RSS Feeds
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,    but because of the people who don't do anything about it    
Occupation magazine - Commentary

Home page  back Print  Send To friend

Red Rag weekly column
Gideon Spiro
13 September 2011 (English translation 22 September)

An embassy is destroyed

An angry Egyptian crowd destroyed the wall that was built around the Israeli embassy in Cairo and managed to break into the offices of the embassy. Six security guards barricaded themselves in the security room with pistols drawn, hoping the crowd would not break into the room, the consequence of which could have been a bloodbath. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called US President Barack Obama and asked for his intercession. He complied, with a positive outcome. An Egyptian commando unit made its way to the floor that contained the embassy and rescued the guards. A great tragedy was averted.

For Israel a new hero was born, the supervisor of the embassy security guards, named Yonatan, who was praised for his sang-froid and refraining from opening fire. That was certainly a refreshing turn of events. In Israel the heroes are usually the ones who shoot and kill; this time we have a hero who did not kill. Great!

After Israel withdrew all the embassy staff and their families from Egypt came the turn of the commentators and the experts. The main thrust of their message was as follows: chaos reigns in Egypt. The Egyptian regime has lost control. The Muslim Brotherhood are taking advantage of the situation and inciting the masses against Israel. Added to that are declarations from the prime minister and the foreign minister to the effect that the ferment that is sweeping the Arab world is unconnected to Israel.

Undoubtedly there is at least a grain of truth in all those words, but they do not explain whence the Egyptians got their burning hatred for Israel. After all, Egypt has not been known for its hatred of Jews. We can look at the example of the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben-Maimon, 1138-1204), one of the great scholars of Jewish law of all generations, who was called “the Great Eagle” and of whom it was said, “From Moshe to Moshe there was none like Moshe.” [1] He was also a scientist and a physician and served as the personal physician of Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin).

We can recall all the Jews who lived in Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s and were integrated into the intellectual and cultural life of the country.

Dr. Mira Tzoreff of the Middle East Studies Department at Tel Aviv University tried to lay it all at President Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s door (Channel 10, 11 September 2011). According to her he brainwashed the masses to hate Israel. That’s a little too simplistic. After all, President Nasser maintained contacts with Israel when Moshe Sharett was Israel’s prime minister (1954-55), which were cut off by Ben Gurion when he returned to the prime ministry.

If Nasser hated Israel, then Israel provided him with several reasons to do so, such as the espionage and sabotage ring that Israel set up in Cairo, the members of which were Jewish citizens of Egypt.

You will recall that the objective of the ring was to sabotage Egypt’s relations with the West by planting bombs in British and US cultural centres in Egypt. The plot was exposed and members of the ring were put on trial. Two were sentenced to death and the rest to long prison terms. The establishment of the ring fundamentally an act of stupidity, with the additional harm that it put wind into the sails of those who claim that Diaspora Jews are not loyal to the states of which they are citizens. The lesson was not learned and Israeli governments repeated the same folly when they employed the spy Jonathan Pollard (who is seen by the settlers as a Hero of Israel).

And let us not forget the reprisal raids of the 1950s which killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers, at least some of which were deliberate Israeli provocations with the objective of maintaining military tension on the borders at a certain level, which even then had already proven to be an effective mechanism for what Ben Gurion called “converting the Tribes of Israel into one nation.” (Professor Benny Morris’ book, Israel’s Border Wars 1949-1956, is instructive on this subject) In 1956 Israel conspired with the two colonial powers, the UK and France, in their war against Egypt with the objective of reversing the nationalization of the Suez Canal. In June 1967 Israel launched a war against Egypt which ended in the latter’s defeat. Two wars did not turn Nasser into a Lover of Zion.

With the peace accord with Egypt came the hope that hatred of the enemy would turn into friendship. It did not turn out that way. Is it all the fault of the Muslim Brotherhood, the negative contribution of which I do not deny, or did Israel also make a contribution?

Since the peace accord with Israel the Egyptian citizenry have been exposed to a series of events that have not endeared them to Israel. Here is a partial list: the 18 years of the First Lebanon War (1982-2000) with all its horrors (including the bombardment of Beirut, the bombardment of hospitals and schools, and the massacre in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp); the continuation of the Occupation; the First and Second Intifadas in which Israel killed thousands of Palestinians; the Second Lebanon War (July-August 2006) from which children are continuing to be killed due to the thousands of cluster bombs dropped by Israel that have left bomblets scattered around residential areas; Operation Cast Lead, in which war-crimes were committed; and recently the killing of Egyptian soldiers. Could all this not contribute modestly to hatred of Israel in Egypt?

