Israel's long and bloody record of war crimes
May 17, 2002 | Pages 6 and 7
ERIC RUDER exposes Israel's history of terror against Palestinians.
WHEN ISRAELI Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to Washington last week, he was concerned with distinctions. There was a difference, Sharon said, between the conduct of his Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Jenin and what he called the "indiscriminate, intentional murder of innocent civilians at the hands of [Palestinian] suicide bombers."
Then, Sharon thanked the U.S. for helping to torpedo a United Nations fact-finding mission to Jenin--"helping us to get out of this complicated situation." The "complication," of course, is that if what happened at Jenin were exposed, it would be impossible to deny that the IDF carries out the "indiscriminate, intentional murder of innocent civilians"--and on an incomparably more terrible scale.
What Israel has carried out in the Occupied Territories invites comparison to some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. A comparison made by Israelis themselves. "If our job is to seize a densely packed refugee camp," an unnamed IDF officer told Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper, "he must before all else analyze and bring together the lessons of past battles, even--shocking though this might appear--to analyze how the German army operated in the Warsaw Ghetto."
This isn't the first time that someone has noticed the similarities between the Nazis' brutality against Jews resisting extermination--and IDF operations against the Palestinian resistance. "In my childhood, I have suffered fear, hunger and humiliation when I passed from the Warsaw Ghetto, through labor camps, to Buchenwald," wrote Holocaust survivor Dr. Shlomo Shmelzman in an August 1982 letter to the Israeli press, explaining why he was on hunger strike at the height of Israel's bombing of Lebanon.
"Today, as a citizen of Israel, I cannot accept the systematic destruction of cities, towns and refugee camps. I cannot accept the technocratic cruelty of the bombing, destroying and killing of human beings. I hear too many familiar sounds today, sounds which are being amplified by the war. I hear 'dirty Arabs,' and I remember 'dirty Jews.' I hear about 'closed areas,' and I remember ghettos and camps. I hear 'two-legged beasts,' and I remember 'Untermenschen' (subhumans). I hear about tightening the siege, clearing the area, pounding the city into submission, and I remember suffering, destruction, death, blood and murder Too many things in Israel remind me of too many things from my childhood."
Israeli leaders always justify their violence as self-defense against "Palestinian terror." But Israel has long been the master at using terrorism to achieve its goals.
In the 1948 war to found Israel, Zionist forces used massacres in a handful of villages--most famously in Deir Yassin--to strike fear into the hearts of Palestinians. Some 750,000 people fled their land--settling in many of the very refugee camps still scattered throughout the Occupied Territories.
Israel's plan to carve up the Occupied Territories with heavily fortified Jewish-only settlements, populated by armed right-wing extremists has the same aim.
When the first Palestinian uprising--or Intifada--against Israel's occupation began in 1987, the Israeli state cracked down with utmost brutality. "The rate of incarceration in the territories was by far the highest known anywhere in the world: close to 1,000 prisoners per 100,000," according to a 1991 Middle East Watch report.
Nearly 20 percent of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation were detained, and about 85 percent of detainees were subjected to torture, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
The Intifada nevertheless forced Israel to enter into peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1993, the two sides signed the Oslo "peace" accords. But it soon became clear that Oslo wouldn't create a viable Palestinian state.
Israel's goal was to subcontract the job of policing the West Bank and Gaza to Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA)--while making as few concessions as possible. Meanwhile, Israel again and again tried to renegotiate its withdrawals from areas that the PA was supposed to control under Oslo.
This is the backdrop to the second Intifada that began in September 2000. In the past 19 months, the IDF assault on Palestinians has grown ever more horrifying. "Palestinian hospitals, camps, schools, institutes and all networks of civil administration or mutual help have been attacked mercilessly," wrote York University Professor Aijaz Ahmad in April.
"Doctors, Red Crescent staff and church caretakers have been shot and killed indiscriminately. Women have been forced to give birth to stillborn children while waiting at Israeli checkposts and denied medical help. Village after village, camp after camp, have been deprived of water, electricity, consumer items, methodically and on a massive scale."
