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Red Rag Weekly Column
By: Gideon Spiro
29 August 2011 (English translation 3 September)

The fall of the tyrant

The ouster of a tyrant from power provides a great deal of satisfaction to all proponents of human rights. All the more so if a democratic regime arises on the ruins of the tyranny. And the satisfaction is short-lived if the tyranny is replaced by another despotism.

So clearly, it is only natural that I am one of those who cheered the departure of Muammar Gaddafi from the seat of power he had occupied for nearly as long as Israel’s dictatorship has ruled the Occupied Territories.

Upon the conquest of Tripoli by the rebels, horrible images emerged of mass slaughter that was carried out by Gaddafi’s people; but from correspondents’ reports it also emerged that the rebels for their part have also indulged their desire to carry out acts of revenge.

Will a democracy arise in Gaddafi’s place, or will we see the establishment of new despotism on the ruins of its predecessor? It is too early to judge.

The rebels were helped by aerial bombardment by NATO aircraft, which silenced the guns of Gaddafi’s army for the most part, thereby hastening the rebels’ victory. France played a leading role in the bombing. When the NATO aircraft began to bomb Libya, I hesitated to speak out. On the one hand, it was clear to me that it was not being done out of altruistic concern for human rights. After all, France, Britain and Italy had had normal relations with Gaddafi, and he was even invited for state visits with all the honours to which a head of state is entitled to. But even if the NATO intervention was not done for reasons of pure morality but from a cold calculation that to bet on the rebels as the winning horse would bring profits from Libyan oil royalties, that does not change the fact that the removal of the tyrant Gaddafi was a positive objective.

One person who does indeed see the bombing by the NATO airplanes as a moral act worthy of appreciation and even admiration is the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. He had pressed President Sarkozy to play a central role in the bombing of Gaddafi’s forces in Libya.

He wrote many inspiring words on the subject. I quote: “I salute the European air crews, especially the French ones, who fought a war that was not theirs, but their mission was to save the lives of civilians under the mandate the UN had given them … It is impossible to deny that France, under the leadership of President Nicholas Sarkozy, took the initiative to assist in the birth of a free Libya … the rebels, with the help of France and the other allies, have written a new page in the history of their country … what has been extinguished is the antiquated conception of sovereignty, according to which all crimes are permissible if they are committed within the borders of a certain state. What has been born is the idea of the universality of rights not as an unenforced religious vow, but as a firm commitment for whoever truly believes in the unity of the human race and the value of the right to intervene.” [1] (Haaretz, 26 August 2011)

Such moral pathos. I nearly cried with joy when I read the words of the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. But the tears stopped before they began to flow, because I remembered that the philosopher Lévy’s universal morality and human rights are very flexible when it comes to the Israeli Occupation, a cruel tyranny that is 44 years old, two years older than that of Gaddafi.

Not only did the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy not propose to President Sarkozy that he deploy NATO forces to help the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli oppression, but he would consider anyone who made such a suggestion to be an anti-Semite, which proves that the universality of his conception of human rights is bogus and that his commitment to the unity of the human race stops when it comes to Israeli oppression. This phenomenon is not unique to Bernard-Henri Lévy. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel is afflicted by the same syndrome. When he was asked during the First Lebanon War to condemn the Israeli bombardment of Beirut that was harming the civilian population, including women, children and old people, he refused, invoking the Holocaust (Parenthetically, I will repeat what I have written more than once in the past: it is not clear to me why, and for what, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). At one time “the Jew” was a synonym for “the universal”. Since the creation of the State of Israel that universality has been replaced by nationalistic tribalism.

The trumpeter

Yaakov Peri was the head of the Israel Security Agency (ISA – Shin Bet) from 1988 to 1994. During his tenure the techniques of torture practiced in the basements of the ISA were improved. In the six years of his leadership tens of thousands of Palestinians underwent interrogation accompanied by torture techniques invented by the Israeli brain, which left many scarred for life. There were also incidents in which detainees were tortured to death – “work accidents” they call it, in the cynical language of the ISA interrogators.

During his tenure a torture facility known as the “beach facility” or “Ansar 2” operated in Gaza. In 1990 interrogators beat Khaled Sheikh Ali to death. A pathologist who was brought to Israel by human rights organizations examined the body and confirmed that he had been beaten to death. The news about serious torture in Ansar 2 prompted the launching of an investigation by State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat. The report she wrote in 1992 was so scathing that it was decided not to publish it.