11 September

The United States has commemorated the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack that brought down the Twin Towers in New York. I watched the ceremony, which had some moving moments, such as the reading out of the names of the victims by members of their families. I was moved by the 10 year old boy who never knew his father but expressed love for him. Are the three thousand people who were killed on 11 September 2011 the only victims of terrorism? The time will come when America will recognize that the victims of the US invasion of Iraq, which was based on lies, were also victims of terrorism. Who will read out the names of the hundred thousand Iraqis who were killed? In Iraq too, every person has a name.

Are we on the verge of a nuclear war?

General Eyal Eisenberg, who is the head of the Home Front Command of the IDF, frightened the Israeli public with a talk he gave a few days ago. He warned that we are liable to get into a total war in which weapons of mass destruction will be used. At nearly the same time the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, which is the highest-circulation newspaper in Israel, published a very sympathetic article about the Israeli navy’s submarine fleet, under the headline, “The Spearhead”, containing information about the modern submarines that were made in Germany and which carry nuclear missiles. Such an article could not be published without guidance from the armed forces.

At the same time it was reported that an exercise simulating a missile attack and a radioactive leak was carried out at the nuclear reactor near Dimona. Are the flames of nuclear madness licking at the cloak of the Israeli regime? Has Dr. Strangelove relocated to the Israeli government’s war cabinet?

Is Barack Obama privy to this? Or is he going to be surprised? Since he declared that he is in favour of a nuclear-free Middle East, it would behoove him to rein Israel in before we all rise to the heavens along with a mushroom cloud. Because then it will be too late.

Did it happen or did it not?

Here is a thought-experiment. I return to the year 1948 and find myself in a stormy discussion with a hard-line Communist, a devoted supporter of Stalin, the Sun of the Nations, who sees the Soviet regime as the Garden of Eden that awaits us just around the corner.

I say to him, look at what you are supporting – a tyrannical regime that imprisons its opponents in detention camps; there’s no freedom of speech, there are no free elections, the whole country lives in fear, and so on. He replies that I am a victim of anti-Soviet propaganda and suggests that instead of repeating the slogans of American imperialism like a parrot, I should join the struggle against its crimes, such as, for example, the medical experiments that the US government has been conducting since 1946 on thousands of Guatemalans who have been deliberately inoculated with sexually-transmitted diseases in order to test the effectiveness of new medications. Dozens have died in the course of the experiments.

I tell him that sounds crazy to me. It is unlikely that the USA, judges from which sat on the bench at Nuremberg and presided over the trials of Nazi criminals who had conducted such experiments, would itself conduct such experiments, especially so soon after the end of the Second World War. You are blinded by hatred of the Americans, I tell him. There’s no arguing with you. And I turn away and leave.

Since then 50 years have passed, and I read in the newspaper Maariv (31 August 2011), under the headline “America’s Dark Secrets”, an article that confirms the whole story. To wit: that from 1946-48 US doctors working on behalf of the US government and in violation of all codes of medical ethics conducted experiments on thousands of Guatemalan prisoners, prostitutes, orphans, children and mental patients who were deliberately inoculated with sexually-transmitted diseases in order to determine the effectiveness of antibiotics.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius issued an official statement of apology, stating that “we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health.” [2] In addition, a programme to pay compensation to the victims has been set up. Amy Guttman, president of the University of Pennsylvania and the chairwoman of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, called it a “dark chapter of our history.” [3]

Why to I mention this episode? Because several weeks ago a terrorist attack was carried out against Israel from the Egyptian border in Sinai, in which civilians and soldiers were killed.

It was reported that the Israel Security Agency (ISA – Shin Bet) had submitted a precise report about the cell that carried out the attack, including the location of the spot from which the attack would be launched. But despite that, Israel did not take proper precautions, with the predictable result.

Somebody has raised the possibility that Netanyahu and Barak had an interest in the occurrence of some security incident that would divert attention towards security problems and away from the social protest that had swept over Israel, so they did not take the proper precautions. The highway along the border could have been closed, which would have prevented the attack on travellers. But that was precisely what Netanyahu and Barak needed: some fatalities that would justify the immediate dispatch of aircraft to bomb Gaza, which would lead to return rocket-fire on Israel, which would provoke fear and anger and demands for more bombing, and meanwhile the social protest would be shoved into a corner.

But somebody interfered with the plans. The Egyptians warned Israel that if it initiated another Cast Lead the peace accord would be cancelled, and America too applied some pressure. This time the threat worked and war was averted.

Most commentators have rejected this conjecture, just as I rejected the words of the Communist. The problem is that there have already been similar incidents in Israel’s past, and so I cannot dismiss the possibility. My one year old and three year old granddaughters will know what really happened, because the information that is now classified will be available to them fifty years from now.

Settler terrorism escalates

A Peace Now activist received death-threats and words like “traitor” and other such terms from the fascist lexicon were spray-painted in the stairwell of her residence. The settlers’ fascist phalanges are acting without hindrance in the Occupied Territories as they implement their “price-tag” policy. The settlers burn mosques and desecrate them with blasphemous slogans; they burn cars and sometimes even murder Palestinians. Now they are implementing similar terrorist tactics against peace activists within the Green Line [4] as well.

