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Red Rag weekly column: false-flag naval operation? Baby Doc Lapid; Meir Har-Zion, 1934-2014; Victor Shem-Tov, RIP
By: Gideon Spiro
25 March 2014 (English translation 5 April 2014)

A naval hasbara mission?

On his last visit to the USA, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu revealed in a press conference that the Israeli navy had sailed 1,200 kilometres from Israel to catch a ship that was carrying missiles to Gaza. The accusing finger pointed to Iran “which supplies terror organizations.” It was merely another pathetic attempt to heat up the atmosphere against Iran to sabotage negotiations on the nuclear issue. Netanyahu thought that by such an announcement he could incite the US into the military option – the wet dream of the Netanyahu government. But the Western media were not available for the winds of war of Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yaalon; it had more important issues to deal with, so Netanyahu was forced to settle for the Israeli military correspondents’ words of flattery about Israel’s military intelligence.

Accumulated experience with Israel’s reality has made me suspicious of all official stories, especially on military matters. The lies and half-truths that the military establishment, which is the real government, has fed us could fill an encyclopaedia. So faced with official announcements, I formulate an alternative possibility for which I have no proof, and only with the passage of years, when archives are opened or memoirs published will we know the truth. I always bear in mind the example of the terrorist organization Israel set up in Egypt, whose operatives were recruited from the Egyptian Jewish community, the purpose of which was to sabotage Egypt’s relations with the US and Britain by planting bombs in those countries’ cultural centres in Egypt. When Egypt uncovered the organization its members were put on trial, the headlines in Israel screamed “Libel!” and the military-governmental establishment in Israel accused the Egyptian government of antisemitism. Years later, when the facts were revealed, those heroes all fled from responsibility and everyone put the responsibility on everyone else.

Here is my alternative scenario regarding the weapons-ship: it is an Israeli provocation. Agents of the Mossad rented the Panamanian-flagged ship, called the Klos C. The agents, under the guise of Iranian arms merchants, loaded missiles on the ship, either real ones or realistic-looking fakes, and covered them with bags of cement. When the loading was complete the agents notified their supervisors through an encrypting device that the mission was accomplished and the ship was on its way. The Turkish captain, of course, did not know what they had concealed in the hold of his ship. According to the bill of lading he was carrying cement.

Next comes the military stage. The soldiers of the elite unit Shayetet 13 did not know about the deception either – just as I did not know in 1956 about the conspiracy Israel had concocted with France and Britain in to thwart the nationalization of the Suez Canal. I believed that I was sent to Sinai to fight in defence of my country, when in fact I was a pawn in the service of dying empires that were trying to flex their muscles before they dissolved.
The soldiers of the Shayetet 13 believed they were sailing far from Israel in order to capture a ship that was carrying missiles. They did not know that they were pawns in a provocation by the government of Israel intended to deliver the message that Iran has not changed and not to be impressed by the new Iranian president’s charm-offensive. The soldiers of the Shayetet reached the ship and “captured” it. The Turkish captain did not have the faintest idea of what they wanted from him and he was genuinely surprised when they showed him the crates of missiles behind the bags of cement.

The soldiers of the Shayetet revelled in satisfaction. All went smoothly, including the exhibiting of the weapons which were supposedly intended for the Gaza Strip. The ship was escorted by navy warships to the port of Eilat, which had a reception prepared for the heroes. The stage-managers prepared the exhibition of missiles, the prime minister and the IDF chief of staff went to feast their eyes on the delivery. Journalists photographed and reported with pathos on the great achievement, but were not permitted to examine the merchandise closely. Flowery speeches were given, the boring texts of which we all know. But the international media did not get excited and negotiations with Iran continued, to the dismay of the government of Israel. The effort had been in vain.

Maybe this is all wild speculation and maybe it is the honest truth. In another fifty or hundred years, when the archives are opened, we will know the truth. If any of my readers are still alive then, I hope they will call on me at my grave and tell me what the documents revealed.

