latest war in Gaza began, hundreds of Israelis gathered in central Tel Aviv to protest the killing of civilians on both sides and call for an end to the siege of Gaza and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. They chanted, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”
Hamas had warned that it would fire a barrage of rockets at centralIsrael after 9 p.m., and it did.
But the injuries suffered in Tel Aviv that night stemmed not from rocket fire but from a premeditated assault by a group of extremist Israeli Jews. Chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Death to leftists,” they attacked protesters with clubs. Although several demonstrators were beaten and required medical attention, the police made no arrests.
The same thing happened at another antiwar protest in Haifa a week later; this time, the victims included the city’s deputy mayor, Suhail Assad, and his son. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no statement condemning the violence, even though he had previously stated his primary concern was the safety of Israeli citizens.
The vilification of the few Israelis who don’t subscribe to right-wing doctrine is not new. Similar acts of incitement occurred before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. But now they have multiplied, escalated and spread.
On July 10, the veteran Israeli actress Gila Almagor did not show up to perform at Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater; she had received threats that she would be murdered on stage. In an interview in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot a few days earlier, she had expressed feeling ashamed after a 16-year old Palestinian, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish extremists.
In an interview during the Gaza war, the popular comedian Orna Banai said she felt terrible that Palestinian women and children were being killed — she was subsequently fired from her position as spokeswoman for an Israeli cruise ship operator. And Haaretz hired bodyguards for its columnist Gideon Levy after he wrote an article criticizing Israeli Air Force pilots.
The aggressive silencing of anyone who voices disapproval of Israeli policies or expresses empathy with Palestinians is the latest manifestation of an us-versus-them mentality that has been simmering for decades. It is based on the narrative that Palestinians are enemies who threaten Jewish sovereignty and are solely to blame for the failure to achieve peace. The Israeli peace camp — which remains obsessively focused on stopping settlement expansion and pursuing the ever-elusive two-state solution while ignoring Israel’s failure to separate religion and state and guarantee equal rights for Arab citizens — has been incapable of challenging this mentality.
Israeli society has been unable and unwilling to overcome an exclusivist ethno-religious nationalism that privileges Jewish citizens and is represented politically by the religious settler movement and the increasingly conservative secular right. Israel’s liberal, progressive forces remain weak in the face of a robust economy that profits from occupation while international inaction reinforces the status quo. In their attempt to juggle being both Jewish and democratic, most Israelis are choosing the former at the expense of the latter.
Israel has never, for example, genuinely addressed the fact that non-Jewish Arabs who generally identify as Palestinian account for about 20 percent of the population (this excludes the approximately three million Palestinians living under Israel’s control in East Jerusalem and the West Bank). Israel has also never clearly defined its borders, preferring to keep them vague and porous. Nor has it defined what it means to be “Israeli,” as distinct from being “Jewish,” leaving a vacuum that has been filled by nationalist and religious ideologues.
This has allowed the us-versus-them mentality to bleed into Israeli Jewish society. “Us” no longer refers to any Jewish citizen, and “them” to any Palestinian. Now, “us” means all those who defend the status quo of occupation and settlement expansion, including many Christian evangelicals and Republicans in America. And “them” means anyone who tries to challenge that status quo, whether a rabbi, a dissenting Israeli soldier or the president of the United States.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a shock. For most of Israel’s existence, the majority of Israelis have allowed the state, in the name of Jewish sovereignty and security, to violate Palestinians’ basic human rights — including access to water and the freedom of movement and assembly. The state has killed unarmed protesters and then failed to carry out investigations; it has allowed settlers and soldiers to act with impunity; and it has systematically discriminated against non-Jewish citizens. After so many years of repressing those who stand in the way, the transition to targeting “one of your own” isn’t so difficult. Now it is the few Jewish Israelis who speak the language of human rights who are branded as enemies. . .
The Israeli government, though acknowledging a lie, has in the process revealed that it does not consider Palestinians to be humans—or at least their babies are not human. Murtaza Hussein reports at The Intercept:
Are Palestinian babies actually babies? That’s been a surprisingly thorny question for the Israeli government this week, when the Population, Immigration and Border Authority at first declared the Hebrew name “Yosef” the most popular baby name for the past year, and then was forced to admit that the nation’s most popular name was actually “Mohammed” — assuming one includes Arab babies.