The time has come to refute the belief that has taken root among part of the Israeli public, according to which some settlers are extremist and some are moderate, the former being lawbreakers and the latter law-abiders.

There is no such animal as a law-abiding settler. They are all lawbreakers by virtue of their presence in the Occupied Territories. They have a division of labour. The role of the so-called moderates is to establish control over loci of public power such as government, the justice system, the army, police and media. And indeed, we are seeing a growing number of knitted-kippa-wearing [5] settlers and their supporters intregrated into all the avenues of power. Today there are more judges, military officers, ministers and journalists who are settlers or settler-supporters than ever before.

The Israeli army is undergoing a process of haredization. [6] There are now units where women are forbidden to serve. Recently graduates of “knitted kippa” yeshivot [7] joined the police in an organized group. The chances that a settler police officer will defend the democratic rights of Arabs or leftists are like the chances that Jews could find a German police officer to protect them from the rampaging goons during the Krystallnacht pogrom.

The role of the extremist settlers, who act with violence and intimidation, is to put the established authorities back onto the straight and narrow on those occasions when the settlers perceive that the authorities have diverged a little from the settler line. When those terror settlers entered an army base in the Occupied Territories a few days ago and sabotaged vehicles, that was not a sign that the army and the settlers are on different sides of the barricades, but a reminder to the military commanders that their role is to serve the settlers and harm only Arabs. The so-called moderate settlers condemn the extremists – with a wink.

The hint has been taken. It is a fact that the army, the police and the ISA who rule in the Occupied Territories and who act with great efficiency when they have to track down a 7 year old Palestinian child who threw a stone, have so far failed to locate any of the settlers who have burnt mosques. Even when it comes to arresting settlers suspected of having murdered Palestinians, the police exhibit negligence. The laconic announcement, “the murderer has not been found,” is sometimes heard from the police in the Occupied Territories.

The justice system too has been domesticated over the years. Over the course of the 44 years of the Occupation the Supreme Court has handed down thousands of judgments in support of the Occupation and the settlements. Just recently the president of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch, with the support of two of her colleagues, dismissed a motion to put two police officers on trial even though they had uncontroversially killed a ten year old Palestinian girl who had gone out of her school to buy candy. [8] At the same time judges have an interest in creating among the public the impression that the court is liberal; so occasionally they issue a liberal ruling which is translated into English and sent to judicial circles in academia and governments in Western countries. This is the context in which the Supreme Court’s decision to evacuate the settlement of Migron, which had been built on private Palestinian land, should be seen.

Such decisions bring the extremist settlers and the so-called moderate settlers together to man the catapult against the Supreme Court, and the judges take the hint and go back to their usual routine of supporting the Occupation. Accordingly, Supreme Court Judge Uzi Fogelman wrote a judgment straight out of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. He approved the confiscation of private land in the Occupied Territories for the construction of a rapid rail line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, even though international law stipulates that the occupying power can confiscate land only for the purpose of serving the occupied population. What did Fogelman do? He devised a bizarre construction according to which the Palestinians, whose land has been confiscated and will never benefit from the high-speed train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, have been converted by a stroke of his pen into beneficiaries of the new rail line.

Back to the death-threats against the Peace Now activist and the inflammatory slogans scrawled in the stairwell of her building. There are Israelis who create a supportive environment for this kind of terror: members of the Knesset and right-wing journalists who hold sway over an ever-growing share of the Israeli media and who conduct campaigns of character-assassination against human-rights activists, calling them traitors who deserve to be sentenced to death. Israel today is reminiscent of the Weimar Republic in its dying days.

Translator’s notes

1. Rabbi Moshe ben-Maimon is often referred to in English as Maimonides. “Moshe” is Moses in Hebrew. The first “Moshe” mentioned in the quoted aphorism is the biblical prophet Moses. Maimonides wrote mainly in Arabic, using the Hebrew alphabet.

2. Full text of the statement:

3. Amy Guttman, “Ethically Impossible”, Huff Post, 14 September 2011.

4. The border between Israel and the Occupied Territories.

5. The kippa is a ritual head-covering worn by religious Jewish men. The knitted kippa is a hallmark of religious-nationalist settlers and their supporters in Israel. Other religious men wear kippot, but they are often made of velvet or cloth rather than knitted.

6. A reference to Haredim – ultra-Orthodox Jews who practice segregation between the sexes.

7. A yeshiva is a Jewish religious school where exclusively religious subjects are taught, and generally the students are all men.

8. The girl’s name was Abir Aramin. See the following items in Occupation Magazine about her story and her parents’ efforts to get justice:

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
Links to the latest articles in this section

The US and nuclear programs in the Middle East
How can Israel, Palestine return to a two-state solution?
A matter of concrete debate