How the wheel turns

We are witnessing an unusual spectacle: General Avi Benayahu, until recently the spokesman of the Israeli army, has been arrested on suspicion of serious criminal offences, including possession of top secret material in his home and obstruction of justice. If he is convicted he will spend several years in prison. His arrest is result of an epic battle between former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former defence minister Ehud Barak. It was a dirty battle in the course of which mud was slung and red lines were crossed which would have caused both of them to be fired from their jobs like rockets in a healthy democracy. Some people saw that in that quarrel an attempt at a putsch in which the army would overthrow the civilian authority. Not in Israel. There is no need for a military coup. The army rules in Israel to all intents and purposes. The Defence Minister is not a civilian but a general who has exchanged his uniform for a suit and tie. In practice he is the army’s emissary to the government, who takes care to ensure that billions of shekels continue to flow to the army. It was a struggle between two people who found no common language and with time developed a mutual hatred, and now it seems that criminal offences have been committed as well. As the spokesman of the army, Avi Benayahu was of course on the side of the chief of staff.

I know Avi Benayahu because back in the day we worked for the same newspaper, Al Hamishmar, the daily of Mapam, a socialist Zionist party that was considered to be on the left side of the political spectrum. The newspaper closed in the mid-1990s due to financial problems and Mapam for its part was swallowed up a few years later by Meretz. Avi Benayahu was the newspaper’s military correspondent. I felt increasingly uncomfortable with his articles. I got the impression that he was an emissary of the army to the editorial board more than a military correspondent for the newspaper. Too much flattery and not enough criticism. I wrote a letter to him in which I expressed my chagrin at the support he gave to the army and I also told him in personal conversations. He did not change his ways, and later I understood why: he wanted to be part of the security establishment and his work at the newspaper was a vehicle that helped him get there.

He served the leaders of the security establishment and the army regardless of their political affiliations. He was media consultant and spokesman for Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Mordechai, and his last job was as spokesman for the army. In his various jobs he supported and spoke on behalf of the Occupation and oppression and all the crimes that went along with them. In my opinion he represented the generation that grew up in Israel with its soul linked to the army. He has tumbled down from the lofty heights of one who rubbed shoulders with members of the political and military elites, and now finds himself having to explain to a judge why he does not represent a danger to the public. His hubris propelled him to unprecedented altitudes where the lack of oxygen evidently distorted his value system and his judgement. The cult of force and lies sometimes leads in the end to detention cells and interrogation rooms.

Shameless racism

Finance Minister Yair Lapid is the Baby Doc of his party (his father, Tommy Lapid, like his son the dictator of his party, was a kind of Papa Doc). According to party regulations he is its chairman for ten years without elections. He has been exposed as a con-man, a swindler and a liar. In his election propaganda he promised that he would look out for the interests of the middle class, and he delivered the exact opposite; he increased the burden on the middle class. Housing became more expensive and a middle-class couple’s chances of acquiring housing became more remote. Seeing his decline in the polls, he pulled out a plan to lower the cost of housing. Economists across political spectrum said that the plan would achieve the opposite – it would make housing more expensive. I will not deal here with the economic aspect but the political and social ones. What characterizes the plan is its racism. Not covert racism; racism as overt and clear as the light of the sun. The criteria for housing relief include military service, which excludes Arab and Haredi citizens – two groups that do not serve in the army. Again we see how the cult of militarism is being enlisted in the campaign to deny basic rights, for the right to housing is recognized as a basic right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 25 (1). There is no connection between the right to housing and military service, and moreover the exemption that applies to those two groups is based on law.

Recently we have learned from the anthropologist Professor Meira Weiss that racism has also penetrated into the Israeli Forensic Institute. She spent time in the Institute every day for six years in preparation for an anthropological study, so she knows whereof she speaks. According to her there is a hierarchy of corpses. Corpses of Palestinians and migrant workers are at the lowest level of the hierarchy and are used as a source of organs for transplant without regard for the law that requires the consent of the family. As for Jewish corpses, the law is obeyed and the families’ consent is requested.

First they kill Palestinians, then they use their organs. So what is the difference between Israel and China, which according to reports by human rights organizations uses the organs of executed prisoners?

Meir Har-Zion

Meir Har-Zion has died. He was said to be the greatest Jewish fighter since the Bar-Kochba rebellion. I think it was Moshe Dayan who said that. Har-Zion was a legend in his own time, and it is not easy to deal with legends. His funeral was attended by President Peres, the prime minister, the defence minister and the chief of staff of the IDF. Each of them praised his prowess as a fighter. Newspapers dedicated entire pages to him, packed with superlatives. The newspaper Haaretz ran an article calling for his legacy to be preserved. And what is his legacy? He was a soldier in Unit 101, commanded by Ariel Sharon. Its soldiers included more than a few scoundrels and out-of-control youths whose violent tendencies were directed towards channels that were legitimate in military terms.