By their nature, babies are generally uninterested in politics. But in Israel’s highly-charged political environment, even infants are imbued with broader significance. For having the temerity to be born, Palestinian babies have been referred to by Israeli politicians as “demographic threats” and even “time-bombs.”
The rationale for this is the belief among many Israeli politicians that Jewish-Israelis must constitute a clear majority of the national population, and that any large increase in the population of indigenous Palestinian Arabs (already at 21 percent), sub-Saharan Africans, or other minority populations is potentially a threat to the “character” of the state. By this logic, the birth of a lot of baby boys named “Mohammed” and “Ahmed” within Israel is less a cause for celebration than for existential angst.
It was against that political backdrop that the government released a list of popular baby names this week that included only Hebrew names. After publishing the initial rankings, the Haaretz newspaper asked government officials why there weren’t any Arab names on the list. It turns out they had been excluded, and a new list was given to Haaretz. The Israeli government told the publication that its original decision to effectively exclude Palestinian babies from its list, released just ahead of the Jewish new year, was not done with any ideological intention in mind and that, “contrary to the assumptions of the Haaretz newspaper nethere is no plot to deliberately hide information.” . . .
A government lies because it is trying to hide a weakness, which the lie is an attempt to conceal, but the lie, once revealed, calls attention to the deception and thus the weakness. Those in a position of strength do not need to lie: the truth serves well, since it reflects reality.
Dan Froomkin gives some reasons we might not want to do that.
The NSA is really and truly out of control, and so far as I can see, Obama lacks the will (and perhaps the power) to rein it in. James Bamford has a report in the NY Times on the reaction of some in Israel to NSA’s handing over information about US citizens (including the contents of their communications) to Israel for use in sowing divisiveness among Palestinians.
Note that those protesting the actions of the Israeli government and military are in fact Israelis—this makes it harder to call them anti-Semites, I would think, though the fallback (“self-hating Jews”) is not much better. Probably rather than focus on their attitude, one should look at the substantive content of what they say.
IN Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.
Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.
Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- andPalestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”
It appears that Mr. Snowden’s fears were warranted. Last week, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 — many still serving in the reserves — accused the organization of startling abuses. In a letter to their commanders, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the head of the Israeli army, they charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data were gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.
The veterans of Unit 8200 declared that they had a “moral duty” to no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” An Israeli military spokesman disputed the letter’s overall drift but said the charges would be examined.
It should trouble the American public that some or much of the information in question — intended not for national security purposes but simply to pursue political agendas — may have come directly from the N.S.A.’s domestic dragnet. According to documents leaked by Mr. Snowden andreported by the British newspaper The Guardian, the N.S.A. has been sending intelligence to Israel since at least March 2009.
The memorandum of agreement between the N.S.A. and its Israeli counterpart covers virtually all forms of communication, including but not limited to “unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.” The memo also indicates that the N.S.A. does not filter out American communications before delivery to Israel; indeed, the agency “routinely sends” unminimized data.
Although the memo emphasizes that Israel should make use of the intercepts in accordance with United States law, it also notes that the agreement is legally unenforceable. “This agreement,” it reads, “is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law.”
It should also trouble Americans that . . .
Note that some of the comments take the position that the Israeli government should never be criticized at any time, regardless of what it does. That seems extreme to me.
Kevin Drum points out that our Arab allies are happy to have the US as its cats-paw, pulling from the fire the hot chestnuts that the Arab states don’t want to touch. They are happy to have US treasure spent, and US blood spilled, on their behalf, but they have zero interest in assisting us.
Dan Froomkin has an excellent column, quoting the NY Times’s evisceration of the plan.
Kevin Drum makes a cogent (and in my view, correct) argument in this post, which concludes:
So if we’re smart, we won’t give them what they want. Instead we’ll respond coldly and meticulously. We’ll fight on our terms, not theirs. We’ll intervene if and only if the Iraqi government demonstrates that it can take the lead and hold the ground they take. We’ll forego magical thinking about counterinsurgencies. We won’t commit Western troops in force because we know from experience that this doesn’t work. We’ll avoid pitched battles and instead take advantage of our chances when they arise. Time is on our side.
Above all, we won’t allow a small band of medieval theocrats to manipulate us. We need to stop giving them exactly what they want. We need to stop doing stupid stuff.
And it shows the importance of being a democratic republic rather than a democracy.
UPDATE: James Fallows provides an equally cogent post.