Yet despite this barbarism, Palestinians continue to resist. The mainstream media focus almost exclusively on suicide bombers who attack civilian targets. These bombings are counterproductive, giving Israel the pretext for further repression. But it's understandable why Palestinians facing such inhumanity would resort to this desperate tactic as the only hope of lashing back at their oppressors.
Nevertheless, the constant focus on suicide attacks hides the broader Palestinian resistance--from demonstrations and marches to armed attacks on military targets. We can't leave this struggle against Israel's terror to stand alone.
No peace without justice
THE STRUGGLE for Palestinian liberation is often put in terms of "ending Israel's occupation"--that is, forcing Israel to withdraw its forces from the Occupied Territories. But this can't be the whole solution.
Even if Israel retreats to its pre-1967 borders, it will still occupy Palestinian land that hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee in 1948. Those people and their children continue to live in refugee camps throughout the Occupied Territories and around the region.
There can be no real and lasting peace without justice. Ultimately, this means replacing Israel--an apartheid state that grants full rights only to Jews--with a secular and democratic state in which everyone has equal rights.
Is this Sharon's "final solution"?
WHEN GEORGE W. Bush called Sharon a "man of peace" last month, he was either displaying his famous lack of smarts--or telling a lie.
Throughout his career, Sharon has shown an incredible capacity for brutality, bloodshed and terror. And now he may be in a position to carry out his "final solution" to the Palestinian question. "[Sharon] has always harbored a very clear plan--nothing less than to rid Israel of the Palestinians," Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote last month in Britain's Daily Telegraph.
Van Creveld's article lays out a scenario in which Sharon could ethnically cleanse the entire Palestinian population from Gaza and the West Bank. "An American offensive against Iraq" or "an uprising in Jordan" would be a suitable pretext, van Creveld wrote. "[T]hen Israel would mobilize with lightning speed--even now, much of its male population is on standby."
"First, the country's three ultra-modern submarines would take up firing position out at sea. Borders would be closed, a news blackout imposed, and all foreign journalists rounded up and confined to a hotel as guests of the government. The expulsion of the Palestinians would require only a few brigades. They would not drag people out of their houses, but use heavy artillery to drive them out; the damage caused to Jenin would look like a pinprick in comparison."
The whole operation, according to van Creveld, could be finished in "eight days." "Some believe that the international community will not permit such ethnic cleansing. I would not count on it The only country that can stop [Sharon] is the United States. The U.S., however, regards itself as being at war with parts of the Muslim world that have supported Osama bin Laden. America will not necessarily object to that world being taught a lesson--particularly if it could be as swift and brutal as the 1967 campaign."
Horrifying as they are, these ideas are all too common in Israel. Two years ago, less than 8 percent of Israelis favored "transfer," according to a Gallup poll. Today, a more recent survey shows that 46 percent support mass deportation of the Palestinians.
"Nazis never openly declared their intention to massacre Jews and Gypsies," wrote Israel Shamir in a recent article titled "The Jewish state must be de-Nazified as thoroughly as Germany after 1945." "[T]hey spoke of 'deportation' and 'transfer' as their 'Final Solution.' Even in 1938, these ideas did not have such wholehearted support in Nazi Germany as they have now in the Jewish state."
U.S. and Israel: Partners in arms
THE U.S. government claims to be a neutral party in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But the truth is that the U.S. has backed Israel to the hilt. From 1990 to 2000, Israel received $18.1 billion in military aid from the U.S.--part of an incredible $100 billion since 1948.
What has Israel "bought" lately with its grant money--which has to be spent on hardware from U.S. contractors? One hundred F-16 fighters. Nine Apache helicopters with the Longbow Radar System. Fifteen Cobra attack helicopters and 24 Black Hawk transport helicopters.
But Israel doesn't just buy military goods. It also supplies them--to some of the most brutal dictators in the world. Often, Israel's customers are regimes that the U.S. wants to support, but doesn't want to be connected with.
So Israel helped apartheid South Africa arm itself in its war against Black South Africans fighting for liberation. Israel also shipped weapons to Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt--and helped train Guatemalan soldiers who slaughtered 5,000 Indians during a 1982 counterinsurgency campaign.
Lately, Israel has even taken to selling weapons to countries that the U.S. considers hostile--China and Cambodia, to name a couple. But U.S. officials haven't raised a peep.