Unit 101 achieved fame in 1953 after the attack on Qibya, a Jordanian village [1] that fell victim to a war crime when one night members of the Unit blew up dozens of houses on top of their occupants – sleeping women and their children. That action provoked international anger and received widespread condemnation. Israel was so embarrassed that Ben-Gurion announced that it had been a private initiative by Israeli civilians, not the army. No one bought that crude fabrication. Har-Zion showed himself to be a murderer a second time, when he killed four Bedouin who crossed his path, in blood-revenge for the murder of his sister Shoshanna. He believed that the murderers came from the same tribe as those four. Har-Zion was not put on trial, and perhaps that too is part of his legacy: the cheapness of Arab life. A legacy that has been passionately perpetuated in the Occupied Territories for 46 years now. He turns up a third time when he was wounded in the neck in one of the reprisal actions in 1956 and his life was saved thanks to an operation conducted under field conditions by Dr. Morris Ankelevic.

Eventually Unit 101 was integrated into Paratroopers Battalion 890.
When I was inducted into the paratroopers in August 1954, Meir Har-Zion and his comrades were already in the battalion. He did not command me directly, except for one time when I was attached as leader of a mortar squad for a patrol along the southern border, under the overall command of Har-Zion. He instructed me on what to do in case we encountered the other side. The patrol proceeded uneventfully. I participated in most of the reprisal actions during my military service in the 1950s, in which Har-Zion also participated, and most of those actions did not bring out the best in the army. In later years I learned that those actions, some of them at least, were not reprisals but Israeli provocations for the purposes of internal politics, for which we were cannon-fodder. Those actions were typified by night raids on police stations, when the police or soldiers were sleeping. Before they knew what was happening, the building had been blown up and the Israeli force had gone home. There were no acts of heroism. Some actions went wrong, and for those there was a price to be paid in human life. True, Har-Zion was an excellent patroller, but so were many others.

The more time passes the less I understand what distinguished Har-Zion from the others. Gradually I arrived at the conclusion that the secret of the legend was not his military activities but rather his blood-curdling cruelty. His popularity skyrocketed to unbelievable heights after the revenge for the murder of his sister. The Labour Movement, which ruled Israel in those days, and the kibbutz movement in particular, saw Har-Zion, from Kibbutz Ein Harod, as the embodiment of the “New Jew” who does not bow down before the Gentiles according to the depiction of the Diaspora Jew, but is resolute and vengeful in the spirit of the Book of Joshua. The act of revenge was the metaphorical Big Bang that engendered the Har-Zion legend. It is but natural that after the war of June 1967 that legend would support the Occupation, the settlements and the expulsion of Arabs – or as it has been expressed, the need to do everything possible to embitter the lives of the Arabs so they will pack up and leave. That legend is the wet dream of the leaders of the army and the State – which is why the cream of the leadership was seen at his funeral.

Victor Shem-Tov

Victor Shem-Tov has died in Jerusalem at age 99. I knew him over fifty years ago. I returned to Jerusalem when I left the army, and as a graduate of the kibbutz movement I joined Mapam as a member of the Youth section. Victor was the branch secretary. He was a rare combination of charismatic personality and a sweeping outlook – a socialist and a democrat. His speech was gentle, his voice was pleasant, I never heard him yell. With him there was always a friendly ambience. Even when we disagreed on certain issues – for after all it is the prerogative of young men to be a bit radical – he always listened, did not contradict, it was impossible to be angry at him.

Later he rose through the political ranks, was elected to the Knesset, and then he served as Minister of Health. If we still have a public healthcare system that has not yet been wiped out by privatization, it is thanks to him. As a Knesset member and minister he did not become arrogant, he was attentive to the needs of the citizenry, he did not isolate himself from the public, he was accessible and lived modestly. A man with a clean mind and clean hands. A public servant in the most elevated sense of the concept. That is the kind of politician I like to see.