The torture did not stop. Recall also the incident of Abed Harizat, who was shaken to death while being interrogated by the ISA in 1995 (during the tenure of Peri’s successor, Carmi Gillon). The Supreme Court backed the decision of then-State Attorney Dorit Beinisch (now president of the Supreme Court), not to press criminal charges against the interrogators.

When we commemorate the life of Hannah Szenes, [2] who was severely tortured in the torture chambers of the fascist regime in Hungary, it would behove us also to remember that the Hungarian torturers’ Israeli counterparts have not learned the lesson. Here too, tyranny has defeated democracy.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have passed through the ISA basements since the beginning of the Occupation. The ISA has penetrated into the lives of the Palestinian people on a vast scale. If there is ever a democratic revolution in Israel and the ISA archives are opened for public scrutiny as occurred with the Stasi archives in East Germany, I will not be surprised if it turns out that the ISA defeats the Stasi with a knockout when it comes to the extent and depth of its penetration into people’s lives on all levels: detentions, torture, intimidation, use of informants, bribery and so on.

None of the leaders of the ISA have been put on trial for human rights violations or war crimes. They all did very well in Israeli society after they completed their terms in office. Some of them went into politics and became Knesset members and ministers, others went into business. Yaakov Peri went into business and became part of the Israeli financial nobility, which is protected by the regime as well as its wealth.

When Peri was head of the ISA the law prohibited the disclosure of his full name. He could be referred to only by the first letter of his name. There were some who called him “the trumpeter”, because of his skill on that instrument and his love of music.

The phenomenon of generals and covert service chiefs doing the dirty work of war crimes and human rights violations while at the same time seeing themselves as cultured people is well known. Among Jews, the phenomenon evokes grim historical memories because of the Holocaust. The same German officers who committed murder during the day would go home in the evening and sink themselves into armchairs and listen to the music they loved. And we must stress that the phenomenon is not unique to Germans. In every country where there is a mechanism of oppression and violence you can find this bifurcation among military people who kill with one hand while the other hand exhibits love of or attraction to the broad concept called culture.

Recently Yaakov Peri decided to join the musical scene in Israel. A young musician named Idan Yaniv, who was born in 1986, two years before Peri was appointed head of the ISA, staged a musical evening together with Peri at the Zappa Club in Herzliya. The event received sympathetic coverage in the army radio station, Galei Tzahal, and it was publicized in the prestigious cultural listings supplement of the newspaper Haaretz. The serenity of Israel’s intellectual and cultural life was not disturbed. What happened, when all is said and done? A torturer who is also a trumpeter engages in culture and there is no protest, except for a few eccentrics, like the writer of these lines, who imagines the screams of the tortured, which render the strains of the trumpet a grating cacophony.

Cannon fodder

Recently the newspaper Maariv published a piece in praise of Wahid al-Huzeil on the occasion of his appointment as the commander of the Desert Brigade. Wahid is a Bedouin citizen of Israel who serves in the army. Upon his appointment he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The Desert Brigade is composed of several hundred Bedouin who volunteered to serve in the army (the compulsory service law does not apply to them).

For the first time a Bedouin has been appointed to command the brigade. Previously all the commanders were Jews. Allegedly a cause for celebration: Arabs too can rise to senior ranks in the army! In fact it is a manifestation of Israeli hypocrisy.

Bedouin citizens of Israel are the most discriminated-against group in Israel. The community of Rahat, where the new Brigade Commander lives, is a Bedouin township that is reminiscent in many ways of the Black townships in Apartheid South Africa. High unemployment, Services at the level of the Third World. Under these circumstances, some Bedouin find a way out by enlisting in the army as a source of economic sustenance. Just as there were Black police who served under the Apartheid regime, so are there Bedouin who serve in the army that crushes the rights of their people. The Bedouin brigade is stationed on the border with Gaza, an expression of the cynical attitude according to which “Arabs kill Arabs.”

Translator’s notes

1. Translated from Hebrew. I assume – but do not know – that Lévy originally said or wrote those words in French.

2. Hanna Szenes – or Senesh – (1921-1944), was a Hungarian Jew who immigrated to Palestine as a young woman. She joined the British army in World War II and in March 1944 was parachuted behind Axis lines in Yugoslavia in an effort to infiltrate into Hungary to help the anti-fascist resistance there. Shortly after crossing into Hungary she was arrested, tortured, convicted of espionage and treason (as a Hungarian citizen), and executed. She is known in Israel as a national heroine, martyr, playwright and poet, in Hebrew and Hungarian. A kibbutz, Yad Hana, was named after her.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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