In the summer of 2000, on eve of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s departure for peace talks with Arafat at Camp David under the auspices of President Clinton, we met at a peace-movement demonstration to ask Barak to go in peace and bring peace back with him. Suddenly I saw the correspondent of Australian television ABC, whom I knew. She interviewed me and after that short interview I explained to her who Victor Shem-Tov was and suggested that she interview him, which she did. Victor expressed the hope that Barak would return with an agreement; I doubted that he was capable of doing it. I confess that I was excited to see Victor. Here was an 85-year-old man, a former minister, standing at a demonstration nearly anonymously, surrounded by young people from youth movements, none of whom knew who Victor was. That did not bother him. The best kind of democratic situation.

It is impossible to talk about Victor without mentioning his wife Greti, long may she live, the secretary of the Mapam faction in the Knesset, charming like him, the other half that makes the whole, a couple of doves from the legends. All the beautiful qualities of the Shem-Tovs are evident in their children Iris and Shmulik. May his memory be blessed.

Hope and disappointment

From a letter to Professor Dafna Erez-Barak, Judge in the Supreme Court.

When you were appointed Supreme Court judge you ignited hope among defenders of human rights that something was about to change in the Supreme Court. Your writings on the subject of human rights showed that the subject was close to your heart, practically burning in your bones, which brought the expectation that you would raise a ringing voice in the defence of human rights against the tornado of racism that is sweeping over Israeli society and sweeping the Supreme Court along with it. The settler Solberg who has colonized the Supreme Court represents the corruption that has taken root in the judicial system in general and the Supreme Court in particular.

In my letter to you at the beginning of your term, I warned you against the evil spirit of Solberg and his friends, who are on their way to taking possession of the Supreme Court. I expressed the hope that you would be a solid rampart against that tendency. As a defender of human rights I expected you to oppose the Occupation and the apartheid regime Israel has set up in the Occupied Territories. And so the disappointment was all the greater when you failed the first test and rejected the appeal of Fayez Rajabi, owner of the “House of Contention” in Hebron, who sought to annul the duplicitous contract of sale the settlers cooked up through a front man, a collaborator who is seen by his people as a traitor. Shamefully and astonishingly, you ruled that the contract was valid and the ownership of the house should pass to the thieving settlers (Civil Appeal 8012/12, 11/3/2014).

Dear Judge, I do not have a doctorate in law, neither from Harvard nor from Yale, nor even from any Israeli university; but I do have a professorship in the struggle against racism, Occupation, apartheid and all other forms of oppression and human-rights violations. Therefore I can tell you from the lofty heights of my academic chair, speaking as one professor to another, that there is no such creature as a valid real-estate contract between occupier and occupied, between ruler and ruled, between the disenfranchised and the privileged.

And I know this from the saga of my own family as well. My mother tried to save what she could of our family’s property in Germany. In 1938 she sold her house under circumstances similar to those of the real-estate deal in Hebron, that is, a deal between the oppressed and the privileged. In terms of human rights, the situation of the Jews in Germany in the 1930s until the beginning of the Second World War was similar in many ways to that of the Palestinians under Israeli Occupation (See “Monologue on refusal” – Professor Amos Funkenstein, Mazer Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Tel Aviv University. One sentence from the monologue: “Between 1933 and 1937, before Krystallnacht, the situation of the Jews in Germany was better in many ways than that of the Arabs in the Occupied Territories”: Amos Funkenstein, Israel Prize laureate, Haaretz supplement, 9 December 1988).
After democracy returned to Germany, the German government told my mother: “Mrs. Spiro, we know that the sale of the house was not between citizens with equal rights but between a person without rights and a person with rights. Nor did the price reflect the true value of the property. Thus we have determined that the contract was not valid, and so we hereby return the house to you, with apologies for the injustice that was done to you. And so it was.
So what am I asking of you? That you act like democratic Germany – no more. Retract your ruling. As a professor against Occupation and oppression, I will of course be happy if you adopt what I have written above, but I know that there are more than enough writings of your own that you can use. If my modest advice is accepted and you write a new ruling based on your previous works in the field of human rights, then your two colleagues on the panel, Grunis and Meltzer, will be confused, they will not know what hit them at first, but they will recover and get used to it.

Gideon Spiro

Translator’s note

1. A Palestinian village in the West Bank, which at that time had been annexed by Jordan.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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